At 22, Josh (not his real name) was diagnosed with anal warts caused by HPV, the same virus responsible for genital warts. He had just come out of the closet about being gay and was feeling relieved. Then he realized he had contracted a sexually transmitted disease (STD)from his very first boyfriend.
"The symptoms showed up about three months after we broke up," he remembers. "I looked in the mirror and I saw all these bumps. It wasn't painful, but I felt betrayed by my ex-boyfriend."
Josh also felt shame: "I knew that the virus was an STD that you couldn't get rid of. And I felt dirty, like I was being punished for being gay.... I thought maybe it would be a scarlet letter for the rest of my life. As it turned out, my ex-boyfriend didn't even know he had the virus."
Warts are hard to get rid of
"The first person I went to was a GP, and he burned them off using liquid nitrogen. I almost enjoyed the pain because I knew we were doing something," says Josh. But the warts came back, and there were more that were internal. The GP referred Josh to a dermatologist, who in turn referred him to a genital wart specialist at a nearby university hospital.
"She said the only way to do this is to hit them and hit them hardand warned me that it's a really painful surgery but hopefully we'll get it all. I was put under anesthesia; they went in with lasers and they shot them out. Each time the laser was shot, it was like a third-degree burn. It was really painful. I had to wear bandages for six months after. It made going to the bathroom very painful for a few weeks. And it was really important for the first few months to eat massive amounts of fiber. It was crazy but definitely worth it. It's a horrible process to go through and a horrible process to heal from."
Further complications from the family name
Seeking treatment was particularly hard for Josh, since he had to go to the health center at the university he was attending, where his grandfather was a well-known administratorand Josh shares his grandfather's name.
"I think revealing my homosexuality was the hardest part," Josh reflects. "Since everyone knew my family and the warts were in a place where [for a man] it could only happen if you're gay, it was tough. If the warts were somewhere else, they wouldn't have implied I was gay."
Despite his fears, Josh says the doctors treated him with professionalism and respect. For moral support, he reached out to a friend the night he was diagnosed. "She wasn't a particularly close friend, but I had to talk to somebody," he says. "She took it pretty well. She gave me a pep talk saying it wasn't the end of the world."
Sex after diagnosis
Now 26, Josh was recently in a monogamous relationship for several years. He brought up the topic of HPV before he had sex with his partner for the first time. "I told him it was a really difficult thing for me and I had been proactive about treating them. I don't think it really mattered to him," he says.
He insisted on condoms from the start and told his boyfriend that if he wanted to date, they had to get STD tests. The couple continued to use condoms for the first six months of their relationship. Josh's warts never returned and both partners continued to test negative for HIV and other STDs.