- When Thomas Whitfield was diagnosed with HPV at age 23, his doctor told him genital warts, a symptom of the STD, had developed inside of his anus and he’d need rectal surgery.
- The recovery from the procedure, which may have been avoided if Whitfield had sought a diagnosis earlier, was so painful he could barely walk for weeks.
- Now a 30-something relationship therapist and creator of the YouTube channel “Sh– They Won’t Tell You in Sex Ed,” Whitfield teaches people about safe sex and works to destigmatize people with STDs.
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When Thomas Whitfield was diagnosed with the incurable sexually-transmitted disease HPV at age 23, his doctor told him genital warts, a symptom of the STD, had developed inside of his anus and he’d need rectal surgery.
Whitfield didn’t realise it at the time, but that diagnosis would change his life for the better.
Now a 30-something relationship therapist and creator of the YouTube channel “Sh– They Won’t Tell You in Sex Ed,” Whitfield has made it his life’s work to teach people about safe sex, with a focus on the LGBTQ community.
He shared his experience at Curious Fox‘s November event “Consider This: A Day of Challenging the Status Quo in Love, Sex, and Relationships” in New York.
“No one told me what to do if you’re having sex with someone who has an STD”
Years before his diagnosis, Whitfield said he consistently used condoms during sex, so he assumed he was being completely safe and protecting himself from STDs. He didn’t know then that HPV is spread through skin-to-skin contact so condoms aren’t guaranteed to stop the spread of HPV from one person to the next.
Whitfield also recalled having sex with someone who had visible warts on his penis when Whitfield was 21 years old. He said seeing the warts raised a red flag in his head, but he suppressed it. “No one told me what to do if you’re having sex with someone who has an STD,” he said, adding that he didn’t want to make his partner feel awkward either.
It wasn’t until Whitfield was 23 and dating someone new that he disclosed the fact he had developed bumps in his anus soon after the sexual encounter he had at age 21. The new partner encouraged him to get it checked out, so Whitfield booked what would be the life-changing doctor’s appointment.
Surgery is necessary if the warts have spread to the inside of the anus
During his presentation, Whitfield detailed the excruciating surgery and recovery process he went through to treat the warts.
According to the American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons, surgical anal wart removal is needed if the bumps have spread to the inside of a person’s anus. To do this, doctors give patients a local anesthetic to numb the area and then either cut or burn off the warts.
If someone is diagnosed at an early stage when the warts are only outside of the body, topical medicines and cryotherapy treatment, where the warts are frozen off of the body, are typically used. In Whitfield’s case, the fact he put off a doctor’s appointment for two years led to the spread of his warts and his need for surgery, he said.
Whitfield said that after a long surgery, his recovery entailed a three-week period where he could hardly walk because it was so painful. Bleeding is another side effect of anal wart-removal surgery.
“I remember sitting in the bathtub and crying” because that was the only place it felt remotely comfortable during recovery, Whitfield said.
Whitfield decided to be open about his HPV-positive status
Due to the emotionally and physically painful experience, Whitfield decided that, going forward, he would be open and proactive about talking about his HPV-positive status.
He said that in doing so, his dating life took a positive 180-degree turn because he’s now able to feel safe and weed out potential partners who aren’t willing to do the same. He also said he refuses to date anyone who isn’t open to discussing their STD status or to getting tested.
Whitfield also took a major step in telling his YouTube and Instagram followers about his HPV-positive status, which he believes was an important step in helping to destigmatize the conversation around people with STDs. He realised that if he, a sex educator and researcher, couldn’t be open about his own experience, he couldn’t expect his followers, or the general public, to be open about theirs.
There are several ways to reduce the risk of getting or spreading HPV
To reduce the risk of acquiring or spreading HPV, Planned Parenthood recommends getting the HPV vaccine and using condoms or dental dams during oral, anal, or vaginal sex.
The only way to completely protect yourself from HPV is to abstain from any skin-to-skin contact with a person who has the STD. For many people, this isn’t realistic, so getting regular HPV tests and pap smears to keep your health in check is important, according to Planned Parenthood, because high-risk types of HPV can sometimes develop into cancer.
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