By Anna Potter
First things first: HPV stands for human papillomavirus, which is the virus family that causes warts (anywhere on your body: your hand, your foot and, yes, your genitals); it also can cause cervical cancer. You know when you go to the gynecologist and get a pap smear? "Pap" as in "papillomavirus." They're checking for abnormal cells that may indicate you have pre-cancerous or cancerous cells on your cervix.
The only way to know that you have HPV is if you have genital warts, or you have an abnormal pap smear. There are many different strains of HPV, and only certain ones cause genital warts; other ones cause cervical cancer. Men and women can both get HPV; both can have genital warts. Genital warts are obnoxious, but pretty much harmless -- and treatable (you can have them frozen off by your doctor).
They are transmitted from skin-to-skin contact and they're outside of your body, so if you've got warts and you're getting laid, you're risking transmitting the wart-causing virus to your partner. We gals are the only ones who can get cervical cancer (obviously), so telling your partner is really your call. Here's the thing with HPV: Pretty much everyone has it. 80% of sexually active folks will have HPV at some point in their life. Most folks have, have had, or will have it, and women who go to the GYN every year (you're doing that, right? Right?) are much more likely to know their HPV status.
If you're going to feel like a flake if you know that you have or have had HPV and you don't tell your partner, then by all means, disclose away. But chances are that the guy you're getting down with has some strain of it, too. And if you tell him and he acts shocked or appalled or disgusted, make sure to let him know that he's probably got it too, and get outta there.
Moral of this story: Disclosing (or not) is your choice. Get regular pap smears, talk to your doc about getting the Gardasil vaccine if you haven't already, and don't sweat telling your status to every dude you sleep with.