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Home Genital Warts Genital Warts Dr. Louise Scrivener on Disclosing Genital Warts to Partners

Dr. Louise Scrivener on Disclosing Genital Warts to Partners

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Fearing rejection and judgment, the idea of discussing genital warts with a partner is understandably daunting. Wanting to be open with their partner but often dreading a negative reaction, the sense of obligation to disclose is often at odds with feelings of vulnerability.

But is it correct to assume someone will automatically react badly to learning a partner has genital warts? Research done by researchers in Britain finds that learning a sexual partner has been diagnosed with genital warts may not prompt the negative reaction many fear (For more see Disclosing Genital Warts to Partners in the June 2008 issue of HPV News).

Dr. Louise Scrivener, with the Department of Psychology at the University of London, and colleagues recruited patients with a history of genital warts who have had a sexual relationship since their diagnosis. The participants, all of whom were patients at a London medical clinic, completed questionnaires that assessed anxiety, perceptions of stigma around STIs, and relationship variables.

Just over two-thirds of the subjects reported informing partners of their diagnosis, for reasons such as honesty and a partner having a right to know. Those who chose not to disclose their diagnosis said their decision was largely driven by embarrassment and worry over a negative reaction. Such concerns might have been unfounded, however, as those who disclosed said partners responded much more positively than expected.

Dr. Scrivener chatted recently with HPV News about her study:


HPV News: From reading your study, it seems stigma didn’t play a significant role in a person’s decision whether or not to disclose their genital warts (GW) diagnosis. Were you surprised that stigma played such a small part?

Louise Scrivener: At first we were surprised.  Much of the literature seems to assume that stigma is one of the key reasons people don’t tell their partners they have an STI.  However, there has not been much research in this area, and the only research we found looked at people with HIV.  While people with HIV who perceive higher levels of stigma do seem to tell fewer people overall that they are HIV positive, more detailed research found no such relationship between stigma and disclosure to partners (Derlega et al, 2002).  It seems that other factors, in particular the quality of the individual relationship, are much more relevant to the disclosure decision than stigma perception.

Another trend you found was that those with increased stigma perception of GW were in fact more likely to disclose; I would have guessed this would lead someone to be relatively reluctant in bringing up the subject…
The trend towards higher stigma perception in disclosers is very interesting, although a larger study would be needed to see if it is a meaningful finding.  We wondered if some people with low stigma perception might view GW as so commonplace and unremarkable that they are not worth mentioning.  Maybe they don’t even think about telling their partners.  Those people who perceive high levels of stigma are perhaps more likely to think it is important that their partners know.

How important is one’s knowledge of HPV in the decision to disclose or not?

We didn’t investigate whether knowledge about HPV was related to the disclosure decision, although it would be an interesting area to research.  I think it is often assumed that people might find it easier to tell their partners if they know more about HPV and are therefore better able to answer their partners’ questions.

Disclosers versus disclosers had no great difference in expected outcome – what then motivated disclosers to tell?

We wondered if fear of a negative response from a partner might be enough to prevent disclosure in a casual relationship, but not in a longer-term relationship.  Only 9% of the people who viewed their relationship as casual had told their partners compared with 81% who viewed their relationship as long term.  In a long term relationship, perhaps the reasons in favour of disclosure become more important, for example the desire to be honest, the wish to avoid infecting the partner, and the belief that the partner has a right to know.  Maybe these factors seem less important in a casual relationship.

Conversely, why do you think nondisclosers choose that path?
The main reasons given for not telling partners were embarrassment and fear of a negative response.  However, our findings seem to suggest that most people in long-term relationships manage to overcome these worries and tell their partners.  The good news is that, in our study, people who managed to tell their partners did not regret it and their partners tended to respond much more positively than expected

References:
Scrivener, L et al. Disclosure of anogenital wars to sexual partners. Sexually Transmitted Infections. 2008; 84(3): 179-182.
Derlega, V et al. Perceived HIV-related Stigma and HIV Disclosure to Relationship Partners after Finding Out about the Seropositive Diagnosis. Journal of Health Psychology. 2002; 7(4):415-432.