Is HPV Contagious?

Fact Checked

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Story at-a-glance -

  • The truth is that HPV is so common that the majority of sexually active males and females will be infected with at least one HPV type in their lifetime
  • HPV is transmitted through intimate physical contact — this is why it’s so contagious

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are 14 million new cases of HPV infection recorded each year; in fact, at present, 79 million Americans are infected with HPV — and many of them are not aware that they have this condition.1

The truth is that HPV is so common that the majority of sexually active males and females will be infected with at least one HPV type in their lifetime. And, the reason why this virus spreads so rampantly is its highly contagious nature.

How Is HPV Transmitted?

The human papillomavirus, a tiny, nonenveloped DNA virus that is part of the Papovaviridae family, thrives in the skin or mucous membranes of affected individuals. It is a very contagious type of virus,2 and it lives on the top layer of your skin. Contrary to what some people believe, HPV does not live in your bloodstream, internal organs or your spinal cord.3

HPV is transmitted through intimate physical contact — this is why it’s so contagious. There are types that may be transmitted through simple skin-to-skin contact, while other types are mainly passed on through sexual intercourse. This includes vaginal, oral or anal sex. In fact, any sexually active individual may be at risk of HPV infection.4

HPV may be transmitted when an infected person’s vagina, cervix, anus, penis or vulva, makes contact with another person’s genitals, mouth or throat. Even if there’s no vaginal or anal penetration, the virus may still be transmitted. Infection is also possible even if no orgasm occurs.5 Once the virus is on your skin or mucous membranes, it can then enter through a small cut or tear, where it can then infect you.6

Study Sheds Light on How HPV Is Passed on Between Couples

One 2011 study published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases7 brings light on how HPV is passed on between couples. The study authors combined the data on frequency and transmission, which helped give them a better picture of how HPV spreads.8

The researchers recruited college-age women in relationships — 179 couples in total — during the study. Per couple, one person had a positive HPV infection, while the other did not. The couples were given follow-up testing and questionnaires after a four-month period.

After looking at the final numbers of who had been newly infected with HPV, they concluded that if a person in a heterosexual relationship has the infection, there is a 20% chance that their partner will have the virus too, within six months. These couples reported having intercourse four times per week (on average). Of these couples, 50% claimed they never used condoms.

The new study also refuted previous smaller studies that claim that HPV spreads more easily from females to males than vice versa — instead, they claimed that the rates of transmission are nearly the same. However, they concluded woman-to-man transmission results in shorter infections. By the time they met with the couples again, some of the infections in the males had cleared up already.

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Note: HPV Infections Can Be Latent

Many people who contract HPV often put the blame on their partner, believing that infidelity is the reason for the infection, causing heartache and adding strain on the relationship.

However, take note that if you become infected with HPV, it’s possible that your current partner may not be to blame. This is because HPV has the ability to lie latent, staying dormant for many years before manifesting symptoms. Some cancers triggered by HPV, particularly cervical cancer, can even take years or decades to develop.9


HPV: Introduction

What Is HPV?

Oral HPV

How Is HPV Transmitted?

HPV Vaccine

HPV in Men

HPV in Women

HPV Types

HPV Causes

HPV Symptoms

HPV Warts

HPV Treatment

HPV Test

How to Get Rid of HPV

Living with HPV

Does HPV Go Away?

How Do You Get HPV?

Is HPV Curable?

Is HPV Contagious?

How Long Does HPV Last?


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