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How Do You Get HPV?

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  • Take note that HPV does not spread just through sex. Rather, HPV is a skin-to-skin infection, so intercourse is not the only mode of transmission for the virus
  • Read more to learn the other “co-factors” that can increase the risk of HPV in men and women

One of the most common misconceptions when it comes to the human papillomavirus (HPV) is that people who often engage in casual sex — those who have multiple sexual partners as opposed to having one monogamous relationship — are the only ones who become infected with HPV. This is one reason why, when someone in a monogamous relationship acquires this infection, it often causes confusion, heartache and strain on the couple.

While having a higher number of sexual partners is a risk factor for many sexually transmitted infections (STIs) including HPV, it does not mean that this is the only way of getting the infection.1 You need to take note of the mode of transmission, as well as the fact that HPV can lie dormant for many years.2

HPV Can Spread Easily and Rapidly

The ease of how HPV spreads is the primary reason why it’s such a widespread infection today, and why the majority of sexually active people will be exposed to the virus at some time in their lives.

However, take note that HPV does not spread just through sex. Rather, HPV is a skin-to-skin infection, so you may become infected by other means than sexual intercourse. For example, in some rare instances, mothers can pass on an active HPV infection to her baby during childbirth.3

Nevertheless, sexual intercourse is the primary way of spreading the infection,4 whether you are having vaginal, oral or anal sex. When the penis, vagina, anus, cervix or vulva touches another person’s genitals, the virus can be transmitted. Genital HPV infection can also spread to the oral cavity (throat and mouth) through oral sexual intercourse.

And even if no penetration (the penis simply touched the other person’s genitals) or orgasm occurs, the virus can still be passed on5 Once it’s transmitted, the virus lives in the topmost layer of the skin or in the mucous membranes.6

Using Condoms Does Not Guarantee HPV Protection

Many people believe that in order to protect themselves from HPV, they should use protection. While this may work to some degree, it is not always a reliable preventive measure.

It’s true that condoms can provide ample protection against STIs that are spread via body fluids, but since HPV is passed through skin-to-skin contact, this type of protection may not be as efficient. Keep in mind that condoms only cover the penis — this means that the virus may still be lurking on the scrotum or anus, or on the woman’s vulva, and may still be passed on. 

(Don’t be quick to dismiss condoms, though, as they are still useful for providing protection against other illnesses, like HIV, as well as unplanned pregnancies.)7 Thus, wearing condoms during sexual intercourse can still be beneficial.8

Other Risk Factors of HPV Infection

According to a study published in the journal Clinical Research in Infectious Diseases, there are other “co-factors” that can increase the risk of HPV in men and women. These include:9,10

Unsafe sexual behavior — Adolescents and young adults under 25 years old who are more prone to engaging in casual sex and who have had multiple partners since their sexual debut have a high risk of HPV infection.

Mode of infection pathway — Microcuts, small tears or abrasions in the squamous or mucosal epithelium can provide a better pathway for the virus.

SmokingFemale smokers have a twofold increased risk of getting HPV-related cervical cancer compared to nonsmokers. Male smokers who have had five or more oral sex partners also have a high risk for oral and throat HPV-related cancers.

AlcoholIt impairs immune function, leading to “immune deficiency and increased sensitivity.”

Not being circumcised — Males who have been circumcised have a lower risk of HPV-caused cancer of the penis and prostate.

Oral contraceptives — According to one study, using contraceptives may “affect clearance or persistence of HPV infection, progression or regression of preneoplastic and neoplastic lesions.”

Having other STIs — Infections like C. trachomatis can put women at a higher risk of cervical cancer.

Poor immune function — People who have HIV, which targets the immune system, are at higher risk of HPV.


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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