Q&A: HPV And Genital Warts: Are They Contagious?

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QUESTION: I have HPV and genital warts and I would like to know how I got them and whether they are contagious. My healthcare provider told me that these things come from men?

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HPV on ThinPrep

Photo: euthman (flickr)

There are more than 100 strains of HPV and some of these strains are linked to problems with a woman’s cervix, including cervical cancer.

HPV stands for the human papillomavirus. There are more than 100 strains of HPV and some of these strains are linked to problems with a woman’s cervix, including cervical cancer. Women and men who have certain strains of HPV may also get genital warts, which can be caused by the virus.

People get HPV from sexual contact with other people. HPV can be transmitted during oral sex, vaginal sex or anal sex. HPV can even be transmitted from “dry sex”, when people rub their genitals together but don’t actually have intercourse.

HPV is extremely common and, although most sexually active women and men have been exposed to HPV from a sexual partner, not everyone who has HPV knows that they have it.

For example, as of now we don’t have reliable HPV tests for men so most men who have HPV may not know that they have it unless they have a more obvious symptom, such as noticeable genital warts.

HPV Transmission

HPV can be passed to other people during sexual contact. Because of this risk, people who have HPV or genital warts should tell their current or potential sexual partners that they have HPV.

Although condoms cannot fully protect against HPV, since HPV is transmitted from skin contact and condoms do not cover all of a person’s genital skin, using a condom can certainly reduce the risk of transmission.

HPV is a very common sexually transmissible infection, or STI. Both men and women can get HPV and both men and women can pass it on to their sexual partners.

With time, people who have genital warts often find that they have fewer outbreaks. Also, warts typically do not cause any discomfort or pain. Some healthcare providers do not recommend treating warts as they often go away on their own. Other times, healthcare providers may recommend treatments for genital warts.

If you are interested in learning more about your treatment options, ask your healthcare provider for more information.

Learn More

You can learn more about HPV and genital warts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s web site.

You can also learn more about STIs and other important sexual health information by reading Our Bodies, Ourselves by the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective.

Dr. Debby Herbenick (M.P.H., Ph.D.)

is a sexual health educator at The Kinsey Institute, Associate Director of the Center for Sexual Health Promotion at Indiana University and author of several books including Sex Made Easy and Because It Feels Good: A Woman's Guide to Sexual Pleasure and Satisfaction.
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