HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) in the United States. Though most types of HPV cause no symptoms, there are some high-risk strains of the virus which can potentially cause cancer. It’s important to understand what types of activities and health issues may increase your likelihood of becoming infected. The following list details the main risk factors for becoming infected with HPV.
Nearly all sexually active people will be infected with HPV at some point in their lives. However, the highest rates of infection tend to occur among people in their 20s. In fact, the HPV test is not recommended for women between the ages of 21 and 29. Because it is so widespread among people in this age group, it’s not helpful to test for it.
2. Unprotected Sex
HPV is spread through skin-to-skin contact, so having sex without a condom increases the risk of infection. A condom should be used every time you have sex from start to finish in order to provide the best protection. Keep in mind, however, that condoms may not cover areas of the skin that are infected with the virus. Using condoms reduces your risk but is not a guarantee that you won’t become infected.
3. Sex With Multiple Partners
If you have sex with multiple partners, or have sex with someone who has had multiple partners, it may increase your risk for contracting HPV. Limiting the number of sexual partners you have could help to reduce your risk. However, HPV is so common that even having sex with just one partner could put you at risk.
Remember that HPV can be spread in other ways besides vaginal intercourse. HPV can be spread during anal sex and oral sex, too. It may also be passed from one person to another during intimate skin-to-skin contact with no penetration.
4. Being Unvaccinated
The HPV vaccine is one of the best ways to prevent becoming infected with high-risk strains of HPV. The vaccine provides up to 99% protection against some of the most dangerous HPV types when it’s administered before someone becomes sexually active.
You can still get the vaccine after you’ve already had sex, but it cannot protect against any HPV types to which you’ve already been exposed. In addition, the HPV vaccine doesn’t protect against many low-risk HPV types, although these strains usually don’t cause any symptoms or health risks.
If you have a weakened immune system, your body will be less capable of suppressing an HPV infection. This applies to people with congenital immunodeficiencies as well as those with health conditions like HIV. Some studies have found that immune-boosting supplements like AHCC may help with long-term suppression of the virus.
If you’re sexually active, HPV is always going to be a risk, but there are certain things you can do to protect yourself. Take steps to reduce your risk of HPV infection by practicing safe sex and getting the HPV vaccine.
- Inside Knowledge About Gynecologic Cancer: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2015
- HPV and HPV Testing: American Cancer Society, 2019
- Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Vaccination: American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, 2017
- Human Papillomavirus (HPV): U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, 2019
- Phase II Evaluation of AHCC for the Eradication of HPV Infections: U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2018