So, you or your partner was recently diagnosed with HPV. You might be overwhelmed by the diagnosis, with dozens of questions swimming in your head. In particular, lots of newly diagnosed men and women wonder, “Can I still have sex if I have HPV?”
First, let us just say, welcome to the club! Even if you’re well-aware of just how widespread HPV is and the likelihood that you’ll get it at some point (1), receiving an actual diagnosis can be kind of jarring. Once you’ve gone through all of the questions in your head about what to do and who to talk to, you may begin to wonder if all the sexy time with your partner(s) will have to stop. Here’s the deal.
Is Sex with HPV Okay?
Because of the ubiquity of HPV, it makes sense that this is a common question. If you were dealing with chlamydia or gonorrhea, you’d probably understand that it’s best to wait until the infection clears up to continue engaging in sexual acts. But HPV is a little different. Your body can suppress it long-term, but it doesn’t clear up in the same way as some other STIs. It can also cause some health issues, some of which can go unseen for months or even years. So, because of the many variables involved with HPV, we emphatically say: It depends!
Here are some things to consider before having sex with HPV:
The strain of HPV you have can highly influence the answer to this looming question.
- Genital Warts: If you have a strain of HPV that produces genital warts, we suggest refraining from sexual contact while the symptoms are present, as warts can spread the virus easily. If the warts don’t go away on their own, there are treatments available.
- High Risk: If you have a strain of HPV that’s high-risk, it’s best to tell your partner(s), especially if you’re in a monogamous relationship. This is because 1) chances are they have it too, (if they have a cervix, they can go get tested), and 2) they can provide support for you as you go through your diagnosis and potential treatment (2).
- Low-Risk: If you have a strain of HPV that’s not high-risk and does not produce warts, how did you find out that you have it? Lol. No jk, but nearly everybody has had or will get this type of HPV. The best thing to do is let your partner know the facts: you have HPV, it’s not high-risk, it doesn’t cause genital warts, and your body is likely going to suppress it naturally. Then, talk to them about using protection. You can remind them that protection isn’t 100% effective against HPV since it spreads through skin-to-skin contact, but ultimately, condoms can reduce the risk of HPV transmission.
Your relationship status can also significantly affect whether or not you should have sex with HPV.
- Same Partner(s): If you’re in a monogamous relationship and receive the news that you have HPV, chances are your partner(s) already have it, too. According to the American Sexual Health Association, “It’s certainly possible—even likely—that the partner is or has been infected with the virus, although highly unlikely that he will ever show any symptoms. Nor is it possible to determine whether he can spread HPV to a future partner (3).” So, in our editorial opinion, we believe that’s a green light to go ahead and keep having sex. Nice.
- New Partner(s): If you are a person who casually dates or are in a polyamorous relationship which incorporates new partners, you should consider taking preventative measures to help keep your partner(s) clear of the virus. In other words, wear condoms!
Regardless of relationship type, it’s still necessary to discuss your diagnosis with your partner(s) and talk about how they would like to proceed.
How to Prevent Spreading HPV
Because of how easy it is to acquire and transmit HPV, there’s no real way to stop HPV from spreading. In fact, the only things that 100% eliminates the risk of spreading HPV would be by avoiding sexual contact altogether. And that doesn’t just mean genital-to-genital sex; it also includes oral sex and sexual touching, since the virus can spread through skin-to-skin contact. That means no fingering, no hand jobs, and no naked dry humping. NONE of it.
For most people, that’s not a realistic method of protection, especially since HPV can remain in your body for years. Plus, the majority of people who have HPV experience absolutely no symptoms or health problems as a result of their infection, so drastic measures like cutting out all sexual contact aren’t necessary.
Instead, we recommend using protection to help prevent HPV from spreading. By protection, we really mean barriers, which include condoms and dental dams. Dental dams are really important because there have been quite a few high-publicity cases of oral cancer thought to be linked to HPV (4). However, because HPV can be spread through skin-to-skin contact, there still is some risk.
So, Does That Mean I Can’t Have Sex With HPV?
Not at all. What we’re trying to say is that you should be honest and open with your partner(s) about your diagnosis. And even though it’s likely that your partner(s) has, has had, or will get HPV, there are preventative measures that you can take which will reduce the risk of transferring the virus. Ultimately, it’s up to you and your partner(s) to decide what’s best for your sexual relationship.
- About HPV: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2019
- Can You Have Sex When You Have HPV?: Self, 2019
- HPV Myths & Facts: American Sexual Health Association, 2019
- Erin Moran Died From Throat Cancer, a Disease That’s Growing Among Younger People: Health.com, 2019