How HPV Is Spread

couple in bed with feet under sheets

HPV is only spread through skin-to-skin contact. Although it’s usually transmitted during sexual intercourse, there are other ways it can be passed from one person to another. Learn more about how HPV is transmitted so you can better protect yourself during intimate contact with a partner.

Where You Can Get HPV

First, it’s important to understand which areas of the body can become infected with HPV. This virus can affect the genital areas for both men and women, including the vulva, vagina, cervix, penis, scrotum, anus, and rectum. In addition, some types of oral HPV infect the mouth and throat.

How Do You Get HPV?

Now that you know the body parts which can be infected with HPV, it’s easier to understand how it is passed from one person to another. If your vulva, vagina, cervix, penis, scrotum, anus, or rectum touches another person’s genitals or mouth, it’s possible to for the virus to be transmitted.

HPV is most commonly spread during vaginal or anal sex. However, it may also be transmitted during oral sex or, in very rare cases, deep, open-mouthed kissing. HPV can be spread from one person to another even if neither individual cums or if no penetration has occurred. Wearing a condom reduces your risk of getting HPV, but it does not provide complete protection against infection.

HPV is contagious even when no symptoms are present. Even if you don’t know you have HPV, you could pass it on to a sexual partner.

Let’s clear up some specific questions about HPV transmission:

  • Can women get HPV? – Yes
  • Can men get HPV? – Yes
  • Can a woman give HPV to a man? – Yes
  • Can a man with HPV give it to a woman? – Yes
  • Can you get HPV from oral sex? – Yes
  • Can you get HPV if you wear a condom? – Yes
  • Can you spread HPV if you don’t know you have it? – Yes

Ways That HPV Cannot Be Spread

HPV isn’t contagious in the same way as the flu or the common cold. There are some misconceptions about how HPV is transmitted. To clear things up, check out the following list of ways that you can’t get HPV:

  • Hugging or holding hands
  • Sharing food, drinks, or eating utensils
  • Going in a swimming pool or hot tub
  • Sitting on a toilet seat
  • Someone with HPV coughing near you

Getting the HPV vaccine protects against some of the most dangerous types of HPV, but even vaccinated individuals may become infected with other strains of the virus. The best ways to protect against infection are to get tested regularly for HPV, use condoms, and limit the number of sex partners you have.

  1. Genital HPV Infection – Fact Sheet: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2017.
  2. HPV and Cancer: American Cancer Society, 2017.