HPV stands for a human papillomavirus. It’s the most common sexually transmitted infection. HPV is usually harmless and goes away by itself, but some types can lead to cancer or genital warts.
There are more than 100 types of human papillomavirus (HPV). About 40 kinds can infect your genital area — your vulva, vagina, cervix, rectum, anus, penis, and scrotum — as well as your mouth and throat. These kinds of HPV are spread during sexual contact. (Other types of HPV cause common warts like hand warts and plantar warts on the feet — but these aren’t sexually transmitted.)
Genital HPV infections are very, very common. In fact, almost everyone who has sex gets the HPV virus at some point in their lives. Most people with HPV have no symptoms and feel totally fine, so they usually don’t even know they’re infected.
Most genital HPV infections aren’t harmful at all and go away on their own. But some kinds of HPV can lead to genital warts or certain types of cancer.
Two types of HPV (types 6 and 11) cause most cases of genital warts. Warts are no fun, but they’re considered low-risk HPV because they don’t lead to cancer or other serious health problems.
At least a dozen types of HPV can sometimes lead to cancer, though two in particular (types 16 and 18) lead to the majority of cancer cases. These are called high-risk HPV. Cervical cancer is most commonly linked to HPV, but HPV can also cause cancer in your vulva, vagina, penis, anus, mouth, and throat.
There’s no cure for HPV. But there’s a lot you can do to keep HPV from having a negative impact on your health. There are vaccines that can help protect you from ever getting certain types of HPV. Genital warts can be removed by your nurse or doctor. High-risk HPV can usually be easily treated before it turns into cancer, which is why regular Pap/HPV tests are so important. While condoms and dental dams don’t offer perfect protection, they can help lower your chances of getting HPV.
How do you get HPV?
HPV is easily spread from sexual skin-to-skin contact with someone who has it. You get it when your vulva, vagina, cervix, penis, or anus touches someone else’s genitals or mouth and throat — usually during sex. HPV can be spread even if no one cums, and even if a penis doesn’t go inside the vagina/anus/mouth.
HPV is the most common STD, but most of the time it isn’t a big deal. It usually goes away on its own, and most people don’t even know that they ever had HPV. Remember that most people who have sex get HPV at some point in their lives. You don’t need to be ashamed or afraid.