Health + Wellness

Do Condoms Prevent HPV?

Purple shields representing HPV prevention with condoms.
Strong research shows that condoms help prevent HPV and the health problems it causes, including genital warts and cervical, throat or tongue cancer. Although the short answer is yes, condoms help protect against HPV, there is a lot more to say about this common sexually transmitted infection (STI).

What is HPV?

HPV, or the human papillomavirus, is really a group of more than 150 related viruses. Different types of the virus infect different parts of the body. About 40 of them are known to infect the genitals (penis, vagina, vulva, and cervix). Some also infect the mouth and the throat.

Most types of HPV do not cause any long-term health issues. In fact, the body is usually able to clear the virus on its own often without any symptoms and probably without you even knowing you had it.

However, there are two types of HPV—6 and 11 (yes, they have numbers)—that are known to cause 90% of all genital warts. And another two types — 16 and 18 — cause 70% of cervical cancer. There are about five other types (we won’t bother with the numbers here, there’s no quiz), that are considered high-risk types because they also cause cancers of the genitals, mouth, or throat.

How Common is HPV?

HPV is super common. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says everyone who is sexually active will likely get it at some point in their life. As we said, most of the time HPV goes away on its own without causing any problems, but certain strains can lead to more serious health issues.

How Is HPV Transmitted?

HPV is transmitted through skin-to-skin contact, so any kind of sexual behavior can potentially pass the virus between partners. It is most commonly spread during vaginal and anal sex, but it can be spread through oral sex as well.

HPV can be transmitted between partners even if the person who has it has no signs or symptoms.

How do I know I have HPV?

The truth is: most people may never know they had HPV because it often causes no symptoms. Some people may see a wart on or near their genitals and others may get abnormal results from their HPV test of the cervix or Pap test, which can be done on the cervix or the anus.

Warts are usually small, flat, raised bumps. If they get big enough, they may start to resemble cauliflower. If you see a wart on your genitals (or, truthfully, any kind of bump that didn’t used to be there), show it to your health care provider. But, remember, just because you don’t see a wart doesn’t mean it’s not there. Warts may be in out-of-the-way places like inside the vagina or on the cervix, or they may be simply too small to see.

Pap tests typically take cells from the cervix (the bottom part of the uterus) using a tool that looks a lot like a mascara brush. The tests look for abnormal cell changes that could become cancer if not treated. The good news is that the Pap test can find these changes early and your health care provider has treatments that can prevent these “pre-cancers” from becoming cancer. Pap tests can also be used to look for cancer of the anus.

There is also a specific test that looks for high-risk types of HPV on the cervix. The CDC recommends women (or anyone at risk for cervical cancer), get an HPV test starting at age 30.

As of now there are no screening tests for HPV on/in penises and no tests for HPV of the mouth or throat.

Can HPV Be Treated?

There is no cure for HPV, but the body often clears the infection on its own. There are some treatments for genital warts. And, people who get abnormal results from their Pap test or HPV test have options for treatment as well that can often prevent precancerous cells from becoming cancer.

Can Condoms Prevent HPV Transmission?

Condoms reduce the risk of transmitting HPV if the infected area is covered by the condom. HPV can be in places not covered by a condom, like on the scrotum, but research has shown that using a condom significantly reduces HPV risk.

And, condoms have also been shown to reduce the risk of HPV-related health issues, including genital warts, cervical dysplasia and cervical cancer.

Is there a vaccine for HPV?

There is a vaccine that prevents HPV, genitals warts, and related cancers. As its name suggests, Gardasil 9 prevents the nine most high-risk types of HPV—including the ones that cause most cancers and genital warts. Experts believe that widespread vaccination could eliminate 92% of all HPV-related cancers or over 31,000 cases of cancer each year.

The vaccine has been available since 2006 and it is recommended that people get it around age 11 so they are fully protected before they have sex. However, it’s approved for people up to age 45. Check with your health care provider to make sure your vaccinations are up to date or ask your provider about getting it now.

Learn more about maintaining your sexual health and wellness:

STI symptoms

STIs and condoms

What is a UTI and what does it have to do with sex?

Sex and yeast infections

The Most Common Symptoms of an STI

How to Put on a Condom Correctly

Yes, Condoms Do Expire & How You Store Them Matters