HPV is a STI that can transmit during sex. Having HPV does not mean a person cannot date or engage in sexual activity. However, they may wish to take precautions or disclose they have HPV to sexual partners.

This article looks at what human papillomavirus (HPV) is and whether it is necessary for people to disclose that they have it.

It also discusses how a person can have this conversation with a partner and answers some frequently asked questions.

People holding hands over a cup of coffee discussing HPV.Share on Pinterest
Brian Powell/Stocksy

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) in the United States. In 2018, there were approximately 43 million cases of HPV.

The CDC also states that because HPV is so common, it is normal for almost every unvaccinated, sexually active person to contract the virus at some point.

Planned Parenthood notes that HPV usually causes no harm and resolves without treatment. Some people may not experience any symptoms, and as a result, may not be aware they have HPV. In 9 out of 10 cases, HPV resolves without treatment within 2 years without causing any health concerns.

In some cases, certain strands of HPV may lead to genital warts or cancer. The HPV vaccine can help to protect against contracting HPV.

Types of HPV

There are over 200 strains of HPV, which fall into low risk and high risk categories.

Low risk

Low risk HPV strains usually cause no symptoms or harm. Types 6 and 11 are responsible for most cases of genital warts. Genital warts do not lead to cancer.

High risk

There are around 14 types of high risk HPV strains. Types 16 and 18 are responsible for most cases of cancer from HPV.

The British Medical Journal notes that it is not necessary for people to disclose that they have HPV to current or previous sexual partners.

It is up to each individual whether they tell a partner if they have HPV or not. Some people may have no symptoms and be unaware that they have HPV.

Planned Parenthood advises that it may be best for a person who knows they have an STI, such as HPV, to inform any sexual partners.

Being honest allows a potential partner to make their own decision about possible exposure to HPV before any sexual contact occurs.

Due to misinformation and stigma around STIs, people may have concerns about a partner’s reaction when they tell them they have HPV.

The following tips may help when telling a partner:

  • Learn the facts about HPV: People can learn the basic facts about HPV, which they can then share with a partner. This may include telling them how common the virus is, and that it is usually harmless.
  • Plan and practice: People can plan what they want to say and practice saying it before they speak with a partner. This may help them feel more calm and confident.
  • Choose a suitable time and place to talk: A person should ideally find a time to talk when they will not have to rush the conversation. Choose an environment that each partner feels safe in and can easily exit from if they want to.
  • Inform a partner of the next steps: People can let their partner know about any treatment they are planning and the steps that both partners can take to reduce the risk of passing on HPV.

What to do if a person reacts badly

People may have fears or misinformation about HPV, which could cause them to react negatively to the news. If people have fears around HPV, they may react with anger, judgment, or rejection.

Either partner may want to leave the conversation to process information or an intense reaction. They should allow the other person time and space to process the information before trying to talk with them again.

People can speak with their partners about treatment plans and steps to reduce the risk of transmitting the virus.

If a partner becomes violent, or if a person feels in danger at any time, they can call 1-800-799-SAFE, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline, or call 911.

People can use condoms and dental dams every time they have vaginal, anal, or oral sex. However, it is important to note that it is still possible to transmit and contract the HPV virus even when using barrier methods.

If people have symptoms of HPV, such as genital warts, they may need to avoid having sex during treatment.

HPV is the most common STI, and most sexually active people will contract the virus at some point. It passes from person to person via vaginal, anal, or oral sex.

To reduce the risk of transmitting HPV to a partner, people can consider getting the HPV vaccine, Gardasil 9.

The HPV vaccine protects against many types of HPV, but not all of them. It can protect against:

  • types 16 and 18, which are responsible for 80% of cervical cancer cases
  • types 6 and 11, which can cause genital warts
  • types 31, 33, 45, 52, and 58, which can also cause cancer

The vaccine is available for people of all genders. Although it will not treat a current HPV infection, it can help to protect a person from contracting a different type of HPV.

People can also use barrier protection methods, such as condoms and dental dams. These can reduce the risk of HPV but will not completely protect against it, as people can pass on HPV through skin-to-skin contact during sex.

HPV does not always cause any symptoms, so testing can help detect any unusual changes that may indicate high risk HPV.

There are currently no tests to check for a person’s HPV “status” or test for HPV in the mouth, throat, or genitals. There are also no tests with Food and Drug Administration approval to check for HPV in the anus.

Cervical pap

In people with a cervix, an HPV test can show any abnormal changes due to HPV. People can get an HPV test at their doctor’s office or a healthcare clinic.

A Pap test, or smear test, checks for abnormal cells in the cervix, which could be a sign of cervical cancer. The HPV test checks for infection of the cervix from high risk HPV types.

Both a Pap test and HPV test use the same method to check the cervix. A health professional will use a specialized tool to take a sample of cells from the cervix for testing.

People may ask the following questions about HPV.

Does a recent diagnosis mean a partner has been unfaithful, even in a long-term relationship?

HPV can remain in the body for 10–20 years. People may have no symptoms and so be unaware they have HPV.

This means that if a person in a long-term relationship finds out they have HPV, it does not mean they have been unfaithful in another sexual relationship.

Will it lead to cancer?

Having HPV does not mean a person will get cancer. According to the National Cancer Institute, most HPV infections do not cause cancer.

Some high risk types of HPV that remain in the body for many years can cause cell changes. Without treatment, these changes may worsen and lead to cancer.

The HPV vaccine can prevent many types of cancer relating to HPV, as well as genital warts.

Should a person stop dating if they have HPV?

A person can continue to date if they have HPV.

If people know they have HPV, they may want to date a person for a while before engaging in sexual activity. This can give people the chance to get to know one another better before discussing HPV.

Does a person need to stop having sex if they have HPV?

People can continue to have sex if they have HPV. A person can inform any sexual partner if they have HPV and let their partner decide if they are happy to engage in sexual activity.

People can take precautions to help prevent passing on HPV to a partner, such as using condoms or dental dams every time they have vaginal, anal, or oral sex.

If people are looking for support or information about HPV, the following resources may help:

HPV is a common virus that can pass on through skin-to-skin contact during sex. Most sexually active people will contract the virus at some point in their lives.

Most types of HPV are harmless, and people may not experience any symptoms. Some types of HPV can cause genital warts. Some high risk types of HPV may lead to cancer without treatment.

People can get the HPV vaccine and practice safe sex to protect against HPV. Those with a cervix can also have an HPV test.