Young Men's Health

Human Papillomavirus (HPV)


HPV, short for Human Papillomavirus, is a group of over 100 different kinds of viruses, some of which cause warts on the hands and feet and others which cause genital warts and cervical cancer. If you’re sexually active, have had any sexual contact, or thinking about having sexual contact, your best protection is to learn the facts about how HPV is spread and how to prevent getting it.


What is HPV?

HPV (Human Papillomavirus) is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections. There are many different types of HPV and more than 40 are sexually transmitted. Researchers keep track of the different types of HPV by identifying them with numbers, such as 6, 11, 16, and 18.


Is it true that only girls get HPV?

No. Anyone who has sexual contact can get HPV - gender doesn't matter. In fact, approximately 20 million Americans are currently infected with HPV. The virus is so common that at least 50% of sexually active men (and women) will get it at some point in their lives.


Who can be infected with HPV?

Any sexually active personóno matter what color, race, gender, or sexual orientationócan get HPV. HPV is mainly spread by sexual contact. Very rarely, a mother who is infected with the HPV virus can infect her newborn baby during the delivery.


How do people get HPV?

HPV and genital warts are usually spread by direct skin-to-skin contact during vaginal, anal, or oral sex with someone who has been infected with HPV. Using condoms every time you have sex can help protect against HPV but they arenít perfect because HPV can be found on skin that isnít covered by a condom.


What are the symptoms of HPV in guys?

The symptoms of HPV can vary; a guy may be infected and not have any symptoms, or he may develop genital warts. It's important to remember that even if you don't have any symptoms, you can still pass on the infection.


What are genital warts?

Genital warts are growths on your skin that look like tiny bumps that can develop on or around your anus, thighs, groin, scrotum, or penis. They can also occur on the lips, mouth, tongue, or throat. They may be raised or flat, small or large. There can be only one wart or more than one in the same area. Warts can be pink or flesh-colored, red or brown. Some bumps grow together and look like a cauliflower.


What is the treatment for genital warts?

Treatments for genital warts range from watching to see if the warts go away, acid medicines, creams, and laser therapy. The treatment will remove visible warts and unwanted symptoms such as itchiness. The type of treatment your health care provider recommends will depend on the number, location, and size of the warts and the cost and side effects of the different treatments. Itís important to talk with your health care provider about treatment choices and what type of follow-up you will need.


Remember, if you have genital warts; do NOT use any type of over-the-counter "wart" medicine. These medicines are not meant for this type of wart.


Does getting rid of the warts mean I don't have HPV anymore?

No. Even if you receive treatment for the warts, you may still carry the virus. This is why warts can come back even after treatment.


If I get HPV, will I have it forever?

Researchers used to believe that if you had HPV you would always carry the virus, but because of new medical research, we now believe that in most cases a person who has a normal immune system will actually fight off HPV without treatment. This means that the virus can no longer be detected. However, it remains possible that in some people the virus is hidden and can cause symptoms later. It is important to remember that if you have had an HPV infection, you can still become re-infected with HPV if you come in contact with the virus again.


How can I prevent or lower my chances of getting HPV or genital warts?

The safest way to prevent getting other types of HPV is to NOT have sexual contact.


If you are having sexual contact, it is important to know that you can reduce your risk of infection by having sexual contact with only one partner who only has sexual contact with you. Using condoms every time you have sex gives you some protection, but condoms arenít perfect. Condoms donít cover a manís scrotum (the sack where the testicles are located) which can become infected with HPV. It just takes skin-to-skin contact to get the virus. Avoid having oral sex to prevent certain HPV infections that may cause oropharynx cancers (cancers in the back of throat, base of tongue and tonsils). Dental dams may offer some protection against HPV infections from oral sex with a partner who has HPV.


I heard that HPV can cause cancer in women - what about men?

This is correct. About 12,000 women in the US get cervical cancer each year, and almost all occurrences are related to the HPV virus. Although the development of cancer in men isn't as high as in women, it can still happen.


Each year in the US, HPV is the cause of:


I heard there's an HPV vaccine for girls, what about guys?

Yes; another very important prevention option is the HPV vaccine Gardasil®. It's the same vaccine that was first approved for girls and young women. In 2009, Gardasil® was approved by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) for prevention of HPV 6 and 11 in males aged 9-26. (HPV types 6 and 11 cause approximately 90% of genital warts.) The CDC (Centers for Disease Control) recommends Gardasil® for boys and young men ages 11 through 26.


If you're concerned about HPV, here's a tip on how to bring it up with your provider: "I've read that HPV is a really common STI. What can I do to prevent getting it?"


Written by the YMH Staff at Boston Children's Hospital


Updated: 11/12/2014


Related Guides:

Gardasil® (HPV Vaccine)

Boys and young men can get vaccinated between the ages of 9 and 26, and the CDC recommends Gardasilģ for boys and young men ages 11-26. The best time to get vaccinated is before you have any sexual contact...


General STI Information

Anyone who has sexual contact can get an STI. Men and women of all ages, ethnic backgrounds, and incomes can get them...



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