Young Men's Health

Human Papillomavirus (HPV)


Human papillomavirus (HPV) can cause warts on the hands and feet, but other types are transmitted sexually and can cause genital warts. If you're currently sexually active, or have had any sexual contact in the past, it's important to learn the facts about how HPV is spread and what you can do to prevent getting it and/or passing it on to others.


What is HPV?

HPV is the most common STI. More than 40 types of HPV are sexually transmitted and can cause infections in the genitals, mouth, and throat. Because there are so many types of HPV, they are referred to by number. For example; 6 and 11 cause genital warts.


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.


How do people get HPV?

HPV is spread through genital contact; most often during vaginal and anal sex. It can also be passed on through oral sex. In order for you to contract HPV, you have to be having sexual contact with a partner who already has HPV. Using latex condoms during vaginal, anal, and oral sex can help protect against HPV, but HPV can also spread via skin that a condom doesn't cover.


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 small, cauliflower shaped growths that can develop on or around a guys' anus, thighs, groin, scrotum, or penis. They can also occur on the lips, mouth, tongue, or throat. Sometimes genital warts are so small that you may not be able to see them.


Is there a way to treat genital warts?

If you develop genital warts, or if you have a partner that has genital warts, you need to see your health care provider (HCP) because they are contagious and may require treatment.


Treatment options for genital warts include:

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?

Most of the time, a person who has a normal immune system will "clear" HPV without treatment. "Clear" means that the virus can't be detected. However, it's still possible that the virus can be latent and may cause symptoms later on. Also, it's important to remember that if you come in contact with the HPV virus again, you can become re-infected.


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:

Is there any way to prevent getting HPV?

The best way to prevent getting HPV is to be abstinent, or refrain from sexual contact.


If you are having sexual contact, you can reduce your risk of infection by having a monogamous sexual relationship (having sex with only one person who only has sex with you). Use latex condoms every time you have vaginal or anal sex, and use a dental dam for oral sex. Condoms and dental dams give some protection, but aren't perfect.


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: 8/23/2012


Related Guides:

Gardasil® (HPV Vaccine)

Boys and young men can get vaccinated between the ages of 9 and 26, and the CDC recommends Gardasil® 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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