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How Is HPV Transmitted? Can You Get It Through Kissing?

Medically reviewed by Mia Dacumos, MD · Nephrology · Makati Medical Center

Written by Dan Navarro · Updated 2 weeks ago

How Is HPV Transmitted? Can You Get It Through Kissing?

Whenever we talk about sexual health, concerns about sexually transmitted diseases or STDs usually come to mind. This is defined by Planned Parenthood as infections that are transmitted sexually through vaginal, oral, or anal means. Among all of these infections, the United States’ Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) considers HPV as the most common form of STD. But how is HPV transmitted? Can you get it through kissing? 

How Is HPV Transmitted?

Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is a sexually-transmitted infection that is very common and can be acquired by most individuals who engage in sex. There are more than 200 strains of HPV – each of which is named with a certain number. Forty of these strains can infect the genital area such as the vulva, vagina, and cervix for women, penis and scrotum for men, and the rectum and anus. 

Most genital HPV are harmless and do not manifest any observable symptoms. Some strains are low-risk as they only manifest genital warts and do not lead to cancer. Meanwhile, high-risk strains cause abnormal changes in the cells that may lead to cancer in parts of the genitals such as the cervix, vulva, penis, and anus.

This may also lead to Oropharyngeal cancer which affects the throat, mouth, and tonsils. Sadly, symptoms of high-risk HPV strains do not manifest until it becomes severe.

Can You Get HPV Through Kissing?

HPV spreads when a person infects another through skin-to-skin contact, but the virus does not manifest any symptoms. Thus, a person might not know that he or she is infected and can spread the disease to the other person. However, it is understood that HPV is spread through the following:

Vaginal/Anal Sex

Sexual intercourse involving genital (penis) penetration in the vagina and anus can contribute to the spread of HPV. As noted by the CDC, the virus most commonly spreads through this sexual act.

Genital-to-Genital Contact

Skin-to-skin contact in the genital area, even without penetration, is also a potential mode of transmission of HPV. 

Oral Sex

Genital stimulation using the mouth, lips, or tongue can bring HPV from one person to another. This includes stimulation of the penis (fellatio), vagina (cunnilingus), or anus (anilingus).

Sex Toys

Despite not having actual skin-to-skin contact, sharing sex toys may also bring HPV infection from one user to another. In a study by Anderson, et. al (2014), it was found out that HPV may potentially be transmitted via using a shared sex toy and can be detected for up to 24 hours after cleaning.

Furthermore, the National Children’s Hospital said that genital warts, a manifested symptom of HPV, can also be present in babies and children when:

  • The mother infected with HPV gives birth to a newborn
  • The hands of someone infected with HPV is being used to change diapers
  • Bathing babies and children using towels that have been used by someone with HPV
  • Babies spread their warts using their hands

Common Misconceptions on HPV Transmission

How is HPV transmitted? Are women more likely to get the disease? Can you get HPV through kissing? Will it affect someone’s pregnancy? Is the HPV vaccine safe? Here are some common misconceptions on the spread and prevention of HPV:

Are Women the Only Ones Prone to HPV?

Men and women of all ages are at risk of having HPV. According to Planned Parenthood, people who have engaged in sexual activities may acquire HPV at some point during their lifetime. However, women are more prone to cervical cancer that is associated with high-risk HPV strains.

Are Condoms Effective Against HPV Transmission?

Planned Parenthood says that a condom is effective against acquiring other STDs such as Gonorrhea and HIV. However, this does not completely protect a person against HPV that spread through skin-to-skin contact.

How Is HPV transmitted? Can You Get It Through Kissing?

So far, some studies suggest that open-mouthed kissing contributes to the spread of HPV from a person to another. A study by D’Souza, et. al (2009), for instance, said that open-mouthed kissing is associated with oral HPV infections. Can you get HPV through kissing? There isn’t any proof on this, but still, prevention is key.

Can I Acquire Cancer Once I Have HPV?

HPV can be acquired at some point in our lifetime. In most cases, according to the Throat Cancer Foundation, our immune system will get rid of HPV strains once it enters the body. However, there is still a risk for cancer.

Can HPV Affect Pregnancy?

The MD Anderson Cancer Center says that, in most cases, HPV does not hamper a woman’s pregnancy.

Is the HPV Vaccine Safe?

Yes, HPV vaccines are safe. People may experience some side effects and mild reactions, but it is proven effective against the further spread of HPV.

Preventive Measures Against HPV Transmission

According to the CDC, we can prevent ourselves from acquiring the virus from other people through the following:

  • Get vaccinated. The HPV vaccine is a tried-and-tested drug that can protect us against diseases caused by HPV. 
  • Take routine screenings for cervical cancer. HPV can take a toll on women due to possible cervical cancer risks. Thus, they should regularly take routine screenings to prevent the onset of cervical cancer.
  • Wear condoms properly. During any sexual activity, it is important to wear condoms for men, and dental dams for women, to avoid potential transmission of STIs such as HPV. 
  • Practice monogamy. Engaging in sex with multiple partners can lead to a higher risk of HPV infection. It is recommended for sexually active individuals to be in a “mutually monogamous relationship.”

Key Takeaways

HPV is considered the most common sexually transmitted disease. How is HPV transmitted? It can be transmitted unknowingly from one person to another. Despite being generally harmless, some strains may lead to serious health concerns. It is vital to be vaccinated early on and practice safe sex to curb the potential HPV infection. Speak to your doctor about HPV prevention. 


Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Medically reviewed by

Mia Dacumos, MD

Nephrology · Makati Medical Center

Written by Dan Navarro · Updated 2 weeks ago

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