Updated 4/1/19

The human papilloma virus (HPV) is a common sexually-transmitted virus that increases the risk of genital warts and several cancers, including those of the cervix, vulva, vagina, penis, anus, mouth, and throat. HPV can be spread by skin-to-skin contact that occurs with oral, vaginal, or anal sex, as well as by shared use of sex toys. It is well established that those at increased risk to contract HPV or have difficulty clearing the infection include:

  • those with compromised immune systems, including people who are HIV+
  • people who have multiple sexual partners
  • smokers
  • uncircumcised men

But we were surprised to learn that women who have:

  • used birth control pills for >5 years
  • given birth to 3 or more children

also appear to be at increased risk to get HPV.

It is possible that there are some confounding variables at play here, meaning that some of these risk factors are associated or correlated with other risk factors for HPV. For example, it is possible that women who have used birth control pills for >5 years are sexually active and are not using latex condoms during sex, both factors that increase HPV transmission. But the bottom line is that HPV is common, and prevention should be a major goal for all of us.

Photo by Chris Weaver, via Flickr