Can You Get HPV From Fingering or Fisting?

While it isn't a common mode of transmission, you can get human papillomavirus (HPV) through hand contact, such as by fisting or fingering. HPV is a sexually transmitted infection (STI). It is a highly contagious virus that spreads from skin to skin.

This infection can lead to cervical cancer, anal cancer, penile cancer, and certain types of oral and throat cancers. In addition, some types of HPV can cause genital warts or warts elsewhere on the skin.

Illustration of human papilloma virus
KATERYNA KON / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY / Getty Images

There are three vaccines—Gardasil 9, Gardasil, and Cervarix—that can reduce the risk of HPV transmission. However, many people will be exposed to one or more HPV variants at some point during their sexual lives. That's why it's important to understand the various modes of transmission of these viruses.

The Risk From Fingering Is Low

Studies have shown it is possible to reduce the risk of HPV transmission during oral sex and intercourse by using condoms or other barriers. However, people often wonder if other forms of sexual activity may also carry a risk of HPV transmission. Can fingering or fisting without a glove might put someone at risk of HPV infection?

For practical reasons, it is difficult to conduct a study to determine the risk of HPV transmission from fisting and fingering. Still, evidence suggests you can get HPV from fingering. More specifically, research has shown that it is possible to transmit HPV from the fingers to the genitals.

In 2010, scientists from the University of Washington found that HPV could be found on the fingertips of a reasonable fraction of women. In addition, the HPV found there was frequently the same type that they were infected with genitally. This suggests that HPV went from their fingers to their genitals or vice versa.

Repeat positive fingertip tests were rare. Therefore, the scientists concluded that fingers were unlikely to be a major source of HPV transmission. However, other studies have linked receiving fingering to an increased risk of HPV infection in men who have sex with men.

These studies have indicated that having warts on your fingers or hands is associated with an increased risk of genital and rectal HPV infections. The risk may not be as high as through other types of transmission. Still, it does seem that fingering can transmit HPV.

If you are concerned about HPV exposure, it may be worth using gloves while engaging in sexual activities that involve fingering or fisting. That can protect your hands from exposure to genital HPV and vice versa.

If you have long nails, gloves are still an option. Just pad your nails with cotton balls under the gloves. That reduces the likelihood of your nails puncturing the gloves.

Gloves are generally considered a good idea for these activities for a number of other reasons as well. They don't just protect against HPV. They also reduce the transmission of other bacteria and viruses that can live under the fingernails.

It is worth noting that HPV infections are more likely to progress and to progress quickly if you have an immune disease, like HIV.

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