Can Condoms Protect Against HPV?

The truth about HPV prevention

Torn packaging of wrapper containing a condom
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HPV is transmitted through both sexual contact and sexual intercourse and is considered to be the most common sexually transmitted disease in the world. 

It was long thought that condoms did not provide protection against the human papillomavirus (HPV). However, findings from a study in the New England Journal of Medicine suggest that condoms do provide some measure of protection against HPV.

In this study at the University of Washington, women whose partners always wore condoms, and who did so correctly, decreased their risk of being infected with HPV by 70 percent. Women whose partner wore a condom more than half of the time they engaged in sexual intercourse, but not always, were 50 percent less likely to contract the virus.

More on Contracting HPV and Condoms

HPV is spread through sexual contact, meaning that no penetration is needed to contract the virus. So HPV can be spread through vaginal sex, anal sex, oral sex, or any form of sex play. 

Even if condoms are worn during sexual activity, and worn correctly, there is no 100 percent guarantee of protection against HPV. In other words, while condoms may lower a person's risk of transmitting or getting HPV if used consistently and properly, HPV can still infect the uncovered areas—it's still a risk. 

Remember too, HPV is a term used to encompass over 100 different strains of the human papillomavirus. Some of these strains cause genital warts (for example, HPV types 6 and 11) and some are known to cause cervical cancer, penile, vulvar, vaginal, anal, and throat cancers (for example, HPV types 16 and 18).

With genital warts, even if warts are not visible, it does not mean that person does not carry HPV. Also, while genital warts can be treated, the virus cannot be cured.

So the big picture here is that sexual partners do not even know they are infected with HPV or that they may be transmitting it to their partner. 

Tips for Reducing Your Risk

Along with using condoms, there are several things you can do to help reduce your risk of contracting HPV. For one, you can limit the number of sexual partners you have. The more sexual partners you have, the more you put yourself at risk of contracting HPV.

You should also consider getting the HPV vaccine. Gardasil, the current FDA-approved vaccine, is available to young women ages 9 through 26 and young men ages 9 through 21.

The vaccine protects against two types of HPV known to cause cervical cancer, and two types known to cause genital warts. It's important to understand that the vaccine can prevent HPV transmission, but it cannot treat people who already have HPV.

The only other way to protect against the transmission of HPV is to practice abstinence.​

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Article Sources

  • Winer RL. Condom Use and the Risk of Genital Human Papillomavirus Infection in Young Women.New England Journal of Medicine. 2006 Jun 22;354(25):2645-54. 

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (June 2015). Sexually Transmitted Disease Guidelines, 2015.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (November 2016). HPV Vaccine Q and A.