Can You Get HPV From Kissing?

Portrait of a couple kissing
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Oral sex has been linked to an increased risk of those throat and mouth cancers caused by HPV. Therefore, it's not surprising that people often ask if kissing can lead to HPV transmission.

Research

Several studies have now suggested that open-mouth kissing and tongue kissing may be linked to HPV transmission. In 2014, a longitudinal cohort study of heterosexual couples found that when someone's partner had oral HPV, they had a high risk of being diagnosed with oral HPV themselves—either via oral-oral or oral-genital methods. This suggested that kissing may play a role in oral HPV transmission. However, investigators made a point of noting that there were far more significant risks associated with smoking and oral sex.

A case-control study published in 2009 also found that college-aged men with oral HPV infections had more open-mouth kissing partners and oral sex partners than men who did not have oral HPV infections. In addition, kissing and HPV were associated even with young men who had never had oral sex. It's important to know that the numbers involved in the study were small and that the study results should be treated with caution. However, in 2015, a study of 30- to 50-year-old women also linked the number of people they'd kissed with an open mouth to the likelihood of finding HPV in their mouth. 

Several other studies have also found an association between intimate kissing and oral HPV, although cases are rare and the association is not universal. At least one small Australian study did not find a link between kissing and HPV. However, it was hampered by low infection rates and few participants. 

Overall, the research suggests that French kissing, or other open-mouth kissing, may lead to HPV transmission. That said, it's not something most people have to worry about.

Sex and HPV Infections

Approximately 80% of the sexually active population will be infected with HPV at some point during their lives. The prevalence of infection may change now that three HPV vaccines—Gardasil, Gardasil 9, and Cervarix—are available. Still, the virus is likely to remain common for quite a few more years.

It's a good idea to discuss any known exposures when you have your pre-sex chat with a new partner. However, it's also important to remember that most sexually active people will have been exposed to HPV at some point during their sexual lives whether they realize it or not. HPV infections likely won't cause a significant impact on their lives.

However, if you're experiencing signs or symptoms of an HPV infection, you should see a doctor for accurate diagnosis and to work out a treatment plan. There are effective ways of preventing HPV and also ways to cope if you're infected.

HPV Doctor Discussion Guide

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