Can You Get HPV From Kissing?

Given oral sex has been linked to an increased risk of throat and mouth cancers caused by human papillomavirus (HPV), there is very real concern that simply kissing might lead to the transmission HPV.

Portrait of a couple with man kissing cheek
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Research

Some studies have suggested that open-mouth kissing may be linked to HPV transmission, but it's important to know there has been no direct correlation.

One longitudinal cohort study of heterosexual couples found people with a partner with oral HPV faced a higher risk of being diagnosed with oral HPV themselves—either via oral-oral or oral-genital contact.

This suggests kissing may play a role in oral HPV transmission. However, investigators noted there were far more significant risks associated with smoking and oral sex.

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

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 80% of people who are sexually active will become infected with HPV at some point during their lives. but it is important to know that the vast majority of HPV infections will not lead to cancer.

In fact, fewer than 1% of all HPV infections annually lead to an HPV-associated cancer. The most effective way to protect against HPV infection in yourself or your children is to follow the recommended CDC vaccine schedule for Gardasil 9, the only approved HPV vaccine available in the US.

Although most sexually active people will have been exposed to HPV at some point during their lives whether they realize it or not, it's a good idea to discuss the potential of exposure to or infection by any sexually-transmitted microbes with a sexual partner prior to being intimate.

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. Your doctor can work with you on ways to cope if you're feeling emotionally impacted.

HPV Doctor Discussion Guide

Get our printable guide for your next doctor's appointment to help you ask the right questions.

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Article Sources
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  1. Dahlstrom KR, Burchell AN, Ramanakumar AV, et al. Sexual transmission of oral human papillomavirus infection among men. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. Dec 2014;23(12):2959-64. doi:10.1158/1055-9965.EPI-14-0386

  2. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Human papillomavirus: HPV vaccine schedule and dosing. Updated August 15, 2019.