Is HPV a Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD)?

Learn About How Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Is Spread

Woman receiving a vaccination
Peter Dazeley/Photographer's Choice/Getty Images

The human papillomavirus (HPV), which appears in many different viral strains, is an extremely common virus that currently affects over 20 million Americans. While many people carry the virus with no symptoms or long-term health risks, it is an important topic as different strains of this virus can cause more serious health concerns from genital warts to cervical cancer.

Is Human Papillomavirus an STD?

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs), are infections that are transmitted through some aspect of sexual contact.

STIs come in many forms and can be caused by bacteria, viruses, or even parasites. The human papillomavirus (HPV) is considered one of the most common sexually transmitted viruses. It is transmitted through both sexual contact and sexual intercourse, which means that there doesn't necessarily have to be penetration in order for it to pass from one person to another.

Put more simply, human papillomavirus is spread through skin-to-skin contact. Vaginal and anal intercourse are also methods of HPV transmission, as is oral sex, though it is less common.

Though HPV is considered an STI because of its mode of transmission, it is not always categorized as a sexually transmitted disease (STD). Diseases that are spread through sexual contact are usually referred to as sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), but many health care professionals have begun moving away from using that term for all instances of infection.

This is because the term "disease" can suggest a clear medical problem with obvious signs or symptoms. In cases in which a person with HPV experiences no symptoms, HPV can be described as an infection which may or may not result in a disease. It should be noted, however, that not all medical professionals make this distinction.

Is There Anything I Can Do To Protect Myself from HPV?

Because human papillomavirus can be passed on by sexual contact and not just penetration, prevention can be difficult. The only guaranteed means of preventing human papillomavirus is through absolute abstinence from all sexual contact; however, this is unrealistic for most adults.

Condoms provide only limited protection from HPV because there are parts of the genitals that are left unprotected during intercourse.

Even though sexually active people may not be able to fully protect themselves from exposure to human papillomavirus, there are other means of protection from the virus and its long-term health concerns depending upon your age.

The human papillomavirus vaccine is also a method of preventing HPV. The FDA-approved vaccine, Gardasil, has been proven effective against four strains of HPV known to cause cervical cancer and genital warts in women. Not everyone is a candidate for Gardasil, but what most people don't know is that the vaccine is also recommended for boys and young men.

Getting vaccinated against HPV and using a condom each time you have sex are all excellent ways to reduce your risk of contracting human papillomavirus.

But even with these precautions, it is best to keep up with your routine checkups and screenings.

For More Information About HPV

What Is HPV? The human papillomavirus (HPV) is sexually transmitted virus. There are currently over one hundred known strains of HPV. About thirty of these strains affect both male and female genitalia, causing conditions like genital warts and more seriously, cancer. Read more here.

Interesting Facts About HPV—Top 5 Things You Didn't Know. With the FDA approval of Gardasil, the vaccine for human papillomavirus (HPV), there have been many reports in the media about how HPV is passed between person to person.

Even still, there are still a lot of interesting facts about the virus that most people do not know. Read more here.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention."Sexually Transmitted Disease Guidelines 2006." Sep 2006. Accessed 7 Nov 2006.

University of Maryland University Health Center. "Sexually Transmitted Infections." (2009)

Continue Reading