Are Lesbians at Risk for HPV?

How the Human Papillomavirus Is Transmitted

Women kissing in public
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Question: I just found out my partner has HPV. We are a lesbian couple and I am concerned about whether or not I can get it. Can lesbians transmit the virus to one another?

Answer: The human papillomavirus (HPV) can indeed be transmitted though lesbian sexual activity. In general, the virus is transmitted through sexual skin-to-skin contact with an infected person. No penile penetration is needed to contract the virus.

Lesbians can contract the virus from an infected partner through:

  • genital to genital contact
  • touching the genitals of a partner, and then your own
  • sharing sex toys without first disinfecting them

How Lesbians Can Reduce the Risk of HPV

There are several ways lesbians can reduce their risk of transmitting HPV:

There is no 100 percent guarantee that you will be able to prevent HPV, even as a heterosexual couple. Abstinence from all sexual activities is the only real method of prevention, although unrealistic for most adults.

How to Find Out if You Have HPV

Most women with HPV find out they are infected through a routine Pap smear. A Pap smear detects cervical changes caused by HPV. These cervical changes, if left untreated, can eventually lead to cervical cancer.

This is why a Pap smear is essential for all women.

It is important to note that all types of HPV will not lead to cervical cancer. Most cases of HPV resolve on their own without medical treatment. But it is important to monitor cervical changes to see if they require treatment.

Unfortunately, there is a common misconception in the lesbian community that lesbians do not need Pap smears.

This is entirely false. All women need to have regular Pap smears, regardless of sexual orientation. Current American Cancer Society screening guidelines suggest women should begin having their first Pap smears about three years after beginning sexual activity, or by age 21, whichever comes first.

The HPV test is a direct means of detecting HPV. One way of following women aged 30 and over is to perform a Pap and an HPV test every three years. The HPV test is also used in women who have had abnormal Pap smears. The HPV test can determine whether or not a woman is infected with the virus and what type of HPV is present. It can also be used to identify women with a high risk who may need to be followed more closely.

Further Reading

Cervical Cancer Prevention. Cervical cancer prevention should be a top priority for all women, and you can take several simple steps to reduce your risk of. Small lifestyle adjustments combined with medical care go a long way in preventing cervical cancer.

What Is HPV?

 The human papillomavirus (HPV) is a sexually transmitted virus. There are currently over 100 known strains of HPV. About 30 of these strains affect both male and female genitalia, causing conditions like genital warts and, more seriously, cancer.

How to Prevent and Reduce Your Risk of HPV. Currently, there are only two HPV prevention methods: abstinence and the HPV vaccine. But there are other ways to help reduce your risk of developing HPV.

Sources:

"Lesbian Health." WomenHealth.gov. Jan 2005. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 21 Jan 2007.

Marrazzo JM. Barriers to infectious disease care among lesbians. Emerg Infect Dis [serial on the Internet]. 2004 Nov [date cited]. Available from http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/EID/vol10no11/04-0467.htm

Marazzo JM, Koutsky LA, Stine KL, Kuypers JM, Grubert TA, Galloway DA, et al. Genital human papillomavirus infection in women who have sex with women. J Infect Dis. 1998;178:1604–9.

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