Can You Catch HPV From Your Partner?
You can catch HPV easily from your partner. HPV passes from one person to another through any skin to skin contact, not just from having sex. It can be passed on from any genital skin to skin contact as well as from vaginal, oral or anal sex.
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the name of a large group of viruses. They are common and some of them cause genital warts.
There are more than 100 types of HPV. This group of viruses can cause a verruca, warts on your hands, or genital warts. Many HPV infections passed on during sex are harmless. A small number of HPV types can cause changes to your cells. These changes can cause some types of cancer. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) HPV types 16 and 18 are responsible for 50% of cervical cancer cases.
You might not get any symptoms when you have HPV. Symptoms that you might get include lumps around your vagina, penis, or anus, called genital warts. Genital warts are small, fleshy lumps which do not cause pain.
How common is HPV in the UK?
HPV is common in the UK. Most people will get HPV at some point during their life. If you have had a verruca or a wart on your hand, an HPV infection will have caused this. Since 2008 there has been a national vaccination programme. This vaccine gives immunity to the most common types of HPV which can cause cancer.
How do you catch genital warts or HPV?
You catch HPV by having skin to skin contact around your genitals. This includes your vagina, penis, or anus (bottom).
Touching the genitals or sharing sex toys can also spread HPV. This is much less common than direct contact between your genitals and your partner’s genitals.
You do not need to have penetrative sex to pass on HPV and genital warts.
If you have sex or have been active sexually in the past, you may have caught HPV. Not all types of HPV will cause genital warts or will increase your risk of cancer. In most cases, you won’t notice any symptoms and HPV will clear up on its own. It can be 2 years for HPV to clear from your body.
If my partner has genital warts will I get them?
The virus that causes genital warts is easy to pass on. If your partner has genital warts and you are sexually active, it is likely you will catch the virus.
HPV doesn’t always cause symptoms. This means that your partner may not have warts that you can see. Even if your partner doesn’t have warts they can still pass on HPV when you have sex. You may or may not develop visible warts.
Symptoms of genital warts can take several weeks or months to appear.
How can I protect myself against HPV when having sex with my partner?
HPV is easy to pass on to your partner when you have sex. Using condoms or dental dams can help to stop you from catching HPV. HPV lives on the skin, meaning condoms and dental dams don’t provide complete protection from the virus.
Getting vaccinated against HPV will offer you the best protection against catching the HPV viruses that can cause more serious illnesses. The NHS offers the vaccine to girls and boys aged 12 to 13.
If you have missed this vaccination, it is available on the NHS until you are 25 years old for:
- girls born after 1 September 1991
- boys born after 1 September 2006
If I have HPV should I tell my partner?
You should talk to your partner if you have genital warts or have a positive HPV test. Some types of HPV can increase the risk of certain types of cancer. These types of HPV can cause changes to your cells which can cause cancers. Types of HPV that put you at more risk of cancers are called high risk types. High risk HPV types are linked to the following cancers:
- cervical cancer
- anal cancer
- penile cancer
- vulval cancer
- vaginal cancer
Screening for high risk HPV is part of the cervical screening service for women. Most men are not offered screening for HPV. Men who have sex with men have a higher risk of catching high risk HPV. If you are part of this group, you may be able to get screening for HPV from your local sexual health clinic.
You can have HPV for several years without symptoms and don’t need to have been sexually active recently. You don’t need to have had a new sexual partner to have caught HPV.
Some people are worried about telling a partner that they have HPV. It’s important to understand that HPV doesn’t normally cause symptoms and may have been present for years.
Finding out that you have HPV doesn’t mean you have been unfaithful to your partner.
Your immune system will fight HPV naturally and your partner’s immune system may give them good protection against getting HPV.
Normally the immune system will help to get rid of the virus without any further treatment.
Genital warts can be treated by your GP, or by registering with our online service. You can view the treatments we offer here.
Should I get the HPV vaccine?
If you are sexually active, you will be at risk of contracting HPV. Most people in the UK will catch a type of HPV during their lifetime.
People in some groups may be at more risk from HPV than others. The UK vaccination programme against HPV aims to reduce the chance of catching high risk HPV strains.
If you have not had the vaccine at school, you might be able to get a free vaccination on the NHS. This will depend on your age, gender, and sexual orientation.
Men who have sex with men under the age of 45 are eligible for an NHS vaccination against HPV.
If you are not eligible for an NHS vaccination but are sexually active, you should still consider having the vaccination. This is the best way to protect yourself against HPV and the cancers that it can cause. Research has shown that the vaccine has reduced cervical cancer rates in women in their 20s by close to 90%.
Dr Kathryn Basford
Dr Kathryn Basford is a qualified GP who works as a GP in London, as well as with ZAVA. She graduated from the University of Manchester and completed her GP training through Whipps Cross Hospital in London.Meet our doctors
Article created: 04 Jul 2022
Last reviewed: 04 Jul 2022
Cervical Cancer (2022) WHO [accessed 27 June 2022]
The effects of the national HPV vaccination programme in England, UK, on cervical cancer and grade 3 cervical intraepithelial neoplasia incidence: a register-based observational study (2021) The Lancet [accessed 27 June 2022]
Find a sexual health clinic (2022) NHS online [accessed 28 June 2022]
Genital Warts (2020) NHS online [accessed 27 June 2022]
HPV vaccine overview (2019) NHS online [accessed 27 June 2022]
(Reviews are for ZAVA UK)