Chances are, a person who has regular unprotected sex will contract some form of HPV. Human Papilloma Virus, a sexually transmitted infection, is the most easily transmitted one out there. In America alone, there are roughly 14 million people who have HPV, with even more spread throughout various regions in the world. The biggest issue with the infection is that there isn’t a cure for it, meaning that once you contract it, it doesn’t go away. Now, you may be thinking, “Can I get genital warts without having sex?” Since HPV is transmitted primarily through sexual contact, it seems that a person who isn’t sexually active can’t contract it. But surprisingly, you can.
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How Can I Contract Genital Warts if I’m Not Sexually Active?
First, let’s take a look at what exactly HPV involves. After the virus is transmitted from one person to the other, it settles into their epithelial cells, which is just under the skin’s surface. It will lay dormant, or inactive, for a while before suddenly activating, reproducing until it breaks through the skin’s surface as a wart. It may take weeks or months after becoming infected with HPV for the warts to appear. Time between outbreaks can range from a few months to even a few years. However, remember that even if you’re not having an outbreak, HPV can still spread to your sexual partner.
Spreading the infection
The typical way in which genital warts are transmitted from one person to another can vary:
Intercourse: Intercourse is defined at a man’s penis entering a woman’s vagina. If either one of them is infected with HPV, they can spread it to the other. Even if there are no warts showing up at the time, it can still transmit through the epithelial cells, since the virus is housed there, even in its inactive state. If a condom is used, contact with an uncovered area such as the scrotum can still transmit the infection.HPV can be spread even if no warts are present.
- Oral Sex: Even when there is no intercourse involved, HPV can be spread via oral sex. Genital warts are normally specific to the genital region, meaning that contact with them won’t cause warts on your hands, feet, or other body parts. However, the mouth is the one other place besides the genitals where the growths can appear. When oral sex is performed, in both sexes, it can spread from the genitals to the partner’s mouth, causing the warts to appear in their mouth. It can also be spread from an infected person’s mouth to their partner’s genitals.
- Anal Sex: One area that genital warts can show up in is the anus. Just like intercourse, sex through the anus can spread genital warts from one partner to the other.
How can I get HPV if I’m not having sex?
Unfortunately, you can contract HPV without having intercourse, oral sex, or anal sex. Simply rubbing genital organs together can spread the infection, as the skin-on-skin contact is what will let the virus go from one partner to another.
The viral particles of HPV are housed inside the epithelial cells of your genital region. Never pick or scratch at your genital warts during an outbreak, as it can rupture the cells and cause viral particles to spread out onto the skin, both increasing the chances of transmission to someone else, and the chances of growths appearing elsewhere on your genitals.
There is another instance in which your chance of HPV transmission is higher and you can get genital warts without sex. Since the infection is spread through skin cells that contain the virus, it is possible to come into contact with them in places where they commonly slough off, such as towels or unwashed underwear. If you are infected with HPV, never share these items with another person.
Who Can Get Genital Warts?
The answer is that pretty much anyone is at risk for genital warts.
However, there are factors that will increase your chances of contracting it:
- Sexual Partners: The more people you have sex with, the higher the chances are that you’ll contract HPV. Even without having intercourse, anal, or oral sex, the more sexual skin-on-skin contact you have, the greater the risk of being infected.
- Unprotected Sex: If you are having sex without protection, the chance of catching HPV increases dramatically. Remember, though—a condom isn’t going to necessarily stop the genital warts from spreading, but it is always a wise decision to use one, as it does decrease the risk.
Ways that you can’t get genital warts
HPV is spread through contact. Whether it is sex, the genitals touching together, or the infected’s sloughed-off skin cells rubbing against your genital region, the epithelial cells coming in contact with your genitals is what does it. Many people think that the common or plantar wart can spread to the genitals, but it is not true.
Other myths include:
- Kissing: You cannot spread HPV through kissing someone who has warts on their genitals. The virus is localized to the skin cells of the genitals and won’t be in saliva. The one exception is if you’ve contracted warts in your mouth or throat through oral sex, which can be spread through kissing.
- Hands: The types of warts that show up on the hands, feet, and common body areas are a different strain of virus. They are specific to these other body parts and cannot cause warts to appear on the genitals. This means that if you have a wart on your hand, you won’t spread it to your partner by touching them on their genitals. The opposite is true as well—you can’t contract the HPV by touching your infected partner on the genitals.
- Air Transmission: HPV is not like the common cold or other illnesses that can be carried through the air. You can’t contract it simply by being around an infected person or even right up close to them.
How severely are genital warts contagious? For a more detailed explanation, find it here.
Why should I care?
There are several reasons to be careful when it comes to contracting genital warts. For one, there is no cure for it, meaning that you’ll have periodic outbreaks of it during the rest of your life. Another reason is that it can complicate your sex life dramatically. Since condoms are not 100% effective at preventing genital warts, it can be extremely hard to engage in any kind of sexual activity without transmitting the infection from one partner to another. Always discuss your genital warts with any sexual partner. For more information about sex with genital warts, go here.
There is a way to completely prevent HPV. Gardasil, a vaccine, will protect you from the strains of the virus that cause genital warts. It is typically given to both sexes within the age range of 9 through 26.
Another reason you should care about HPV is the health risk it carries. A person infected with the virus has an exponentially higher chance of contracting cervical, penile, and vaginal cancer. For those infected with warts of the mouth from oral sex, their chance of getting mouth and esophageal cancer rises dramatically as well. For women, annual pap smear tests are essential to catch the cancer early, as early detection almost always provides a complete cure.
Remember, HPV is extremely easy to spread through sex. But just because you’re not having intercourse, or even oral sex, it doesn’t mean you can’t become infected. There are several ways you can still end up with genital warts. Remember to always practice safe sex, limit your sexual partners, and take the appropriate measures to ensure that you’ll remain wart-free throughout your life.