What Causes HPV?
HPV is short for Human Papilloma Virus. There are approximately 30 strains of it which can affect the genital area. People of any gender can be infected with HPV, but there notably more concern about women catching it, as some strains seriously increase the risk of cervical cancer.
Other strains can cause genital warts (note: these, while similar, are not the same as HSV/Herpes Simplex Virus/Herpes, which can cause genital sores/lesions and shedding).
HPV frequently has no signs or symptoms, which makes it really easy to pass on to your partners. Often it’s only discovered when women get their cervical smears – it causes an abnormal smear no matter what the strain. However, it can also be tested for during an STD panel, if specifically asked for.
There is now two vaccination against HPV available (Gardasil and Cervarix). These are currently only available for females. If you already have HPV, it’s unfortunately too late to take the vaccination, but what you can is take measures to minimise the likelihood of passing it on to someone else.
How do I prevent HPV?
The only way to completely remove any chance of passing HPV on is to have no genital contact with anyone ever! However, sensible precautions are probably the way to go, especially given that approximately 80% of people will be infected with HPV in their lifetimes and many will never know it. Your actions will help minimize those numbers, or prevent catching it yourself.
Condoms are an excellent way to reduce the likelihood of transmission, but they aren’t completely effective. As HPV is on the genital area, not just in fluids, it can still be transmitted by skin-to-skin contact of the genitals. That said, don’t use it as an excuse to go without condoms! They are still sensible for use in penetrative sex and fellatio.
For cunnilingus and analingus (rimming), dental dams provide an excellent way of keeping yourself safe while still feeling every delicious bump and curve beneath your tongue. Dental dams are wonderfully stretchy and thin pieces of latex (there are non-latex ones available as well), and they usually come in mild flavours. They’re designed for single use only (and should never be transferred from anus to vagina), and you’ll find nearly all dental dams come with great instructions on how to use them. You can get them at any sex shop, and many pharmacies as well.
And don’t forget, of course, that there are many sexy things you can do that don’t require penetration or even tongue action! Let your fingers wander (use gloves if you want to be extra-safe); enjoy pleasuring your partner(s) with toys; or engage in mutual masturbation and see how they like to get themselves off! There are myriad ways of being sexual together – penetration is not the be-all and end-all, and you can have amazing sex without ever getting ‘groiny’
OTHER GREAT PLACES TO READ ABOUT WHAT CAUSES HPV
HPV.com – chock full of information about the different strains of HPV, cervical cancer rates, prevention tactics and more.
The Modern Safer Sex Guide, by Violet Blue – this free download is well worth taking the time to read. Covers prevention measures, sexual practices, and STD information.
How You Know You Have HPV – at the Daily Bedpost, Em and Lo explain how to get tested.