While condoms can significantly reduce the risk of transmission of many sexually transmitted infections (STIs), they do not offer complete protection against human papillomavirus (HPV).

Condoms do not completely eradicate the risk of transmitting or contracting HPV. This is because HPV can pass between people through skin-to-skin contact and spread to and from areas that a condom does not cover.

HPV does not usually cause any symptoms. Some low risk HPV strains can cause skin warts on or around the genitals, anus, mouth, or throat.

High risk HPV strains link to cancers such as cervical, anal, and throat cancers. Strains like HPV 16 and HPV 18 have a higher risk of leading to cervical cancer.

This article examines whether a person can get HPV when using a condom.

Sexual health resources

Visit our dedicated hub for more research-backed information and in-depth resources on sexual health.

Was this helpful?
A condom used to protect against STIs, apart from HPV. -2Share on Pinterest
Larry Washburn/Getty Images

While condoms do not offer complete protection against HPV, they significantly reduce the risk of transmission.

HPV is a very common virus. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 13 million people in the United States contract HPV yearly.

The widespread nature of the virus contributes to its transmission. Using a condom lowers the risk of contracting HPV, but there is still a risk of transmission.

This is because HPV transmits through skin-to-skin contact, not just through bodily fluids. This differs from many other STIs, which typically transmit through bodily fluids, such as semen or blood.

Condoms cover the penis in males or line the vagina, anus, or mouth in females, but they do not cover all of the genital skin.

HPV can spread to areas that a condom does not cover. Condom use often leaves some areas exposed, such as the scrotum, vulva, or perianal region. These can all be sites of HPV infection.

This means that people can transmit HPV during intimate contact even if they use a condom correctly.

Learn more about using condoms safely.

The most effective way to prevent HPV is through vaccination.

The HPV vaccine protects against the most common and high risk types of HPV that can lead to genital warts and various cancers, including cervical, anal, and throat cancers.

Doctors recommend vaccination for both males and females before they become sexually active. The National Cancer Institute (NCI) recommends routine vaccination from ages 11 or 12 years. However, guidelines also recommend it for people up to age 26 years who have not received an HPV vaccination before.

The NCI also indicates that although the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the HPV vaccine for people up to age 45 years, healthcare professionals do not recommend it for all adults between 27 and 45 years.

Learn more about the high risk types of HPV.

Other ways to avoid HPV

Other ways to attempt to avoid HPV include:

  • Condom use: While condoms do not offer complete protection against HPV, as the virus can infect areas that a condom does not cover, consistent and correct use of condoms during sexual activity reduces the risk of HPV transmission.
  • Limiting sexual partners: Reducing the number of sexual partners can decrease the likelihood of encountering the virus.
  • Mutual monogamy: Engaging in a mutually monogamous relationship with someone who has tested negative for HPV can reduce risk.
  • Avoiding sexual activity with partners with HPV: Avoiding sexual contact with partners known to have HPV or who are showing symptoms such as genital warts can reduce the risk of transmission.

Learn whether the vaccination works if a person already has HPV.

There is no cure for HPV. However, in most cases, the body’s immune system can clear the virus on its own, often within 2 years.

Many people who contract HPV may never show symptoms or experience health problems from it.

Learn more about whether HPV goes away.

Preventing the spread of HPV to a partner involves a combination of vaccination, safe sexual practices, and honest communication.

  • Get vaccinated: The HPV vaccine is highly effective at preventing the transmission of the most common and high risk types of HPV.
  • Maintain a healthy lifestyle: A strong immune system can help the body clear the virus more efficiently. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle, including proper nutrition, regular exercise, and avoiding smoking, can support immune function.
  • Avoid sexual activity when symptoms are present: If someone has visible genital warts or has received an HPV diagnosis, they should seek treatment and avoid sexual activity until the warts or the infection clears up.
  • Use condoms and dental dams: While they cannot provide complete protection against HPV, condoms and dental dams reduce the risk of transmission. This is because HPV transmits through skin-to-skin contact, and these barriers can cover a portion of the genital or oral areas.

Learn more about STIs, including transmission and contraction.

HPV links to several types of cancers, and screening for these cancers is an important aspect of healthcare.

Tests include:

  • Pap smear test (Pap test): This involves collecting cells from the cervix to look for precancerous changes, which a doctor can treat before they become cancer. Females should start getting Pap tests at age 21.
  • HPV test: This tests for the presence of high risk HPV strains that can lead to cervical cancer. Healthcare professionals often do this together with a Pap test for females over 30 years.

Learn about a Pap smear vs. an HPV blood test and which is best.

While people can still contract HPV when using a condom, the risk of getting it is much lower than without using one.

People should still use barrier contraceptives to minimize their risk of getting HPV or other STIs.