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Sex toys and smooching: Can they give you HPV?

The latest in HPV: Good news for folks who kiss someone with oral HPV, not so much for those who share sex toys.

We’ve said it before: human papillomavirus (HPV) is incredibly common. But scientists are still working out some of the details when it comes to how the virus is transmitted and how it can affect people who get it. What we do know is that HPV is sexually transmitted and that most people’s bodies clear an infection on their own. We’ve also known for a long time that a couple types of the virus (out of more than 40 different strains) can cause cervical cancer.

Good news for people who love kissing (a.k.a. all of us)

More recently we’ve learned that HPV in the mouth can cause mouth and throat cancers. Men are more likely than women to get mouth or throat cancer, though even for men these cancers are rare. Researchers wondered whether folks whose partners had HPV-related mouth or throat cancer would be more likely to have oral HPV infections or cancers too. A new study on the subject found some good news: it showed that partners of people with HPV-related mouth or throat cancer were no more likely than people in the general public to test positive for HPV in the mouth and no more likely to have cancer of the mouth or throat. The findings suggest that kissing someone with an oral HPV infection doesn’t increase your chances of developing mouth or throat cancer down the line.

Sex toys: A new frontier in HPV research

Researchers are just beginning to learn how HPV interacts with sex toys. One very small study showed that about half of vibrators still had detectable levels of the virus on them after being cleaned. The study tested vibrators made of thermoplastic elastomer and silicone. About 20% of the thermoplastic elastomer vibrators still had detectable HPV after 24 hours, but none of the silicone ones did.

Researchers have their work cut out for them: we need to learn much more about HPV and sex toys before being able to recommend best practices for safely sharing and cleaning them. That said, you don’t need to wait for more research to decide to keep your toys all to yourself, or to use condoms (one for each partner) if you share them.

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