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It’s unknown whether HPV can be spread by kissing. The virus can be passed during oral sex, but the evidence for whether you can be infected from kissing is inconclusive.
How HPV Spreads
HPV is a viral infection that spreads through direct skin-to-skin contact during vaginal, anal, or oral sex. No bodily fluids or blood must be exchanged in order to acquire the virus. HPV can be spread even if the infected person has no visible symptoms.
Kissing and HPV
In studies that looked at the ways in which oral HPV is transmitted, the results have been inconclusive. Some studies suggest that HPV might spread during open-mouth kissing, also known as French kissing. However, other studies have had conflicting results, so it’s unknown whether kissing can actually spread the virus.
Oral HPV is relatively common. About 3.6% of women and 10% of men have oral HPV. If HPV infects the mouth and throat, it often clears on its own within one to two years. However, it could lead to the development of warts or sores in the mouth. HPV may even lead to cancer of the oropharynx (the back of the throat, including the base of the tongue and tonsils). In fact, scientists believe HPV is the cause of 70% of oropharyngeal cancers in the United States.
How to Prevent HPV
There are several methods you can use to reduce your risk of an HPV infection:
- Get vaccinated for HPV. The vaccine protects against the high-risk strains of HPV that can cause cancer.
- Use condoms and dental dams during sex. The physical barrier doesn’t eliminate the possibility of transmission, but it does reduce the likelihood of skin-to-skin contact taking place.
- Talk with your sexual partners about testing. Knowing when your partner was last tested for HPV and STIs will help you understand the potential risks.