Human papillomavirus (HPV) does not directly impact a woman’s fertility, although complications from HPV can make becoming pregnant difficult. This common sexually transmitted infection may, however, impact a man’s fertility.
How Can HPV Impact a Woman’s Fertility?
If you are female, HPV will not usually impact your fertility. However, if your HPV causes abnormal cervical cells or cervical cancer, you may struggle to become pregnant.
Smear tests cannot detect HPV, but they can show abnormalities that may indicate you have this STI. When you get a smear test, cells from your cervix are sent away for analysis. If any of these cells are abnormal, they are then tested for HPV.
In certain cases, if the HPV test comes back positive, your care provider may perform a colposcopy. This simple medical procedure lets your care provider examine your cervix more closely. If abnormal cells are detected, they will be monitored for changes or removed if they don’t clear on their own. This doesn’t mean you have cervical cancer or will get it.
When medical teams remove cancerous or precancerous cells from your cervix, your fertility may be impacted. This occurs for two key reasons:
- Removing cells can change the way your body produces cervical mucus.
- Your cervix may narrow, making it harder for sperm to enter and eggs to become fertilized.
If you are diagnosed with cervical cancer, which can be triggered by HPV, you will need more aggressive medical treatment such as chemotherapy. These procedures can certainly compromise fertility.
It’s important to remember though that many strains of HPV are not linked to cervical cancer. Therefore, these risks to your fertility are not something you should worry about unless your care provider tells you that you are at risk.
How Can HPV Impact a Man’s Fertility?
While there has been little scientific research into the link between HPV and male fertility, preliminary studies suggest the virus may compromise a man with HPV’s ability to conceive. A 2011 study published in Current Opinion in Obstetrics and Gynecology found early miscarriage was more common in eggs fertilized by HPV-infected sperm. A 2015 study published in the Journal of Pathogens found HPV-infected sperm were slower, because the virus binds to their heads. This makes them less likely to fertilize an egg.
However, even researchers agree that more studies are needed to definitively determine the effect of HPV on male fertility.
Could Assisted Reproductive Technologies Help?
If you are struggling to become pregnant, you might turn to assisted reproductive technologies such as intrauterine insemination or in vitro fertilization. However, research suggests couples with HPV have poorer results than couples without the virus.
A 2018 review published in Gynecological and Obstetric Investigation found assisted reproductive technologies were less effective when men had HPV. Women with HPV also seem to be impacted using assisted reproductive technologies. A 2016 study published in Gynecological and Obstetric Investigation found women with HPV were six times less likely to become pregnant through intrauterine insemination than women without the virus.
Despite these studies, it is always worth investigating all your options if you want to have a baby. While you may not be as successful as couples without HPV, modern technology could still help you fulfill your dreams of having a family.
Does the HPV Vaccine Affect Fertility?
Taking the HPV vaccine is totally safe and will not compromise your ability to have children in any way. If you are a woman, it might actually boost your fertility by reducing your chances of developing the precancerous and cancerous cells in your cervix that could compromise your fertility later. A 2018 study published in Scientific Reports even found men who already had HPV had higher pregnancy rates after they were vaccinated, so it may be worth getting the shot even if you have the virus.
How Do I Prevent HPV?
With several studies suggesting HPV could put fertility at risk, whether directly or indirectly, it’s worth taking steps to prevent contracting this sexually transmitted infection in the first place. The HPV vaccine is the most effective way of preventing the spread of HPV. This series of shots will help protect you from a range of strains of HPV. Men and women up to age 45 can both get the HPV vaccine. Using condoms when you have sex is another good way to prevent contracting HPV.
Women should also have regular smear tests, as HPV screenings are part of their procedure. If you do get diagnosed with HPV, using condoms diligently with future partners can help you prevent passing the infection on.
If I Do Get Pregnant, Could HPV Harm My Baby?
You don’t need to worry about HPV putting your baby at risk. This virus usually won’t compromise your baby’s development or health. Some babies develop HPV in the womb, but they usually clear their bodies of the infection all on their own.
In very rare cases, HPV may cause genital warts large enough to block the birth canal. If this occurs, your medical team may suggest having a C-section. However, in most cases, you will be able to have a healthy vaginal birth, even if your HPV has caused genital warts.
Genital warts aren’t usually passed on to newborn babies, although this can sometimes occur. When it does, these warts usually form on the baby’s vocal cords. Surgery can remove these rare growths.
Once you have your baby, you also don’t need to worry about passing HPV on through your breast milk. This kind of transmission is very unlikely, according to 2017 research published in The Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal. Since your breast milk contains antibodies that can keep your baby safe, the advantages of breastfeeding your baby if you can outweigh any risks.
Can Other STIs Affect My Fertility?
A range of sexually transmitted infections can impact your fertility. These include:
All these sexually transmitted infections only cause infertility if they are left untreated though. As many people don’t show symptoms, getting regularly tested for STIs is the best way to ensure these infections don’t compromise your fertility.
The role of human papillomavirus on sperm function, National Center for Biotechnology Information, August 2011
Breast Milk Is a Potential Vehicle for Human Papillomavirus Transmission to Oral Mucosa of the Spouse, National Center for Biotechnology Information, July 2017
The Risk of Human Papillomavirus Infection for Spontaneous Abortion, Spontaneous Preterm Birth, and Pregnancy Rate of Assisted Reproductive Technologies: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis, Karger, September 2018
Human Papillomavirus Prophylactic Vaccination improves reproductive outcome in infertile patients with HPV semen infection: a retrospective study, National Center for Biotechnology Information, January 2018