FAQs for Men

What Men Need to Know About HPV

Men most often have two types of questions or concerns when they first hear about HPV: What are their own risks from HPV, and how can they help protect their partners?

Additional information on HPV and men can be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s fact sheet.

Q

Do men get HPV?

A

Yes, men get HPV in the same way women do, through intimate (genital) skin-to-skin contact – usually through sexual intercourse (vaginal or anal). However, HPV rarely causes serious health problems in men, particularly in those who have healthy immune systems.



Q

How common is HPV in men?

A

HPV is very common in both men and women. It's difficult to develop specific estimates for men, since large studies among males have not been done in the United States, and an FDA-approved HPV test for men is not available. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that more than half of American men will get HPV at some point in their lives.



Q

What are the symptoms of the HPV virus?

A

The HPV virus usually does not produce any symptoms. Even if the virus causes changes in skin cells, they are often so minor they are not noticeable (and are not of concern). When the HPV virus does cause noticeable changes, the most common result is genital warts – typically appearing around the anus or on the penis, scrotum (testicles), groin or thighs. These warts can vary in appearance from small, flaky patches to pronounced, raised growths. Genital warts are not serious and can be treated, although they may re-appear if the body's immune system has not fully suppressed the HPV virus. Rarely, "high-risk" types of HPV can cause certain types of cancer, such as cancer of the penis or anus (with the latter usually occurring in gay, bisexual or HIV-positive men).



Q

Is there an HPV test for men?

A

There is currently no FDA-approved test to detect HPV in men. That is because an effective, reliable way to collect a sample of male genital skin cells, which would allow detection of HPV, has yet to be developed. In October 2009, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) did approve the use of the first HPV vaccine (marketed as Gardasil®) for boys or men age 9 through 26 for the prevention of genital warts caused by human papillomavirus (HPV) types 6 and 11.



Q

What should you do if you have genital warts? Should you stop having sex?

A

There is a risk of spreading the HPV infection that caused the warts to your partner if you have direct genital contact while the warts are present. Using a condom may reduce that risk.



Q

Should you stop having sex with your partner if she finds out?

A

There is no need to stop having sexual contact with your partner if she is tested for the virus and finds out she has HPV. The virus is commonly exchanged between sexual partners, and by the time HPV is detected, it most likely already has been shared between the two of you. And, once a particular type of the virus has been exchanged, there is little risk of a "ping-pong" effect – in which you and your partner keep re-infecting each other with the same type. (In other words, you don't need to worry about passing the same type of HPV back and forth.) However, if you become sexually involved with a different partner, you may pass any types of HPV that are "active" in your body to her, and vice versa.

Remember: HPV is not a sign that you or your partner has been unfaithful. HPV can be "silent" for many years before it is detected by a test. Your partner may have had the HPV virus for a long time, and there is no way to know when or from whom she got it.



Q

What can you do to protect yourself, and your partner?

A

Because HPV is so common, it is difficult to avoid it altogether. It is reasonable to expect that you will get HPV at some time during your life. Sexual contact with just one partner can be enough to get or spread the virus.

However, you can minimize any risks for you, and your partner, by:

  • Limiting your number of sexual partners, and choosing partners who do the same.
  • Wearing a condom when not in a long-term, mutually monogamous relationship. [Condoms protect against most sexually transmitted infections, including HPV. However, they do not provide complete protection against HPV, since they do not cover all genital skin.]
  • Avoiding sexual contact with a new partner when genital warts are visible.
  • Encouraging your wife or girlfriend to be screened regularly with a Pap test and (if she is age 30 or older) an HPV test.

In addition, studies have shown that men who are circumcised appear to be at less risk of penile cancer than those who are not.



Q

Is there an HPV vaccine for men?

A

In October 2009, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved use of the first HPV vaccine (marketed as Gardasil®) for boys or men age 9 through 26 for the prevention of genital warts caused by human papillomavirus (HPV) types 6 and 11.