How to prevent HPV: here’s what you can do

Medically reviewed by Neka Miller, PhD on February 6, 2021. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.


Human papillomavirus, also known as HPV, is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) in the United States, and anyone who is sexually active can contract it. But—needless to say—this doesn’t mean that you have to stop having sex. There are several ways you can protect yourself against HPV and other STIs.

Want to learn more about how to prevent HPV? Below, we cover what you need to know about lowering your risk of getting HPV.


Screening for HPV without leaving your home just got easier with the Everlywell at-home HPV Test. The process is simple: you collect your own sample at home, send it to a lab for testing (shipping is free!), and get your easy-to-understand digital results in a few days. From there, you can collaborate with your healthcare provider to discuss next steps.


What is the main cause of HPV?

You can get HPV by having vaginal, anal, or oral sex with someone who has the virus, but it is most commonly spread during vaginal or anal sex. Although many young people in their late teens and early 20s made up much of the 40+ million HPV cases in the U.S. in 2018, anyone who is sexually active can get HPV.

Remember that HPV can be passed even when an infected person has no signs or symptoms, which means that even if you have had sex with only one person you are still able to contract this STI—or any other sexually transmitted disease. This is why it’s so important to take the necessary precautions to protect yourself.

How can you protect yourself from HPV?

Like any other sexually transmitted diseases and infections, the only way to guarantee you do not contract HPV is by abstaining from having sexual intercourse. However, we know that abstinence is not a realistic option for many people, and luckily there are several ways to lower your chances of getting HPV.

You can protect yourself from HPV by:

  • Using a latex condom every time you have sex. While condoms do not completely eradicate the risk of contracting any STDs, they’re highly effective in lowering your chances of getting or spreading HPV.
  • Being in a mutually monogamous relationship – or only having sex with someone who only has sex with you.
  • Getting the HPV vaccine. The CDC recommends getting the HPV vaccination as early as age 9 and for everyone through age 26 years, if not vaccinated already.

Can you get rid of HPV once you have it?

In most cases, HPV goes away on its own and does not cause any health problems. However, in the case that the STI does not go away, HPV can cause serious health problems like genital warts and cancer. If you are sexually active, you should consider getting tested for HPV and regularly screening for other STIs to catch a positive infection early.

While there is currently no cure for human papillomavirus, there are treatments available to help manage your symptoms if you do have HPV.


Take the Everlywell at-home HPV Test to check whether you test positive for high-risk genotypes of HPV. It’s easy—you collect your own at-home sample using a vaginal swab and send it to a lab for testing (a prepaid shipping label is included with the kit).


How can you prevent HPV from turning into cancer?

Most HPV infections don't lead to cancer. However, some types of genital HPV can cause cancer of the lower part of the uterus that connects to the vagina (cervix). Other types of cancers, including cancers of the anus, penis, vagina, vulva, and back of the throat (oropharyngeal), have been linked to infection by specific types of HPV.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cervical cancer can usually be prevented if women are screened regularly with a Pap test.

The Pap test, also known as the Pap smear, is a cervical cancer screening test administered by a healthcare provider. The test can detect abnormal cells in your cervix that may turn into cancer if they’re not treated.

According to the CDC’s HPV screening recommendations, women and menstruating individuals between ages 21-29 years should undergo a Pap smear every three years. Those between 30-65 years should get a Pap smear every three years, HPV testing every five years, or a combination of these two tests every five years (known as co-testing), depending on your healthcare provider’s recommendation (and if results are normal).


Want to test for HPV from home? Get the Everlywell HPV Test for an easy-to-use, at-home collection kit that includes everything you need for collecting a vaginal swab and sending it to a lab for HPV testing.


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References

1. Genital HPV Infection - Fact Sheet. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. URL. Accessed February 6, 2021.

2. HPV-Associated Cancer Statistics. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. URL. Accessed February 6, 2021.

3. What Should I Know About Screening? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. URL. Accessed February 6, 2021.

4. Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Treatment and Care. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. URL. Accessed February 6, 2021.

5. How often do I need a Pap smear? Johns Hopkins Medicine. URL. Accessed February 6, 2021.

6. HPV infection. Mayo Clinic. URL. Accessed February 6, 2021.

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