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Lesbians and HPV

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Updated June 18, 2014

Question: Lesbians and HPV
I just found out that my partner has HPV. We are a lesbian couple and I am concerned about whether or not I can get it. Can lesbians transmit the virus to one another?
Answer: The human papillomavirus (HPV) can be transmitted though lesbian sexual activity. The virus is transmitted through sexual skin-to-skin contact with an infected person. No penile penetration is needed to contract the virus. Lesbians can contract the virus from an infected partner through:
  • genital to genital contact
  • touching the genitals of a partner and then your own
  • sharing sex toys without first disinfecting
How Lesbians Can Reduce the Risk of HPV

There are several ways lesbians can reduce their risk of transmitting HPV:
  • using condoms on sex toys if sharing
  • using gloves when touching genitals
  • limiting the number of sexual partners and practicing safe sex
  • staying in a monogamous relationship
HPV cannot be 100 percent prevented, even among heterosexual couples. Abstinence from all sexual activities is the only real method of prevention, although unrealistic for most adults.

How to Find Out if You Have HPV

Most women with HPV find out they are infected through a routine Pap smear. A Pap smear detects cervical changes caused by HPV. These cervical changes, if left untreated, could eventually lead to cervical cancer. This is why a Pap smear is essential for all women.

It is important to note that all types of HPV will not lead to cervical cancer. Most cases of HPV resolve on their own without medical treatment. But it is important to monitor cervical changes to see if they require treatment.

Unfortunately, there is a common misconception in the lesbian community that lesbians do not need Pap smears. This is entirely false. All women need to have regular Pap smears, regardless of sexual orientation. Current American Cancer Society screening guidelines suggest women should begin to have their first Pap smear about three years after sexual intercourse, or by age 21, whichever comes first.

The HPV test is a direct means of detecting HPV. One way of following women aged 30 and over is to perform a Pap and an HPV test every three years. The HPV test is also used in women who have had abnormal Pap smears.

The HPV test can determine if a woman is infected with the virus and what type of HPV is present. It can be used to identify women with a high risk that may need to be followed more closely. There are many types of HPV, and there are high risk strains known to cause cervical cancer.

Sources:

"Lesbian Health." WomenHealth.gov. Jan 2005. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 21 Jan 2007.

Marrazzo JM. Barriers to infectious disease care among lesbians. Emerg Infect Dis [serial on the Internet]. 2004 Nov [date cited]. Available from http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/EID/vol10no11/04-0467.htm

Marazzo JM, Koutsky LA, Stine KL, Kuypers JM, Grubert TA, Galloway DA, et al. Genital human papillomavirus infection in women who have sex with women. J Infect Dis. 1998;178:1604–9.

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