Most plans to prevent sexually transmitted diseases start with a choice between abstinence and condoms. Viruses like HPV present a challenge to this two-part decision process because condoms don’t provide the same coverage against the virus as they do against other STDs.
Certain strains of HPV have been found to be responsible for cervical cancer and genital warts and can also cause throat and oral cancer.
The vaccine has become a reliable option for those who have access to it before they become sexually active. Women over the age of 26 and men over the age of 21 are not eligible for the HPV vaccine and rely on condoms and partner selection for HPV prevention.
Denise Link is a member of the Arizona Nurses Association and a women’s health practitioner in Phoenix, Arizona.
Link said that condoms do not protect against many viruses because there are microscopic passage ways that the infection can get through.
A barrier like a condom may still reduce the risk of spreading and contracting HPV, according to Link, although she said “condoms are not 100 percent impermeable.” Small amounts of the virus may be able to seep through the condom even if it is not broken or torn.
“All that is needed to pass HPV from one person to another is skin-to-skin contact with a part of the body infected with HPV,” said the American Cancer Society on its website cancer.org.
The majority of people will contract a strain of HPV at some point within three years of becoming sexually active, according to Link.
But, she said “our immune systems are pretty efficient at clearing this virus” within two years. Link added that doctors are now waiting until women reach their thirties to test for HPV so as only to catch the persistent, problematic strains of it.
“Completely avoiding putting the areas of your body that can become infected with HPV ... in contact with those of another person” may be the only way to truly prevent spreading the virus according to cancer.org.
However, the vaccine has been remarkably effective in decreasing the spread of HPV.