Although it is a sexually transmitted infection, you can get HPV even in sex without penetration, such as with skin-to-skin contact. Hence, there's been a lot of doubt as to whether condoms -- even when used perfectly -- can protect against HPV.
Doubters still can point to the fact that condoms don't offer perfect protection. But they now have to admit they help.
Women whose male sex partners use condoms consistently -- and correctly -- cut their risk of HPV infection by 70%, according to the study by University of Washington researchers Rachel L. Winer, PhD, and colleagues.
"Male condoms effectively reduce the risk of male-to-female genital HPV transmission," Winer and colleagues write.
The findings appear in the June 22 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine.
In an editorial accompanying the report, Family Health International researchers Markus J. Steiner, PhD, and Willard Cates Jr., MD, MPH, spell out what this means.
"Persons who choose to be sexually active can be reassured that condom use can reduce the risk of most sexually transmitted diseases," Steiner and Cates write. "Persons who abstain from sexual intercourse or who are uninfected and mutually monogamous eliminate the risk of sexually transmitted infections."
Winer's team studied 82 college women, aged 18 to 22, who began sexual activity either during or just before the start of the 5-year-study.
The women kept a diary of their sexual activity. They also underwent Pap screens, DNA tests for HPV, and gynecologic exams every four months.
Women whose sex partners used condoms less than 5% of the time had an HPV infection rate of 89 infections per 100 patient-years. That is, if 100 of these women were sexually active for one year, 89 of them would have HPV infections. Women who used condoms every time they had sex had an HPV infection rate of 38 infections per 100 patient-years.