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
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
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.
This means the women whose partners consistently used condoms had 70% fewer
HPV infections, after controlling for the women's number of new sex partners
and the male partners' number of previous sex partners.
"Given that HPV is transmissible through nonpenetrative sexual contact with
both male and female partners and that imperfect condom use does occur, it is
not surprising that some infections were still detected among women reporting
consistent use," Winer and colleagues write.
However, the researchers find it encouraging that these young women, new to
sex, were able to reduce their HPV risk via consistent use of condoms by their
What is correct, consistent condom use? It is the use of a new condom before
every act of penetrative sex, whether vaginal, oral, or anal. Condoms must be
applied to an erect penis, with space left at the tip to allow semen
collection. Lubricants applied to the outside of the condom reduce the risk of
condom breakage. Condoms must be removed immediately after sex, while the penis
is still erect.
SOURCES: Winer, R.L. The New England Journal of Medicine, June 22,
2006; vol: 354 p. 2645-2654. Steiner, M.J. and Cates, W.C. Jr. The New England
Journal of Medicine, June 22, 2006; vol: 354 p. 2642-2643.