Human papillomavirus (HPV) is far and away the most common sexually transmitted disease in the world; so common, in fact, that almost all sexually active people will contract it at some point in their lives. Nearly 80 million Americans are believed to have HPV at any given time.

While awareness has been going up thanks to a better understanding of HPV’s connection with cervical cancer and the widespread availability of vaccines to prevent HPV, there still is a great deal of confusion about what causes HPV, if it can be cured and how seriously people should take prevention. Here are some of the most frequent questions about HPV:

What causes HPV in females?

In females and males, HPV is caused by the human papillomavirus, which spreads readily via sexual contact, including vaginal, anal and oral sex. HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection, and most people who are sexually active will have HPV at some point in their lifetime. Other types of HPV cause warts, such as plantar warts on the feet, but are not sexually transmitted.

Can you get rid of HPV once you have it?

Most people who contract HPV won’t develop symptoms and their bodies will clear up the infection on their own. The virus cannot be cured once you have it, though most people have non-high-risk HPV, meaning it’s unlikely that their HPV will lead to something more serious, like cancer. Those who do have high-risk HPV do have some treatment options, but they won’t get rid of the virus entirely.

Is HPV serious?

HPV is one of the leading causes of cervical cancer and can cause cancer in other parts of the body, such as the vulva, vagina, penis, anus or throat. There is no way to know which people will develop high-risk HPV, meaning which people with HPV are most at risk of developing cancer.

Can a man with HPV give it to a woman?

Yes, any person with HPV can pass it along to sexual partners, even during non-intercourse sexual activities. HPV is spread by skin-to-skin contact with an infected person.

Should I be worried about HPV?

If you’ve ever been sexually active, yes. In fact, most people who are sexually active will contract human papillomavirus (HPV) at some point in their lives. Many people who are exposed will not develop HPV and many of those who do won’t ever have serious health problems, such as cancer, but there’s no way to tell before someone is exposed or infected whether HPV will cause cancer in them.

Can you still be sexually active with HPV?

People with HPV can have normal, active sex lives, but it’s important to take some precautions. Of course, the best way for someone who wants to have sex without spreading HPV is to avoid getting in in the first place, and an HPV vaccine is recommended for most young people. But once you already have HPV, it’s vital to use condoms or dental dams when you’re having sex.

Can HPV come back once it has cleared?

Some HPV infections clear up on their own, and while research suggests many people who are exposed after their bodies have fought back the infection may have a recurrence of HPV if they are exposed again, there’s no way to know ahead of time if your body will be able to clear up the infection on its own.

Is HPV deadly?

By itself, HPV is not fatal, but the human papillomavirus is the single biggest cause of cervical cancer in women, and it can cause cancer in other areas of the body, including the vagina, vulva, penis, anus and throat.

What happens if HPV goes untreated?

Untreated HPV can lead to cancer. Two HPV types (HPV16 and HPV18) are estimated to cause 70% of cervical cancer cases and precancerous lesions in the cervix. While HPV cannot be cured, treatments can prevent abnormal cells from becoming cancerous. In addition to causing most cervical cancer cases, HPV can lead to cancer in other parts of the body, such as the penis, anus, vagina, vulva and throat.

What does a positive HPV test mean?

A positive HPV test means that an examination a woman’s vaginal swab or a man’s urine has revealed the presence of a high-risk type of HPV, including HPV16 and HPV18, which are the leading causes of cervical cancer, as well as any one of a number of other high-risk types of HPV. Low-risk HPV, meaning an HPV type unrelated to the development of cancer, is done with a visual examination of genital warts.

Is HPV permanent?

According to studies, as many as 90% of HPV infections clear up on their own, but there is no cure for HPV once you have it.

How long does it take for HPV to turn into cancer?

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the leading cause of cervical cancer, and it’s estimated that about 70% of cervical cancer cases are caused by the virus. Untreated HPV can cause cells inside the cervix to mutate and become cancerous, but the time it takes for this to happen varies widely from person to person, ranging from 10 years to 30 years.

What are the dangers of having HPV?

HPV is the most common sexually transmitted disease in the United States, with nearly 80 million Americans living with the virus, though most are unaware. While it’s true that as many as 90% of HPV infections will clear up on their own, untreated HPV is the leading cause of cervical cancer and can cause cancer in other parts of the body, such as the penis, anus, throat, vagina and vulva. One of the reasons HPV is so common is that it is very easily transmitted through simple skin-to-skin contact, so intercourse is not necessary for HPV to be transmitted, and because most people who have it don’t know they have it, people spread it unknowingly through all sorts of sexual contact.

Can you live a normal life with HPV?

People with HPV can have normal lives and even fun, exciting sex lives. The first step to a normal, healthy sex life with HPV is to get treatment if you have high-risk HPV, meaning one of the types of the virus that can lead to cancer. Getting any abnormal cervical cells removed lowers your risk of developing cervical cancer. Remember that HPV is not transmitted through bodily fluids as some other sexually transmitted infections, so the only way to be sure you won’t pass it along is to abstain from sexual contact. But you can lower the risk of passing HPV along by using condoms and/or dental dams every time you have sex, even oral sex.

Why is my HPV not going away?

While most HPV infections are cleared up spontaneously by the body, this is not always the case for everyone. It’s not well-understood yet why some people are able to cure themselves of the virus, but even if your body is not able to get rid of your HPV on its own, most cases are not likely to lead to serious health problems. Only if you have tested positive for a high-risk type of HPV should you be concerned for your long-term health.

Can a virgin have HPV?

It’s not necessary for a penis to go into a vagina, anus or mouth or for either partner to climax for HPV to be transmitted, so even someone who considers themselves a virgin could get and give HPV.

Is HPV a STD?

There are more than 200 types of human papillomavirus, but only about 40 of them affect the genitals and can be transmitted during sex. But the type of HPV that leads to cervical cancer is a sexually transmitted disease. Other types of the virus are not sexually transmitted, such as the types that cause warts on the hands or plantar warts on the feet.

What percent of people with HPV get cancer?

About 10% of women who have a high-risk type of HPV will develop the long-lasting infections that can raise their risk of cervical cancer.

Can you get HPV from kissing?

HPV is not transmitted through bodily fluids but rather travels from skin-to-skin contact. Some studies have indicated that certain types of oral HPV can be transmitted through kissing, but genital HPV, including the types that can lead to cervical cancer, can only be transmitted through contact with the genitals of another person, though it’s not necessary to have penetrative or even oral sex for HPV to be transmitted.

Can your body get rid of HPV?

In most cases, HPV is cleared up thanks to the body’s own defenses. The CDC estimates as many as 90% of HPV infections are successfully fought off by the body.

Should I tell my partner I have HPV?

Yes, HPV is an incredibly common and very easily transmitted disease that, if untreated, can lead to cervical cancer, as well as cancers in other parts of the body, including the penis, anus, throat, vulva and vagina. Keeping HPV a secret doesn’t mean you won’t give it to your partner because it’s not necessary for bodily fluids to be present to transmit HPV to another person. In fact, genital HPV is transmitted through skin-to-skin contact with an infected person’s genitals. So if you’re hoping to simply wear condoms or use dental dams and never need to have an uncomfortable conversation, that’s no guarantee that you won’t pass HPV to your partner.