Does HPV ping-pong between you and your partner?

A friend of mine and I have both been diagnosed with HPV in the last year–she is 29, I am 33. We both have abnormal, benign cells. We have both been told by our doctors that the HPV will likely clear on its own. I am in a sexually-active, monogamous relationship. She is seeing someone new but has been abstaining due to her diagnosis.

Now here is the question: My doctor told me that I don’t need to worry about my boyfriend and I passing this back and forth (we always use condoms). My friend’s doctor told her that if she has sex with someone, it’s likely that she will give HPV to him, and that he will give it back to her. Basically that they can infect each other back and forth forever.

Is this how it works? Is it possible to pass HPV back and forth, keeping you both infected? This is an especially important question for my friend, since she was just denied health insurance because of the HPV (how messed up is that?), so she’s really concerned about getting rid of it.

Many thanks for your answer. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

Dr. Kate Answer:

Really good question…wish I had an equally good answer. Unfortunately, we simply don’t know the answer yet. Some docs hold that you’ll develop immunity to your partner’s strains, so you would be fine if you’re only exposed to “his” HPV, but we don’t really have good evidence for this. We know what makes HPV clear more quickly: Don’t smoke, stay healthy, don’t become diabetic or contract HIV. But we don’t know if that immunity is temporary (like against a cold virus) or permanent (like against the chicken pox virus).

I wouldn’t abstain from sex after receiving an HPV diagnosis–then 1/4 of the population would be wearing purity rings. But limiting the number of partners (and therefore, the volume of HPV you’re exposed to) seems wise. The safest thing to do is to continue using condoms (like you’re doing) for the greatest possible protection, even if it’s not complete protection. And continue to get pap smears as your gyno recommends.

What have your gynos told you about passing HPV?