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Shared Sex Toys may Transmit HPV Virus

Apr 23, 2014 04:45 PM EDT
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Women who share sex toys and have the potentially cancer-causing human papillomavirus, or HPV, may be putting their partners at risk, a study from the Indiana University School of Medicine suggests.

Researchers gave 12 women, nine of whom tested positive for HPV, two vibrators each and detected the virus on at least one of the vibrators shared with the infected participants.

"Sex toys used between partners within the same sexual encounter have the potential for transmitting HPV," lead author Dr. Teresa Anderson told Reuters Health. "Cleaning the sex toy has the potential to decrease the amount of HPV DNA we can detect and so can potentially decrease the risk of transmission."

Genital HPV - sometimes referred to as the common cold of the sexually active world - is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates the virus causes 27,000 cervical, vulvar, vaginal, anal, penile, head and neck cancers among Americans each year.

Study participants were women, ages 18 to 29, who had engaged in sexual relations with both a man and a woman during the prior year. Each woman was given a "Rabbit"-style vibrator, one made of soft silicone, and a cleaning product and were asked to swab the vibrators after vaginal use immediately after cleaning and 24 hours later.

Even after cleaning, the researchers detected DNA from HPV on five of the "Rabbit" vibrators and four of the silicone.

Cleaning the products may have prevented HPV transference in these women, all of whom may or may not have been vaccinated.

"It probably would make sense for people not to share their sex toys," infectious disease specialist Dr. Jeffrey Klausner stated plainly. But, he added, "I'm not sure how practical it is during sex to start washing your toys."

The study's authors wrote in the journal BMJ Open that in prior studies, more than half of women ages 18 to 60 reported using a vibrator, and more than 65 percent of bisexual women reported sharing their sex toys.

Less than 54 percent of U.S. girls between 13 and 17 years old were vaccinated in 2012, the CDC reports.

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