The human papillomavirus (HPV) infects epithelial cells (surface cells) on the oral or genital mucous membranes and parts of the skin, such as the hands or feet. Any contact with those areas that contain the virus could lead to transmission.

It’s common among sexually active adults.

Approximately 79 million Americans have at least one type of HPV, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). At least 150 varieties of HPV exist.

Sometimes, the body can fight off the virus and rid itself of it in 1 to 2 years.

This isn’t always the case, though. Some types of HPV can cause serious health problems, such as skin warts and cancers.

Is there a connection between HPV and fertility?

When left untreated, many sexually transmitted infections (STIs) can lead to infertility.

However, HPV shouldn’t affect your ability to conceive. Although you may have heard that HPV can lead to fertility problems, that’s generally not the case.

Some strains of HPV can increase the risk of cervical cancer. Removing cancerous or precancerous cells from the cervix can, in turn, affect fertility.

How does HPV treatment affect female fertility?

HPV infections don’t always require treatment. If your doctor decides that they need to remove abnormal cells, they’ll use one of the following techniques:

These procedures can affect your ability to conceive or reach full term in your pregnancy. This is because cell removal can change your cervical mucus production.

It may also cause stenosis, or a narrowing of the opening of the cervix. This may cause sperm to slow and make it more difficult for an egg to get fertilized.

Certain treatments may also cause the cervix to weaken. While this will not cause infertility or difficulty becoming pregnant, it can lead to cervical insufficiency, which can cause your cervix to widen and thin before your pregnancy has come to term.

How does HPV affect male fertility?

One 2011 study found that men whose semen contained HPV can experience infertility. If sperm containing HPV fertilizes an egg, it may increase the risk of early miscarriage. A 2014 study also found that sperm containing HPV could contribute to male and couple infertility.

In addition, a 2015 study concluded that HPV had a negative effect on sperm motility.

However, more research on the effects of HPV in men is necessary to determine whether these are consistent findings.

Is there a connection between the HPV vaccine and fertility?

People once thought the HPV vaccine caused infertility. This idea has been largely debunked. It’s now thought that the vaccine can improve fertility by preventing the development of precancerous and cancerous cells in the cervix.

What’s the takeaway?

For most, HPV shouldn’t affect the chances of conceiving. Although it’s possible that HPV could lead to male infertility, more research is necessary.

Nevertheless, sexually active women should talk with their doctors about current HPV screening guidelines. At this time, an HPV test for men isn’t available.

If you aren’t currently trying to conceive, you should use a condom during sexual activity to minimize your chances of transmitting or contracting HPV.

Q&A: HPV and pregnancy