Can sharing sex toys like vibrators and dildos spread human papillomavirus (HPV) from one women to another? A recent Indiana University School of Medicine suggests that the potential is there, according to a study published in the journal, Sexually Transmitted Infections.

Researchers set out to determine the potential of HPV transmission via shared sex toys, and determine whether cleaning practices implemented by the study participants were effective.

Twelve women who have sex with women and men from the university were recruited to use two different style vibrators–one composed of thermoplastic elastomer, the other of silicone. After using each sex toy on separate occasions, the participants provided self-collected vaginal and vibrator samples (obtained from the vibrator shaft and handle), collected immediately after use, immediately after cleaning with a commercially available cleaner, and 24 h after cleaning.

The detection of the HPV was performed using the Roche Linear Array HPV Genotyping Test.

What did they find?

HPV was detected in the vaginal samples of 9/12 (75%) women. Vibrator 1 shaft swabs were HPV positive before cleaning in 89% (8/9), immediately after cleaning in 56% (5/9), and 24 h after cleaning in 40% (2/5) of those that were HPV positive immediately after cleaning.

Vibrator 2 shaft swabs were HPV positive before cleaning in 67% (6/9), immediately after cleaning in 44% (4/9), and 24 h after cleaning in none.

HPV was detected on at least one vibrator immediately after use in the women with vaginal HPV.

Researchers conclude there is a potential for HPV transmission via shared sex toy use, and it is additionally supported by continued detection of HPV up to 24 h after standard cleaning.

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