Background: HPV has been documented among women who only engage in sexual behavior with other women. One potential mode of HPV transmission between women partners is shared sex toys. Sex toys (i.e. vibrators) are commonly used, with over 65% of these women reporting partnered use. However, the potential for HPV transmission by sex toys is not well documented, nor the effectiveness of cleaning strategies.
Methods: 12 participants were recruited from a larger study of behaviorally bisexual women. Participants were provided with two vibrators composed of different materials designed for intra-vaginal use, and a commercially available cleaning product. Participants used each vibrator separately and provided self-collected vaginal and three sets of vibrator samples: immediately after self-use; immediately after cleaning; and 24 hours after cleaning. Additionally, participants completed daily diaries reporting sexual behaviors, sex toy usage, and cleaning practices. All samples were tested for HPV DNA using the Roche Linear Array Genotyping Test.
Results: HPV was detected in the vaginal samples of 9/12 (75%) women. Vibrator samples were tested from the HPV positive women. All participants used the provided cleaning product. Vibrator 1 shaft swabs were HPV positive before cleaning in 89% (8/9), immediately after cleaning in 56% (5/9), and 24 hours after cleaning in 40% (2/5). Vibrator 2 shaft swabs were HPV positive prior to cleaning in 67% (6/9), immediately after cleaning in 44% (4/9), and 24 hour after cleaning in none.
Conclusions: All women with vaginal HPV had HPV detected on their vibrators immediately after use. This substantiates the HPV transmission potential of sex toys. Additional corroboration includes HPV detection after cleaning. Sex toy material and shape may play a role in post-cleaning HPV detection. These data suggest the importance of development of evidence-based recommendations for sex toy cleaning to reduce transmission of HPV and other STI.