Just because a person is a virgin doesn't mean they can't contract a sexually transmitted disease.

While abstinence is one of the most straightforward ways to avoid STDs, it doesn't mean that people who practice it are entirely protected.

That's at least according to a study recently published in The Journal of Infectious Disease: Virgins aren't necessarily immune to catching fairly common infections transmitted via sexual intercourse, such as the human papillomavirus, or HPV, which can lead to genital warts or even cancer.

Even Virgins Can Get HPV

The University of Texas Health Science Center researchers observed and analyzed data from a previous study about males residing in Brazil, Mexico, and the United States. This study aimed to look at the spread of HPV among men, tracking over 4,000 of them, aged 18 to 70, from 2005 to 2009 through 10 medical consultations, spread six months apart.

In that study, there were 87 males who said they were virgins, and this new study focuses on them. While sexually active men were found to have higher risks of having HPV, the virgins group wasn't entirely shielded from it: around 25 percent of them had HPV strain, and about a fifth had a high-risk strain know to lead to cancer.

Why They Caught HPV

Speculating why some of the virgins caught HPV, the researchers think that despite their lack of penetrative sexual activity, they might have been engaging in other forms of sexual intercourse, such as touching other people's genitals or having genital-to-genital contact with another party.

Even more surprising is what happened when some of those virgins finally lost their virginity. Within the first year, 25 percent of the former virgins contracted the disease, while nearly half followed suit by the second year.

The study comes as the latest warning that both males and females should be vaccinated against HPV as early as possible. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, around 14 million people catch HPV each year, which include 29,000 cancer cases perfectly preventable via vaccination.

"VNIS [virgins not initiating sex] still acquired HPV infection, possibly through non-penetrative sexual contact. Further prospective cohort studies are needed to better understand factors associated with HPV acquisition and clearance in male virgins and recent non-virgins," the study concludes.

So the lesson here is for people to get vaccinated early on, even if they're still not having penetrative sex yet.

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