HPV is the most common sexually transmitted virus and infection.
There are nearly 200 different strains of this virus. Most of which are harmless and not cancer causing. Out of all these 9 are known to cause cancers, and another 6 are suspected of causing cancers. In oral cancers we are primarily concerned with HPV number 16 which is also associated with cervical, anal, and penile cancers.
You can have been infected without ever knowing it. The virus often produces no signs or symptoms that you will notice. The immune response to clear the vitus out is not a process that you will be aware of.
Every day in the US, about 12,000 people ages 15 to 24 get infected. According to data from the ongoing NHANES study, approximately 26 million Americans on any given day have an oral HPV infection. Of those approximately 2600 are No16. The vast majority of individuals will clear the virus naturally through their own immune response, and never know that they were exposed or had it.
If you test positive, there is no sure way to know when you were infected, or who gave it to you. A person can have it for many years, even decades, before it is detected or it develops into something serious like a cancer. In the vast majority of infected people, even with a high risk version of HPV known to cause cancers, they will not develop cancer.
Testing positive infection does not mean that you or your partner is having sex outside of your relationship. It is believed to have long periods of inactivity or dormancy that may even cover decades; these are periods of time that you will test negative for it.
Sexual partners who have been together for a while tend to share all types of sexual infections. Typically if one partner has a fungal infection like Candida, the other partner has it as well, even though they may appear to be asymptomatic.
The same is true of other common sexual infections like Chlamydia, a bacterial infection. HPV viral infections also are commonly shared. This means that the partner of someone who tests positive likely has it already, even though they may have no signs or symptoms. Like most Americans, their immune system will customarily clear it in under 2 years.
Condoms may lower your chances of contracting or passing the virus to your sexual partners, if used all the time and the right way. However, HPV can infect areas that are not covered by a condom- so condoms may not fully protect against the virus transmission.