Genital warts are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV) and are small fleshy bumps, or skin changes that appear on and around the genital or the anal area. Warts can be treated; however, there is no cure for this condition and new warts can appear from time to time.
How are genital warts passed on?
The most common way for HPV to be passed on is through skin-to-skin contact, even if there are no symptoms. This is usually through sexual activity such as:
- Vaginal sex
- Anal sex
- Sharing sex toys
- Non-penetrative genital to genital contact
- In rare cases, oral sex.
HPV cannot survive outside the body for long, so it can’t be passed on through hugging, kissing, sharing towels, and cutlery and toilet seats.
Condoms and dental dams can help protect against genital warts but the virus may still be passed on by coming into contact with your partners genitals.
Using condoms every time you have vaginal or anal sex is the most effective way to avoid genital warts.
The protection offered by condoms is not 100%. As HPV is spread through skin-to- skin contact, it is possible that skin that isn’t covered by the condom can spread the infection as well.
If you have oral sex, cover the penis with a condom and use a dental dam to cover the anus or vagina. If using sex toys, wash them or cover them with a condom before anyone else uses them, and remember to use a new condom for every new partner or hole you use.
How do I know if I have genital warts?
Most people who have HPV infection will not develop any visible warts. If genital warts do appear, it can be several weeks; months or years after got the virus. A doctor or nurse will check for genital warts during a standard sexual health screening if this is something you are concerned about, as well as Pap smear tests for people with vaginas.
The warts are usually one or more painless growth or lumps around your genitals or anus. Another indication is any itching or bleeding from these areas, or a change to your pee flow that doesn’t go away.
They can appear on their own or in clusters of multiple warts. They may not be visible if they are inside the anus, inside the vagina or on the cervix. Anyone can get genital warts, regardless of gender or sexual orientation.
Warts for people with vaginas
The most common places for genital warts to develop in are:
- Around the vulva
- On the cervix
- Inside the vagina
- Around and inside the anus
- On the upper thighs
Warts for people with penises
The most common place for genital warts to develop in are:
- Anywhere on the penis
- On the scrotum
- Inside the urethra
- Around or inside the anus
- On the upper thighs
How can genital warts be treated?
You will be only be offered treatment if you have visible warts. Treatment for warts depends on the type of warts you have and where they are located. You will be able to discuss your options with the doctor or nurse.
There are two main types of treatment:
- Applying a cream, lotion or chemical to the warts.
- Destroying the tissue of the warts by freezing, heating or removing them.
It can take weeks or sometimes months for treatment to begin working, and the warts may come back. You cannot cure genital warts but your body will naturally fight the virus over time.
If you are pregnant or planning on getting pregnant, inform your doctor as this may affect your treatment options. Also check how treatment will interact with your current contraception methods.
Avoid using generic wart treatment from the pharmacy for genital warts, as this won’t affect genital warts. Avoid sex and smoking as this will make treatment more effective and reduce the risk of another outbreak.
HPV vaccines is available in England for children aged 12-13 to protect against cervical cancer and genital warts. A vaccine is also on offer for men who have sex with men up to 45, people who identify as transgender, sex workers and some people living with HIV. To find out more information, please visit this link: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vaccinations/hpv-human-papillomavirus-vaccine/
Should I test for genital warts?
If you or your partners think you have genital warts, visit your local sexual health or GUM clinic.
There is no test for genital warts but it’s easy for a doctor or nurse to diagnose by examining the affected area.
Where can I test for genital warts?
You can get a diagnosis for genital warts at your GP or at Sexual Health testing services in Liverpool City Region.
BHA For Equality
0330 128 1186
Free & confidential sexual health services for Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic communities.
George House Trust
0161 274 4499
Free & confidential support, advice and advocacy services for people living with HIV.
0345 3 30 30 30
Providing advice, support and resources for LGBT people to take control of their sexual health and wellbeing.