REX/Shutterstock

What are genital warts? Everything you need to know

Besides that they're annoying

What are genital warts?

Chances are, you probably know somebody who has genital warts. (Chances are, you might have them yourself.) According to the NHS, they’re actually the most common type of sexually transmitted infection and are caused by certain strains of the human papilloma virus (HPV).

As with regular warts, they look like small fleshy growths on or around your genitals/anal area. In women, they can appear anywhere from the vulva, anus, cervix, upper thighs and even inside your vagina. They can appear either on their own or in groups.

Causes of genital warts

Genital warts are caused by HPV (human papillomavirus), a virus strain with over a hundred different types. However, just two strains (type 6 and type 11) cause genital warts and actually cause 90% of all cases of genital warts. Other invisible strains of HPV affect different parts of the body – feet, hands, etc – and some can even cause cancer.

Can genital warts cause cancer?

While HPV can cause cancer, the strains that are relevant to genital warts do not – in fact, the higher risk strains are usually invisible.

The NHS actually offers an HPV vaccine called Gardasil, which protects against four strains of HPV including high-risk cancer types as well as type 6 and 11 (the types that cause genital warts). In fact, all girls in year eight are offered the HPV vaccination to protect them as four high-risk types of HPV cause more than 70% of cervical cancers in the UK.

Genital warts symptoms

Genital warts can either look like small, barely noticeable speed bumps or come in larger clusters and develop as early as three weeks after catching it – though in some cases it takes months and years for them to form. For women, they can appear all over or even inside your vagina or anus so it’s worth getting checked regularly. For men, they tend to cluster on the tip of the penis, along the shaft, across the groin and scrotum as well as in or around the anus.

Are genital warts contagious?

Genital warts are extremely contagious. Genital HPV is generally passed on through sexual intercourse, though any skin-to-skin contact will probably do the job. So that means even if there’s no penetration, you still stand a chance of catching it. Condoms can help, though they don’t cover all your business areas there’s still a chance they can be transmitted.

Even if you don’t have visible genital warts, you could still be infected and pass on the disease to others. It’s worth going for regular screenings, especially when you’re with a new partner.

Genital warts treatment

If you think you have a case of genital warts, the first step is to go get screened at a sexual health or GUM clinic. If you do happen to get diagnosed, a professional can recommend which method of treatment is best as there’s a few. Some treatments include applying a topical cream or liquid, others freezing and even laser treatment to remove them.

Luckily, most genital warts will eventually fade on their own in time – though some will stay the same or even grow larger. It’s still worth going to a sexual health or GUM clinic to speak with a professional about your options.

It goes without saying, but try not have sex with anybody else until your warts have healed as you’ll still be highly contagious.

Do genital warts come back?

There’s no hard and fast rule here – for some people, they only ever have one episode and for others they have multiple cases.

Reading now

Popular Life stories