Genital warts are the second most common type of sexually transmitted infections (STI) in under 25s in the UK, after chlamydia.
Here are some key facts:
You can read about genital warts in more detail below.
Most people who have a HPV infection don’t have any visible symptoms and it can be months or even years before genital warts appear. This can make for a tricky conversation with your partner.
If warts do appear, they can either appear on their own, or in clusters a bit like a cauliflower. They are normally painless but in some people they can be itchy and may become inflamed which may lead to a little bleeding.
The commonest places for them to appear are:
The most common way for HPV (the virus that causes genital warts) to be passed on is through skin-to-skin contact with someone who has the virus.
Most commonly, this close body contact is as part of sexual activity such as vaginal or anal sex, non-penetrative genital-to-genital contact, sharing sex toys and rarely, oral sex.
HPV is not passed on by kissing, hugging or sharing towels and clothing or via everyday items such as cutlery or toilet seats.
Condoms can help protect you from HPV but the virus may still be passed on by the surrounding genital areas coming into contact.
There is no test for genital warts but it is easy for a doctor or nurse to diagnose by examining the area. In some cases, a doctor or nurse may wish to perform a more detailed examination in order to see if there are warts inside the vagina or anus.
You will only be offered treatment if you have visible warts. The two main types of treatment for genital warts are:
The type of treatment depends on the warts. Cream or lotion can be better on softer warts but the other treatment is recommended if they are hard or rough-feeling.
You can read detailed information about the creams and lotions that may be prescribed and about the freezing, heating or removal treatment on NHS Choices.
For some people it can take months for the treatment to work and for the warts to disappear.
You should tell the doctor or nurse that you are pregnant or if there is a risk of pregnancy as this may affect the treatment they offer you
It is recommended that you avoid having sex until your genital warts have fully healed. Not only will this help to ensure you don’t pass it on to others but it may also help you recover more quickly.
Over time, genital warts will go away without treatment but if left untreated, they may also grow larger or multiply. They are rarely harmful to your health but genital warts can look unpleasant and may cause discomfort.
Page last reviewed: July 2015
Next review due: July 2017