• Help & Advice
  • Find a Service
    Close icon

Genital warts

Find out about the symptoms, causes and treatment of genital warts. 

Genital warts are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV) and are small growths or bumps that appear on or around the genital or anal area.

There are over 100 different types of HPV which can affect different parts of the body. About 30 different types of HPV can affect the genital skin but 90% of genital warts are caused by two types of the virus (types 6 and 11).

Find out more about HPV

Signs and symptoms of genital warts

Most people who have the HPV infection don’t have any visible symptoms and it can be months or even years before genital warts appear.

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 most common places for them to appear are:

  • Around the opening of the vagina (vulva)
  • Around the cervix (the neck of the womb)
  • Inside the vagina
  • Around or inside the anus
  • On the upper thighs
  • Anywhere on the penis
  • On the scrotum
  • Inside the urethra (where urine comes out) in people with a penis

Genital warts are not caused by the same virus that causes warts on hands or verrucas on the feet.

The causes and how it is passed on

The most common way for genital warts to be passed on is through skin-to-skin contact with someone who has the type of HPV virus that causes genital warts. Genital warts can be passed on even if they are not visible.

Most commonly, this is through sexual activity, such as:

  • vaginal sex
  • anal sex
  • non-penetrative genital-to-genital contact
  • sharing sex toys
  • oral sex (although this is rare)

Genital warts are 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 genital warts but they may still be passed on by the surrounding genital areas coming into contact.

How to protect against genital warts

You cannot fully protect yourself against genital warts, but there are things that can help. 

  • Condoms can help protect you from genital warts but the virus may still be passed on by the surrounding genital areas coming into contact. 
  • The HPV vaccine protects against the types of HPV that cause most cases of genital warts and cervical cancer, as well as some other cancers. It does not protect against all types of HPV. 

The HPV vaccine 

There is a vaccination programme that is offered to all young people aged 12 to 13 to protect against some of the different strains of HPV. This involves two doses, at least 6 months apart, of the HPV vaccine Gardasil. You need to have both vaccine doses to be fully protected.

Gardasil 9, the current HPV vaccine offered under the NHS, protects against 9 types of HPV (6, 11, 16, 18, 31, 33, 45, 52 and 58). This means the vaccine protects against strains that are the most common cause of cervical cancer (16 and 18) and those that are the most common cause of genital warts (6 and 11).

The HPV vaccine programme has resulted in a fall in genital warts and cervical cancer.  

Find out more about the HPV vaccine and who can have it.

Testing for genital warts

If you suspect you have genital warts or if a partner has them, you need to visit a Brook service, a GUM or sexual health clinic or your local GP surgery. Find your nearest sexual health clinic.

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, they may need to perform a more detailed examination in order to see if there are warts inside the vagina or anus.

Treatment of genital warts

You will only be offered treatment if you have visible warts. The two main types of treatment for genital warts are:

  • applying cream or lotion to the warts
  • destroying the tissue of the warts by freezing, heating or removing them

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.

Find out more about the treatment of genital warts.

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.


You should not use the wart creams that are available over the counter because they are designed to only treat warts on the hands or verrucas.

  • On this page

    Other Stuff you might find useful…


    Talking to people about STIs


    Having great sex (safely!)


    12 common mistakes when using condoms


    How do I use a condom?


    Talking about condoms with your partner

    Our friendly staff are here to help
    Find a Service near you

    100% free & confidential