Genital warts are warts that are located near or on the genital areas. In a female, that means on or near the vulva (the outside genital area), vagina, cervix, or anus. In a male, that means near or on the penis, scrotum, or anus.
Warts appear as bumps or growths. They can be flat or raised, single or many, small or large. They tend to be whitish or flesh colored. They are not always easy to see with the naked eye, and many times a person with genital warts doesn't know that they're there.
Genital warts are caused by a group of viruses called HPV (short for human papillomavirus). There are more than 100 types of HPV. Some of them cause the kind of warts you see on people's hands and feet. Genital warts and the kinds of warts on hands and feet are usually caused by different types of HPV.
More than 40 types of HPV cause genital warts. Genital warts can be passed from person to person through intimate sexual contact (vaginal, oral, or anal sex). In some rare cases, genital warts are transmitted from a mother to her baby during childbirth.
HPV infections are common in teens and young adults. The more sexual partners someone has, the more likely it is that the person will get an HPV infection.
Most HPV infections have no signs or symptoms. So someone can be infected and pass the disease on to another person without knowing.
Some people do get visible warts. Although warts might hurt, itch, or feel uncomfortable, most of the time they don't. This is one reason why people may not know they have them.
Doctors can diagnose warts by examining the skin closely (sometimes with a magnifying glass) and using a special solution to make them easier to see. A Pap smear (a test that is performed during a gynecologic exam) and other tests can help diagnose an HPV infection.
Experts believe that when a wart is present, the virus may be more contagious. But HPV can still spread even if you can't see warts.
Warts can appear any time from several weeks to several months after a person has been exposed to them. Sometimes they might take even longer to appear because the virus can live in the body for a very long time before showing up as warts.
See your doctor, gynecologist, or visit a health clinic if:
Because many people who are infected with HPV don't show any symptoms, everyone having sex should get regular medical checkups and tell their doctor about their sexual history.
Not all bumps on a person's genitals are warts. Some can be pimples, other infections, or growths. Turn to your doctor for help — he or she can help figure out what a bump is and what you can do.
If a person doesn't get treated, genital warts can sometimes grow bigger and multiply. Even if warts go away on their own, the virus is still in the body. That means warts can come back or the virus can spread to other people.
The only way to completely prevent genital warts is abstinence (the decision not to have sex). Teens who do have sex can get some protection by properly using a latex condom every time they have any kind of sex (vaginal, oral, or anal sex).
Condoms are a good defense against warts, but they can't give 100% protection because the virus can spread from or to the parts of the genitals not covered by a condom.
Doctors recommend that girls ages 11 through 26 and guys 11 through 21 get the HPV vaccine. The vaccine protects against some types of HPV that cause genital warts and certain types of cancer.
There is no cure that gets rid of the human papillomavirus completely. But treatments can reduce the number of warts — or help them go away faster. When the warts go away, the virus is still there, though it may not spread as easily.
A doctor will do an examination, make a diagnosis, and then provide treatment, if necessary. A number of different treatments might be used depending on where the warts are, how big they are, and how many there are. The doctor might put special medications on the warts or remove them with treatments like laser therapy or chemical "freezing."
Sometimes warts can come back, so you might need to visit the doctor again. Anyone you've had sex with also should be checked for genital warts.
Reviewed by: Elana Pearl Ben Joseph, MD
Date reviewed: March 2014
|Planned Parenthood Info for Teens This site from the Planned Parenthood Federation of America has information on relationships and sexual health for teens.|
|American Social Health Association This nonprofit organization is dedicated to preventing sexually transmitted diseases and offers hotlines for prevention and control of STDs.|
|Planned Parenthood Federation of America Planned Parenthood offers information on sexually transmitted diseases, birth control methods, and other issues of sexual health.|
|American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) This site offers information on numerous health issues. The women's health section includes readings on pregnancy, labor, delivery, postpartum care, breast health, menopause, contraception, and more.|
|GYT - Get Yourself Talking and Get Yourself Tested This media campaign designed to get young people to talk with their health care providers and partners about the importance of getting tested for sexually transmitted diseases.|
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|I Have Bumps On My Penis. Is This Normal? Find out what the experts have to say.|
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|Do I Have to Get All Three HPV Vaccine Shots? Find out what the experts have to say.|
|5 Myths About STDs There's lots of misinformation out there about STDs. We set the record straight on 5 of the most common myths.|
|Can Getting the HPV Vaccine Help If I Already Have Genital Warts? Find out what the experts have to say.|
|HPV Vaccine The HPV vaccine can help protect against the virus that causes genital warts and may lead to some kinds of cancer. Find out more in this article for teens.|
|Talking to Your Doctor Your best resource for health information and advice is your doctor - the person who knows you, your medical history, and accurate medical information to answer your questions.|
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