They are caused by a virus that lives in the skin. Although it stays there for several years, it doesn’t mean that you’ll keep getting warts.
A number of weeks or months after picking up the virus, one or more growths the size of a pin head might appear.
Warts usually grow on the head of the penis, in or around the rectum, or inside the vagina.
They might itch or bleed and if left untreated they can grow bigger and spread.
How it’s passed on
During sex the virus is passed on when someone’s skin touches another person’s warts (which you won’t see if they’re inside the rectum or vagina).
Sometimes the virus is passed on without any warts being present.
Using the male condom or a Femidom (female condom) cuts the risk but only if the condom covers the skin where the wart virus is.
Other types of contraception, such as the contraceptive pill, offer no protection against sexually transmitted infections.
Tests and treatment
Genital warts must be treated by a doctor – treatments for warts that grow on the hands cannot be used. The sooner warts are treated, the easier it is to get rid of them.
Warts can be frozen off with liquid nitrogen, or a special kind of cream or acid can be put on them at a clinic or at home. Laser treatment and surgery can be used on hard-to-treat cases.
It can take several treatments to get rid of warts and they might come back. Don’t have sex until treatment has finished or you could pass on the infection.
Most people get tested and treated for infections like warts at sexual health (or ‘GUM’) clinics. It is free and confidential – no one else, including your GP will be told about your visit. Some GP surgeries also test for and treat these infections.
The more people you have sex with, especially unprotected sex, the more chance of infections like warts. You can have them without knowing, so regular check-ups are a good idea, especially if you are starting a new relationship and/or you want to stop using condoms with your partner.
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