What is it?

Genital warts are small fleshy growths, bumps or skin changes that appear on or around your genital or anal area. They're caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV) and are the third most common STI in England with 51,274 cases in 2019.

The warts are usually painless, but you may notice some itching or redness. Occasionally, they can cause bleeding.

How do I get it?

You don't need to have penetrative sex to pass the infection on because HPV is spread by skin-to-skin contact. This means you do not need to engage in penetrative sex (vaginal, anal or oral) to pass on HPV, but just from close genital contact.

You can’t catch HPV from hugging, kissing, swimming pools, toilets, sharing towels or sharing cups, plates or cutlery.

Many people who contract HPV don’t show any signs or symptoms (including genital warts), and the virus could go away by itself. This means that you might not know if you or your partner has the virus.

If you do get genital warts, they are small fleshy growths, bumps or skin changes that appear on or around your genital or anal area. The warts can appear three weeks to a few months, or even years after catching HPV.

Genital warts are examined by a doctor or nurse looking at the affected area. 

If you are diagnosed with genital warts, it is really important that you advise your partner to also get a sexual health check-up.

Several treatments are available for genital warts, including creams and freezing the warts (cryotherapy).

Your doctor or nurse will go over the best treatment option for you.

An effective prevention method is vaccination. Girls and boys aged 12 to 13 years are offered the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine as part of the NHS vaccination programme. The sexual health clinic can offer the HPV vaccine to all men who have sex with men and transgender people, however this will be a 3x dose schedule. 

Other prevention methods include: 

  • using a condom every time you have vaginal, anal or oral sex – but if the virus is in any in skin that's not protected by a condom, it can still be passed on

  • not having sex while you're having treatment for genital warts

  • not sharing sex toys; if you do share them, wash them or cover them with a new condom before anyone else uses them