Genital warts is a common sexually transmitted infection (STI) passed on through vaginal, anal and, rarely, oral sex. Treatment from a sexual health clinic can help them go away.
Go to a sexual health clinic if you have:
- 1 or more painless growths or lumps around your vagina, penis or anus
- itching or bleeding from your genitals or anus
- a change to your normal flow of pee (for example, sideways) that doesn’t go away
- a sexual partner who has genital warts, even if you have no symptoms
Go if you have 1 or more of these symptoms so you can find the cause. Treatment can help get rid of the warts and prevent the infection being passed on.
Treatment for genital warts
Treatment for genital warts needs to be prescribed by a doctor.
The type of treatment you’ll be offered depends on what your warts are like. The doctor or nurse will discuss this with you.
- cream or liquid: you can usually apply this to the warts yourself a few times a week for several weeks, but in some cases you may need to go to the clinic every week for a doctor or nurse to apply it – these treatments can cause soreness, irritation or a burning sensation
- surgery: a doctor or nurse can cut, burn or laser the warts off – this can cause irritation or scarring
- freezing: a doctor or nurse freezes the warts, usually every week for 4 weeks – this can cause soreness
It may take weeks or months for treatment to work, and the warts may come back. In some people the treatment doesn’t work.
There’s no cure for genital warts but it’s possible for your body to clear the virus over time.
How genital warts are passed on
The genital warts virus can be passed on whether or not there are visible warts.
Many people with the virus don’t have symptoms but can still pass it on. If you have genital warts, your current sexual partners should get tested as they may have warts and not know it.
If symptoms do appear, it can happen over a year after infection.
You can get genital warts from:
- skin-to-skin contact, including vaginal and anal sex
- sharing sex toys
- rarely, oral sex
The virus can also be passed to a baby from the mother at birth, but this is rare.
You can’t get genital warts from:
- things like towels, cutlery, cups or toilet seats
Preventing the spread of genital warts
You can prevent warts passing on by:
- using a condom every time you have vaginal, anal or oral sex – but if the virus is present in skin not protected by a condom, it can still be passed on
- not having sex while you’re having treatment for genital warts
Why genital warts come back
Genital warts are caused by a virus called human papilloma virus (HPV). There are many types of HPV.
The HPV virus can stay in your skin, and warts can develop again.
Warts may go away without treatment but this can take many months. You can still pass the virus on, and the warts may come back.
Genital warts and cancer
Genital warts are not cancer and don’t cause cancer.
The HPV vaccine offered to girls in the UK to protect against cervical cancer also protects against genital warts.
From April 2018, the HPV vaccine has also been offered to men who have sex with men (MSM), trans men and trans women who are eligible.
Find out more about the HPV vaccine.