Genital warts are a type of sexually transmitted infection (STI) that causes warts (small bumps or growths) to form in and around your genitals and rectum. Certain strains of human papillomavirus (HPV) cause genital warts. While there’s no cure for HPV itself, you can receive treatment for genital warts. You can give genital warts to other people through vaginal, anal or oral sex.
Genital warts can infect your:
Genital warts affect all genders. It’s most common in teenagers and young adults. People assigned male at birth (AMAB) are slightly more at risk. Your chances of getting genital warts increase if you:
An estimated 400,000 people — most of them in their late teens and 20s — get genital warts every year. The virus that causes these warts, HPV, is the most common STI. Approximately 79 million Americans have HPV. There are many different types of HPV. Not all types of HPV cause genital warts. HPV 6 and HPV 11 are the two strains that cause genital warts.
Yes, genital warts and the virus that causes them (HPV) are both contagious. There isn’t a cure for HPV. Once you have the virus, you’re always infectious (you can always spread it to others). Even if you don’t have symptoms like visible genital warts, or you have the warts removed, you can still infect another person with HPV and genital warts.
Certain types of HPV cause genital warts. Genital warts spread through skin-to-skin contact during sex. A different strain of HPV causes the type of warts you find on other parts of your body. You can’t get genital warts by touching yourself or someone else with a wart on your hands or feet.
Genital warts spread through:
It’s important to note that you can also have the type of HPV that causes genital warts but never actually develop genital warts. This means you can pass HPV to your partner and they could develop genital warts. This is also why it can be complicated to figure out which partner gave you genital warts.
Warts look like rough, skin-colored or whitish-grey growths on your skin. Genital warts often have a bumpy cauliflower look, but some are flat. Genital warts aren’t usually painful. Occasionally, they cause:
Some warts are very small. Still, you can typically feel or see them. Sometimes the warts cluster together in groups or get very large and take on a stalk-like appearance. Most warts begin as tiny, soft growths and may be unnoticeable.
Some people develop genital warts within weeks of sexual contact with someone with HPV. Often, though, it can take months or years for warts to appear. For this reason, it can be difficult to pinpoint when you got genital warts.
It’s also possible to have the virus and not get genital warts. You might not know if you have warts inside your anus or inside your vagina. If you don’t have symptoms, you may unknowingly infect others with the virus.
Your healthcare provider can diagnose external genital warts by looking at them and may request a biopsy to confirm. Internal warts are more challenging to diagnose.
Providers use the following tests to diagnose genital warts:
Contact a healthcare provider if you think you have a genital wart. Other sexually transmitted infections (and even things like moles or skin tags) resemble genital warts. An accurate diagnosis is necessary so you get the right treatment.
Genital warts may go away on their own because your immune system can fight off the infection that causes it. However, they may get larger, multiply or become increasingly uncomfortable. Removing genital warts reduces your chances of spreading the infection since an active outbreak spreads more easily. Remember, treatment for genital warts isn’t a cure.
There are different ways to remove genital warts. You may need several treatments to get rid of them. During treatment, you should abstain from sexual contact.
Your healthcare provider may use one of these methods to treat genital warts:
Treatment to remove genital warts doesn’t cure you from HPV. Even if you don’t have an active outbreak and your warts were removed, you can still spread HPV.
Genital warts and HPV is lifelong. That means even with treatment to remove them, the warts may come back.
Everyone responds differently to treatment to remove warts. If you have genital warts, talk to your healthcare provider about what removal option works best for you.
Yes. There’s no cure for HPV, the virus that causes genital warts. As a result, you can get genital warts over and over again.
Genital warts generally don’t cause any serious health complications. The strain of HPV that cause genital warts is low-risk. The HPV strains that cause cancer aren’t the same ones that cause genital warts.
No, genital warts don’t turn into cancer.
If you have an active outbreak of genital warts while pregnant, your hormone levels may cause the warts to bleed, get larger or multiply. Rarely, these complications happen:
If you’ve had genital warts in the past and don’t have an active outbreak during pregnancy, you shouldn’t have any problems.
The HPV vaccine can protect against certain types of HPV, including the ones that cause genital warts and certain cancers. There are more than 100 different types of HPV. Even if you already have the type of HPV that causes genital warts, the vaccine could still protect you from other more serious strains.
Recent CDC and FDA guidance recommends that people up to 45 years of age get vaccinated to protect against HPV. HPV is the most common STI and can cause certain cancers and genital warts. More than 14 million new HPV infections occur in the US each year. Check with your healthcare provider to see if you’re eligible for the HPV vaccine.
If you’re sexually active, you can take these steps to protect yourself from getting or spreading HPV, genital warts and other STIs:
Genital warts and HPV are common STIs. These types of warts, and the HPV types that cause them, don’t increase your risk for getting cancer. Some people have genital warts just once, while others have recurring outbreaks. Treatment can get rid of the warts, but it can’t cure them or HPV. You’ll always be infectious and need to practice safe sex with your partners.
You should call your healthcare provider if you experience:
If you have genital warts, you may want to ask your healthcare provider:
No. All genital warts are a sexually transmitted infection (STI).
There are a few things you can do to help genital warts from spreading to your partner:
Genital herpes (herpes simplex type 2) is similar to genital warts in that they’re both types of sexually transmitted infections. However, herpes cause sores and fluid-filled blisters to form on your genitals. This is different than warts, which are small bumps that typically don’t cause open sores. Both infections are spread during vaginal and anal sex.
Yes. Almost all cases of genital warts are caused by HPV, which is a virus spread through sexual contact.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Thousands of people get genital warts every year, and thousands more have the virus that causes them. Genital warts may not appear until months — sometimes years — after infection. Once you know you have genital warts and HPV, you should share this information with your sexual partners. Your healthcare provider can offer suggestions for preventing the spread of this sexually transmitted infection (STI). You can also take steps to lower your risk of getting other STIs.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 12/27/2022.