Genital warts are the result of a skin infection caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV), which is carried by up to 75% of us and is usually harmless. Two strains of HPV can cause genital warts, which are spread via vaginal and anal sex. As warts rely on skin-to-skin contact, you can pass them on without having penetrative sex. Rubbing genitals together can spread the warts from one partner to another. Although condoms do offer some protection, warts can still infect areas of the skin that aren’t covered by condoms. Women can pass genital warts on to their babies during childbirth.
Genital warts can be passed on by vaginal and anal sex as well as by rubbing genitals together. It is possible for warts on the hand to spread to the genitals with human contact, although this is rare. Some people may be infected without having any warts present so you may not know if you or your partner is a carrier. Genital warts are passed on by:
- Unprotected vaginal, anal or oral sex (even condoms don’t provide complete protection)
- Sharing sex toys that have not been washed or covered with a condom
- Touching someone's genitals with your fingers
- Rubbing your genitals together
- Oral sex (although this is rare)