Genital Warts are the second most common sexually transmitted infection (STI). They are caused by two strains of the human papilloma virus (HPV), which is usually passed on during sexual contact. However, in most cases the virus is harmless and not everyone with HPV will develop genital warts. Warts can be soft and fleshy or firm and tough and they usually appear around the genitals or back passage. You can have a single wart or a number of warts, which grow together forming a ‘cauliflower’ pattern on the skin. It can take weeks or longer for warts to appear following infection so many people pass them on, unknowingly.
While genital warts tend to cause few physical problems aside from discomfort and itchiness, they can be dangerous for women. This is because the some strains of the HPV virus (the virus that causes the warts) can lead to cancer of the cervix and vulva. Warts may not become visible until weeks after infection so it is essential you seek treatment if you discover a partner has genital warts, even if you can’t see any symptoms on your own body. Genital warts are unsightly and this can cause anxiety and psychological distress, which can be debilitating.
The strains of HPV that cause genital warts are not the same as those that lead to cancer. If you are a woman with genital warts, it does not mean you are at risk of cervical cancer.
If you are sexually active then you are at risk of developing genital warts. They can be contracted through vaginal and anal sex as well as sharing unprotected sex toys and rubbing genitals together. Occasionally, you can develop genital warts from oral sex. As warts are spread via skin-to-skin contact, not even condoms can offer 100% protection.