What are genital warts?
Genital warts are a sexually transmitted infection (STI). They are small lumps on the genitals which you can see or feel. They are usually painless. They are caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV). Genital warts can be on the vagina, vulva, cervix, anus or penis, and sometimes in the mouth or throat. They’re different from the warts you can get on your hands and knees.
Sexually transmitted infection (STI) – any infection or disease that can be passed from one person to another during sexual activity.
How do you get genital warts?
You catch genital warts by having sex with someone who has the virus, even if you can’t see any warts. It can take many weeks, months, or even years before any genital warts show. Genital warts are very easy to catch and pass on to your partners.
Genital warts are very common. Most sexually active people have probably been exposed to the virus, but never get genital warts.
Signs and symptoms
If you see or feel unusual lumps on your genitals, or if you have had sex with someone who has genital warts, then see your doctor.
Genital warts may not always be obvious, such as when they occur on the cervix (the neck of the womb) or inside the urethra (the tube leading out from the bladder).
How do I know I have genital warts?
Your doctor can check for genital warts and any other sexually transmitted infection (STI). Your partner should also be checked.
Some HPV infections (not the same ones that cause warts) can develop into genital cancers in both men and women. All women aged under 70 years who have ever been sexually active (regardless of whether they have been vaccinated) should have regular Pap smears to test for cervical cancer.
Treatment of genital warts
Your doctor can treat genital warts in several ways, and will tell you the best one for you. Options include:
- podophyllotoxin paint (not suitable for pregnant women)
- cryotherapy (warts are frozen off with liquid nitrogen)
- imiquimod cream (not suitable for pregnant women)
- laser treatment
- surgical removal.
Don’t use lotions made for other types of warts.
All sexual partners should be checked, and treated if they have genital warts.
Don’t have sex when you have genital warts you can see or feel.
Avoid sex during the treatment period. Use condoms with your regular partner for 6 months after treatment as this is when genital warts are most likely to return.
Is there a vaccination against genital warts?
Yes, there is now a vaccine that can protect you against some genital warts and cervical cancer. Talk to your doctor about it.
How can genital warts be prevented?
You can reduce the risks of getting genital warts (and other STIs) by following this advice:
- Always use condoms or dams and water-based lubricant. Condoms are the best way to protect you both from STIs. Always use condoms during vaginal and anal sex, and dams during oral sex, until you’re totally sure that both you and your partner don’t have an STI.
- Have a long-term relationship where neither of you is already infected, and neither of you has other partners.
- Limit your sex partners. The fewer people you have sex with, the less chance you have of having sex with someone who has genital warts or other STIs.
- Have regular STI checks.
- Young people should be vaccinated against HPV before they become sexually active. Free HPV vaccination is available through the year 8 school-based vaccination program.
Translated information about genital warts
Arabic – genital warts (PDF 178KB)
Burmese – genital warts (PDF 182KB)
Chinese – genital warts (PDF 260KB)
French – genital warts (PDF 94KB)
Indonesian – genital warts (PDF 207KB)
Thai – genital warts (PDF 180KB)
Vietnamese – genital warts (PDF 235KB)
Where to get help
- See your doctor.
- Ring healthdirect on 1800 022 222.
- Call the Sexual Health Helpline (9227 6178 for metropolitan callers or 1800 198 205 for country callers).
- Contact your local sexual health clinic (external site).
- Genital warts are very common.
- They are caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV), but do not cause cancer.
- Young people should be vaccinated against HPV before they become sexually active.
This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.