Health conditions

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
  • penis
  • (sometimes) in the mouth or throat.
They’re different from the warts you can get on your hands and knees.

Terms explained

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.

What are the 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 you know if you have genital warts?

Your doctor can check for genital warts and any other sexually transmitted infection (STI). Your partner should also be checked.

How are genital warts treated?

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 partner for 6 months after treatment to prevent genital warts as this is when they are most likely to return.

Since HPV can infect areas that are not covered by the condom, condoms will not fully protect you against contracting HPV, but condoms do help in HPV prevention.

Is there a vaccination against genital warts?

Yes, there is a vaccine that can protect you against some types of HPV that can cause genital warts and cervical cancer. Talk to your healthcare provider about if the HPV vaccine is right for you.

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.

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).

Last reviewed: 06-02-2023

Public Health

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.

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