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Genital warts can be flat or raised, single or multiple, and flesh-colored or whitish. When several warts develop close together, they can take on a cauliflower-like appearance.
They most often develop externally on the:
- shaft or head of the penis
- perineum (between the genitals and anus)
They can also sometimes develop internally in the:
- anal canal
Genital warts are usually painless, but they can be uncomfortable and cause mild pain, itching, or bleeding.
They’re more likely to hurt or bleed if they become irritated due to friction. This could be from sexual activity, picking, or wearing tight clothing.
If you have genital warts inside your vagina, urethra, or anus, you may experience some burning or pain when urinating.
No, they’re not the same, but these two conditions have some similarities. Both are common STIs that cause genital lesions, but herpes causes sores, not warts.
Genital warts are caused by HPV. Herpes, on the other hand, is caused by the herpes simplex virus, either HSV-1 or HSV-2.
Additional symptoms of herpes include:
- flu-like symptoms
- swollen lymph nodes
- burning or tingling before sores appear
- painful, fluid-filled blisters
- burning pain when urinating
You can get the virus that causes genital warts through skin-to-skin contact with someone who has the virus. Most people get it through sexual contact, including vaginal, anal, and oral sex.
HPV and genital warts can be transmitted even if the person with the virus has no symptoms of an infection.
Warts may take one to three months to appear once a person has been exposed to the virus. They aren’t always visible to the human eye because they’re too small or because they blend in with the skin.
There’s no cure for the virus that causes genital warts, but there are things you can do to manage an outbreak.
You may not need treatment if your warts aren’t causing any symptoms. If they cause pain or itching, talk to your healthcare provider about removal options.
Treatment options include:
- chemicals that dissolve the warts that can be applied by a doctor or at home
- cryotherapy to freeze off the warts
- electrocauterization to burn off the warts
- laser therapy
Genital warts can come back, so you may need to see your doctor for treatment again in the future.
Resist the temptation to remove warts yourself using over-the-counter wart remedies. These aren’t safe for use on the genital area.
Most people get HPV or genital warts from having intercourse, but you can also get them from skin-to-skin contact during non-penetrative sex or from sharing sex toys.
It’s also possible for someone to transmit the virus to their baby during childbirth, but this is rare.
If you think you have genital warts or you’ve been exposed to HPV, make an appointment with your healthcare provider. They can examine your skin more closely and make a diagnosis.
If your healthcare provider can’t see much, they might apply acetic acid to your skin, which causes warts to turn white so they’re easy to see.
Some types of HPV are associated with cancer of the cervix, vulva, anus, and penis. The strains that cause warts aren’t the same ones that can cause cancer, but your healthcare provider may want to perform tests to check for anything unusual, just to be safe.
For cisgender women and anyone else with a cervix, testing includes a Pap smear and an HPV test. There’s currently no HPV test for cisgender men and anyone else with a penis.
If you have genital warts, it’s a good idea to do some additional STI testing to rule out other infections. If you find out you have genital warts or other STIs, make sure to tell your recent sexual partners.