Genital warts

Genital warts are small fleshy growths, bumps or skin changes that appear on or around the genital or anal area.

Symptoms of genital warts 

Genital warts are the result of a viral skin infection caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV). Genital warts are a common type of sexually transmitted infection (STI).

They are usually painless and do not pose a serious threat to a person’s health.

Most people who have an HPV infection will not develop any visible warts. If genital warts do appear, it can be several weeks, months or even years after you first came into contact with the virus.

Warts in women

The most common places for genital warts to develop in women are:

  • around the vulva (the opening of the vagina)
  • on the cervix (the neck of the womb)
  • inside the vagina
  • around or inside the anus
  • on the upper thighs

Warts in men

The most common places for genital warts to develop in men are:

  • anywhere on the penis
  • on the scrotum
  • inside the urethra (tube where urine comes out)
  • around or inside the anus
  • on the upper thighs

Other symptoms

Warts are usually painless, although on some people they can become itchy and inflamed. If a wart becomes inflamed, it may lead to bleeding from the urethra, vagina or anus.

When to seek medical advice 

If you think you have genital warts, it is recommended that you make an appointment at your local genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinic.

The treatment for genital warts depends on how many warts you have and where they are.

Where to find help and support

There are GUM clinics across Northern Ireland. If you are worried that you have an STI, you can get tested at your nearest clinic.

In the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust area, some GP practices provide sexual health care services. If you are in this trust area, you can also check with your GP if they provide this service.

Preventing genital warts 

The most common way HPV can be passed from person to person is through skin to skin contact. This is usually sexual activity such as:

  • vaginal sex
  • anal sex
  • non-penetrative genital to genital contact
  • sharing sex toys
  • in very rare cases, oral sex

HPV is not passed on through kissing, hugging or sharing towels, clothing and everyday items such as cutlery or a toilet seat.

Using condoms (male or female) every time you have vaginal or anal sex is the most effective way to avoid getting genital warts, other than being celibate (not having sex).

Genital warts and pregnancy

Tell your midwife or doctor if:

  • you're pregnant, or think you're pregnant, and you have genital warts or think you have genital warts

During pregnancy, warts:

  • can grow and multiply
  • might appear for the first time, or come back after a long time of not being there
  • can be treated safely, but some treatments should be avoided
  • may be removed if they're very big, to avoid problems during birth
  • may be passed to the baby during birth, but this is rare – the virus can cause infection in the baby's throat or genitals

Most pregnant women with genital warts have a vaginal delivery. You might be offered a caesarean depending on your circumstances.

HPV vaccine

In Northern Ireland, girls between the ages of 12 and 13 are offered vaccination against the ‘high risk’ types of HPV that cause 70 per cent of cervical cancer cases and 90 per cent of genital warts cases.


The information on this page has been adapted from original content from the NHS website.

For further information see terms and conditions.

This page was reviewed June 2018

This page is due for review August 2020

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