Genital warts are a common sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by certain types of human papillomavirus (HPV). It is an infection that is often invisible and couples can share it without knowing. Most people with HPV don't have any symptoms and the virus is harmless. However, if you discover that you have contracted HPV, it is important to get tested and treated to help reduce the risk of transmitting genital warts to your partner.
In most cases, it is impossible to know which partner contracted the virus first or when they contracted it. Your partner may have been infected some time ago or recently and not know it. You can't test if you gave them the virus or vice versa. Women can discover that they have HPV when they get an abnormal Pap test result (during cervical cancer screening).
Others may only discover it once they have developed more serious problems from HPV, such as cancer. If you have genital warts, a healthcare provider should examine all of your sexual partners and treat them if warts are found. Even if you don't have symptoms, you should get treatment. This is done to prevent complications and to avoid spreading the condition to others. Genital warts are different from warts that can occur on other parts of the body.
Therefore, you can't get genital warts by touching yourself (or your partner) with a wart that's on your hand or foot. The types of HPV (types 6 and 1) that cause most visible genital warts are only very rarely associated with cancer. If you're told that you have genital warts, it's a good idea to have your current or most recent sexual partner get checked for sexually transmitted infections and to see if they have any warts they haven't noticed. Genital warts can spread even if no semen comes out, and the penis doesn't have to enter the vagina or anus for them to appear. Genital warts are contracted by having skin-to-skin contact with an infected person, often during vaginal, anal, and oral sex. Be sure to get screened for cancer of the cervix, vagina, vulva, or anus if you have been diagnosed with genital warts. The following steps will help protect you from contracting and spreading genital warts and most other STIs, such as chlamydia, gonorrhea and HIV:
- Get tested and treated for STIs regularly.
- Use condoms during sex.
- Avoid having sex with multiple partners.
- Avoid sharing sex toys.