Genital warts

Genital warts are caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV). The warts are similar to the ones you may get on your hands.

How you get it

Through unprotected (condomless) vaginal or anal penetrative sex, or other genital skin-to-skin contact.


Small pinkish or cauliflower-like white lumps that can be on the vulva, penis, scrotum, anus or in the vagina. They may be itchy, but are usually painless.



If you suspect you’ve got genital warts, the best place to head is your local sexual health clinic to have it confirmed. 


There is no routine test for HPV infection – the diagnosis is made by examining the warts.


Warts usually disappear on their own in time, but freezing them or using a cream or liquid to may make them disappear more quickly. If left untreated, the virus can take a while to clear from your system and warts may return and occasionally become large and uncomfortable.


HPV is a common virus that will affect many people at some point in their life. As with other STIs, having multiple partners is a big risk factor, as is sex without condoms. So the best way to protect yourself is using a condom.


Reduce the risk of a condom bursting by:

  • making sure it's properly unrolled

  • squeezing the air out of the 'teat' before putting it on

  • keeping your fingernails short and smooth

  • using lube suitable for use with condoms

  • never using oils, oil-based lubricants, or oily foodstuffs during sex


The risks from oral sex can be reduced if you:

  • always use a fresh condom

  • avoid oral sex if there are any signs of infection

  • avoid oral sex if the person giving it has any cuts or sores in their mouth


A vaccine is now available that prevents the four strains of HPV that can cause anal, throat and penile cancers, as well as genital warts.

An HPV vaccine is routinely offered to girls aged 11-13 to prevent infections. From July 2017, this vaccine is also being made available from sexual health and HIV clinics to men who have sex with men. The vaccine is available to men aged 45 or under.

© 2019 Know Your Risk: Testing Week Scotland