Sexual Health Q&A

What are genital warts?

Genital warts are bumps that appear in the genital area. Sometimes, they appear in clusters that resemble cauliflower. Or, they may be gray or flesh-colored bumps. Sometimes, they are too small to be seen without magnification.

In men, genital warts can appear on the penis or scrotum. In women, they may develop inside the vagina, on the cervix (the lower part of the uterus that connects to the vagina), or on the vulva (the area outside the vagina). In both men and women, genital warts can be found near the anus, on the thighs or groin, or in the mouth or throat.

Common symptoms of genital warts include itching or pain. Some people with genital warts bleed when they have intercourse. In some cases, there are no symptoms.

Genital warts are caused by certain strains the human papillomavirus (HPV), a very common sexually-transmitted infection. There are about 100 different types of HPV. Many are harmless. But some can cause genital warts. HPV can also lead to cervical, penile, or anal cancer.

HPV can be spread by any skin-to-skin contact as well as by oral sex. Using a condom can reduce the risk of infection, but does not eliminate that risk.