What Genital Warts Look Like and Where They Appear

Genital warts are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). It's the most common sexually transmitted disease.

Looking at pictures of genital warts can help you recognize them, and knowing how they spread and what prevention strategies exist is important for reducing your risk and the risk of spread to others.

Types of HPV in Genital Warts

Around 150 different strains of HPV have been identified—with approximately 40 of them shown to infect the genital area. Most sexually active people will encounter some form of HPV in their lifetime, but not all strains carry the same levels of risk.

Genital warts can occur from HPV strains often referred to as low-risk (noncancerous) or high-risk (cancerous). More than 90% of cases of genital warts are caused by low-risk strains, namely HPV types 6 and 11.

High-risk strains cause most cervical, penile, vulvar, vaginal, anal, and oropharyngeal cancers and precancers (abnormal cell changes that may cause cancer). Notably, HPV types 16 and 18 are two high-risk strains that cause about 70% of cervical cancers.

More than 90% of new HPV infections, including those caused by high-risk HPV types, clear or become undetectable within 2 years, and clearance usually occurs in the first 6 months after infection.

An HPV test is used to specifically test for high-risk types of HPV in individuals with a cervix, while a Pap test collects cervical cells to find any abnormal cells or cell changes in the cervix. These tests can be paired together to check for both high-risk HPV and cervical cell changes.

Although there is no approved test for HPV in men, some healthcare providers offer anal Pap tests for those at an increased risk for anal cancer, such as men with HIV or men who receive anal sex.

Pictures of Gential Warts

Genital warts may not show up for two or three months after HPV infection, if ever. When they do appear, they typically appear as flesh-toned or gray growths. They can be raised or flat and can appear on, in, and around the genitals. They can grow in clusters that resemble cauliflower, or they can appear singularly. Genital warts can also be white, purple, or brown colored.

The appearance of genital warts can vary dramatically. They can range in size from less than 1 millimeter to several centimeters in diameter if a cluster of warts merges together. They can be smooth or rough and may have fingerlike projections.

Please note that below are graphic images that show male and female genitalia in detail. Discretion is advised.

Genital Warts on Men

This photo contains content that some people may find graphic or disturbing.

Genital warts on the penis

Dermnet

The picture above displays genital warts on the shaft (body) of the penis. However, genital warts can appear on other places of the penis, like the scrotum (as seen below) and around the tip of the penis. Warts can also appear under the foreskin of an uncircumcised penis.

This photo contains content that some people may find graphic or disturbing.

Genital warts on the scrotum

Dermnet

Genital Warts on Women

This photo contains content that some people may find graphic or disturbing.

Cluster of genital warts on the labia

Dermnet

Above is a photo of genital warts on the labia of the vagina. However, genital warts can also appear on the vulva and cervix.

Genital Warts on the Perineum

This photo contains content that some people may find graphic or disturbing.

Genital warts around the vagina and perineum

O'Mahony C, Gomberg M, Skerlev M, et al. / J Eur Acad Dermatol Venereol

The perineum is the area between the genitals and the anus. The picture above shows a case of genital warts not only around the vagina but on and around the perineum as well.

Genital Warts on the Thighs

This photo contains content that some people may find graphic or disturbing.

Genital warts on the thigh

Cincinnati STD/HIV Prevention Training Center

The picture above displays genital warts formed on the upper inner thigh, but warts may also develop in lower areas of the thigh.

Anal Warts

This photo contains content that some people may find graphic or disturbing.

Genital Warts around the anus

Dr. Pawan Lal

Genital warts can appear around or inside the anus. Several pictures of anal warts on the Internet show severe cases of warts blocking the anal opening. However, cases such as these are uncommon.

Where Genital Warts Form

HPV is spread through skin-to-skin sexual contact such as genital-on-genital rubbing, intercourse, oral sex, and anal sex. When you have genital warts, you can spread them to a sexual partner. Using a condom can help reduce the risk of transmission, though it doesn't offer 100% protection.

HPV penetrates the skin and mucous membranes through microscopic openings in those surfaces. After exposure, an incubation period takes place. During this time, there are no signs or symptoms of infection. Genital warts typically develop two to three months after infection, but not everyone infected with HPV strains 6 and 11 go on to develop warts.

Genital warts can form anywhere in the genital region (i.e the penis, vagina, anus, and perineum areas) and also the thighs. The location of genital warts doesn't always match up with areas of sexual contact. The CDC notes that while they usually occur at the site of reported contact, they can be found at sites where people report no history of sexual contact, like the anus.

It's important to know that HPV is spread in the absence of visible warts.

Diagnosis

In most cases, healthcare providers are able to make a diagnosis of genital warts just from visual inspection, but some lesions are not as easy to identify. In those cases, practitioners may do a biopsy of suspicious tissue to confirm the diagnosis.

In addition, magnification using colposcopy can help healthcare providers visualize lesions inside the vagina and on the cervix. A biopsy can also be used in these cases if any suspicious areas are found to confirm the presence of HPV and identify the viral subtype.

Treatment

how genital warts are treated
 Verywell / Alexandra Gordon

If no treatment is given, genital warts may go away on their own, often within one year. But it's also possible that they will grow and spread. They can also simply stay and remain the same size.

Treatments include creams or gels that you apply yourself, such as Imiquimod and Podofilox. These are not over-the-counter medicines meant for other kinds of warts; you need to get them from your healthcare provider. A practitioner can also use cryotherapy to freeze them off or surgically remove them with laser or cutting instruments.

With treatment, you will usually have wart-free periods. That is good for cosmetic reasons, but you may still be able to pass HPV to sexual partners.

CDC Guidelines for HPV Prevention

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in its 2021 updated guidance for screening and prevention of STDs, reaffirms vaccination as the primary strategy for preventing HPV. Vaccination with Gardasil 9 is recommended as part of routine care beginning at ages 11 or 12, but can be administered as early as 9 years old.

 At-Home Treatments and Remedies

Seeing a healthcare professional is the best way to ensure you receive the appropriate treatment for genital warts. There are some at-home treatments and remedies that some propose may help get rid of warts. But many of these remedies and treatments aren't evidence-supported and may be unsafe to try on genital warts.

To start, over-the-counter (OTC) skin products that contain ingredients like salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide should not be used for genital warts. These products aren't designed for treating warts in such delicate areas.

Some research shows that using the duct tape method to remove warts may be effective. In this method, the wart is covered with duct tape for a certain number of days and removed. After the removal, other actions such as washing the wart with soap and water and using an emery board to remove dead skin are carried out, and then the method is repeated.

But the duct tape method should not be used on genital warts that are on or too close to the genital and anal areas, as these areas are sensitive. This method is more so designed for common warts on areas like the hands, feet, and arms.

Some also suggest using apple cider vinegar and tea tree oil to treat warts, but there is a lack of research for their use, specifically on genital warts. In addition, the chemical makeup of tea tree oil and apple cider vinegar may not be appropriate to use in the genital and anal regions, as they may cause burning and irritation.

The most natural and evidence-supported remedy for genital warts is the application of a green tea extract known as sinecatechins. Experts believe that this green tea extract may have antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties that help get rid of genital warts.

Topical sinecatechins 15% ointment is the first FDA-approved botanical drug for treating genital warts. It's prescribed by a healthcare professional and typically self-applied.

A Word From Verywell

You can't rely on whether you can see genital warts to know if you or someone else is infected and can transmit HPV. Discuss the benefits and risks of the Gardasil 9 vaccine with your healthcare provider if you do not have genital warts.

If you suspect that you may have genital warts, see your medical professional. If you have been diagnosed with genital warts, you may still be able to transmit HPV to your sexual partners even if the warts are gone.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do you get rid of genital warts?

    Genital warts are commonly treated with topical prescription medications, such as Imiquimod cream, Podofilox solution or gel, and Sinecatechins ointment, in addition to cryotherapy and surgical removal methods.

    Although medications and other treatment methods may help clear genital warts, the virus that causes warts—HPV—may never go away, and warts may reappear.

  • How long do genital warts last?

    When untreated, genital warts may disappear within a year, but the exact time it takes for them to clear can vary. With treatment, warts may clear faster. However, since HPV may reside in the body, warts may reappear over and over again.

  • What does a genital wart feel like?

    Genital warts may feel rough or smooth. They usually aren't painful but may cause discomfort, itching, irritation, or a burning sensation.

  • How long does it take for genital warts to show up?

    The length it takes for genital warts to show up can vary. Some people may develop genital warts within weeks after infection. But for others, it may take months or years after infection for warts to appear.

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13 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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