What Genital Warts Look Like and Where They Appear

Genital warts are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). This virus is the most common sexually transmitted disease. Nearly everyone who is sexually active will be infected with HPV at some point, but most won't develop genital warts.

It's important to know what symptoms to watch out for, though. The pictures of genital warts in this article can help you recognize them. 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 up or become undetectable within two years, and clearance usually occurs in the first six 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 done together to check for both high-risk HPV and cervical cell changes.

Although there is no approved HPV test for 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 Genital Warts

Genital warts may not show up for two or three months after HPV infection, if ever. 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 in color.

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 the images below are graphic and 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 of the penis. However, genital warts can appear on other parts of the penis, like around the tip of the penis and under the foreskin of an uncircumcised penis. Warts can also appear on the scrotum (as seen below).

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. 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 on the upper inner thigh, but warts may also develop further down 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, 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 can be spread even when no warts are visible.

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 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 to confirm the presence of HPV and identify the viral subtype.

Treatment

how genital warts are treated
 Verywell / Alexandra Gordon

Genital warts may go away on their own without treatment, 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 warts off, or use a laser or electric current to burn them off.

With treatment, you will usually have periods without any visible warts. That is good for cosmetic reasons, but you may still be able to pass HPV to sexual partners.

CDC Guidelines for HPV Prevention

The 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 the vaccine can be administered as early as 9 years old or, in some cases, up to age 45.

 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 home treatments and remedies that are claimed to help get rid of warts. But many of these aren't supported by evidence and may be unsafe to try on genital warts.

Over-the-counter (OTC) wart treatments 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.

One folk remedy for treating warts is the duct tape method, and some research does show that it may be effective. But this method should not be used on genital warts that are on or close to the delicate genital and anal areas. This method is more appropriate for common warts on areas like the hands, feet, and arms.

Some people also suggest using apple cider vinegar and tea tree oil to treat warts, but there is a lack of research for their use in general and specifically on genital warts. In addition, these remedies 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

Seeing a suspicious lump or bump around your genital area can be alarming. Though genital warts are unsightly—and highly contagious—they usually are harmless. However, it's always important to get an accurate diagnosis.

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 go away 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?

    How long 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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