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 will not develop genital warts.

It is important for you to know the symptoms of genital warts. 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.

This article discusses genital warts, what they look like, where they typically occur, diagnosis, and treatment.

Types of HPV in Genital Warts

Around 150 types of HPV have been identified—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 types carry the same levels of risk.

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

Pictures of Genital Warts

The appearance of genital warts can vary dramatically. Warts can appear as single bumps or they can occur in groups. They can range in size from less than 1 millimeter to several centimeters in diameter if a cluster of warts merges. They can be smooth or rough and may have fingerlike projections.

The most common appearance of genital warts is 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 alone. Genital warts can also be white, purple, or brown.

The timing of genital warts can vary widely from person to person. HPV infection can occur with or without the appearance of genital warts. Warts can take up to two or three months to develop on the skin.

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 around the vagina and the perineum.

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. Anal warts rarely block the anal opening.

Location of Genital Warts

Genital warts can form around or inside the genital region (i.e. the penis, vagina, anus, and perineum areas) and the thighs.

The location of genital warts does not always match up with areas of sexual contact. Warts usually appear at the site of reported contact. However, they can also be found at sites where people report no history of sexual contact.

Genital warts can be spread even when no warts are visible.

Diagnosis

In most cases, healthcare providers can diagnose genital warts just from visual inspection. However, some lesions can be hard to identify. In those cases, practitioners may do a biopsy to confirm the diagnosis. The biopsy can confirm the presence of HPV and identify the subtype of the virus.

In addition, a special test (called a colposcopy) using a magnified scope to look at the genitals can help healthcare providers to better see lesions inside the vagina and on the cervix.

Prevention

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in its 2021 updated guidance for screening and prevention of STDs, states vaccination is the primary strategy for preventing HPV. Vaccination with Gardasil 9 is recommended as part of routine care beginning at ages 11 or 12.

The HPV vaccine is approved to be administered as early as 9 years old. It can also be given, in some cases, up to age 45.

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 is also possible that they will grow and spread. They can also stay and remain the same size.

Treatments include prescription creams or gels you apply yourself, such as Aldara (imiquimod) and Condylox (podofilox). Your healthcare provider can also remove warts using cryotherapy or use a laser or electrosurgery (electric current) to burn them off.

With treatment, visible warts will usually go away. For some people, genital warts come back even if they follow all the steps for treatment. Even after treatment and without visible warts, you may still be able to pass HPV to sexual partners.

Over-the-counter (OTC) wart treatments that contain ingredients like salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide should not be used for genital warts. These products are not designed for treating warts in the delicate genital areas.

 At-Home Remedies

Seeing a healthcare professional is the best way to ensure you receive the appropriate treatment for genital warts. Some home treatments and remedies claim to help get rid of warts. But many of these are not supported by evidence and may be unsafe to try on genital warts.

One folk remedy for treating warts is the duct tape method. Some research does show that it may be effective. But this method is more appropriate for common warts on areas like the hands, feet, and arms. It should not be used on genital warts.

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

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

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

If you think you might have genital warts, the best treatment is to see a healthcare provider for diagnosis and treatment. Self-identification and home-based treatments may be unsafe. Medical professionals are trained to examine and treat private areas of the body.

Summary

Genital warts are a symptom of infection from certain types of HPV. They typically appear on the genital areas but can also be found on the anus and perineum.

Any wart, bump, or growth should be evaluated by a healthcare professional. Typically, a visual examination is all that is required. Your provider can then prescribe treatment for your warts, if appropriate. At-home treatments are typically not effective or safe on the delicate skin of the genitals.

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 is 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. They can also be removed using cryotherapy or surgical 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 are not 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.

Originally written by Lisa Fayed
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11 Sources
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