They are one of the most common STIs in the UK amongst young people (second only to chlamydia). But what are genital warts, exactly?
The short answer: Genital warts are caused by the strand of the common human papilloma virus (HPV) — specifically types 6 and 11.
While you may be aware of their existence, you might not know how to separate the STI myths from the facts when it comes to what having them means for you, your partner, and your sex life.
Below we’ve debunked 5 myths about genital warts, including details on some of the products available for you to buy to treat your genital warts. Let’s dive in.
Myth 1: You only get genital warts from unprotected sex
While genital warts are a sexually transmitted infection (STI), they are not only contracted through sexual activity. They can also be passed on through skin-to-skin contact. This means that any contact with an infected part of a person's body can cause you to get genital warts.
FYI: STD and STI are terms that are often used interchangeably. The main difference between the two is that the term STI clarifies that you can be infected, but not actually develop any symptoms or get sick. Using the term STI is becoming increasingly common among medical professionals as it’s technically more accurate.
Click here to find out what the symptoms of genital warts are.
Myth 2: Condoms stop you from catching genital warts
That’s not necessarily true. Condoms do not cover the full area of the male genitalia and do not cover any of the vagina.
Genital warts can appear over your whole pubic area and this means that there is still some skin exposed which can both pass and contract genital warts.
So, while condoms do reduce the chance of being infected with HPV, they will not 100% prevent you from catching genital warts.
Myth 3: I can’t see any warts, so I can’t be infected
While genital warts are the clearest sign that you have types 6 or 11 of HPV, this doesn’t mean that you have not contracted the virus.
There can be an incubation period with genital warts, during which time you will not have any visible warts on your body.
This incubation period can last anywhere from three weeks to two years, meaning that you could have the virus without showing any HPV symptoms.
Myth 4: Genital warts can be cured
They can’t be cured, but they can be treated — and they may never re-occur. Once you have HPV, you will always have HPV and it will lie dormant. Some people will experience regular occurrences of genital warts, whereas others may have just the one break out, however, they will still carry the virus.
There are many different genital warts treatments available. Among these are:
- Condyline 0.5% solution – this targets your infected skin cells and stops genital warts from growing. Healthy skin cells then replace your pre-existing genital warts when they die. Condyline is only suitable for genital warts, it should not be used around the anus.
- Warticon wart treatment (podophyllotoxin) – a solution or cream which attacks your HPV. This leads to your genital warts dying and being replaced by new skin. Warticon needs to be applied three times a week and is normally effective after around 8 weeks (although it can take longer in males). Warticon is only suitable for genital warts, it should not be used around the anus.
- Aldara (imiquimod) 5% Cream – HPV creates unhealthy skin cells in your body. This cream works by assisting your body in building up defence mechanisms of its own so that it can attack the HPV causing your skill cells to become unhealthy. This your genital warts to disappear. By stimulating your immune system to attack your warts, Aldara can reduce the chance of genital warts recurring compared to other treatments.Aldara is suitable for the treatment of genital and anal warts. Click through to find out more about Aldara side effects or to read our customer reviews on Aldara Cream.
While all of these products treat your genital warts and can help to remove any visible warts or lesions — HPV-11 and HPV-6 is an incurable infection.
These treatments be cannot be purchased over the counter from a high street pharmacy, they are classified as prescription-only. Genital warts treatment needs to be obtained from your GP, local GUM (sexual health) clinic or from a regulated UK online pharmacy. There is no shame in getting treatment for your genital warts, but getting the treatment online may save you some time.
Myth 5: Only women get genital warts
Both men and women can contract genital warts; HPV has no gender preference and prior to HPV vaccinations being introduced around 340,000 US women and 360,000 US women were affected by genital warts each year.
This myth comes from the fact that other forms of the HPV virus can cause cervical cancer in women, leading people to believe that HPV only affects females.
Click here for information about the effects of genital warts and pregnancy.
Genital warts are the second most common STI in the UK among men and women under 25, with chlamydia taking the top spot. But while many people have genital warts, there are still many misconceptions about them. If you want more information about genital warts, then do not hesitate to contact your GP, GUM clinic, or speak to a registered pharmacist.