Sex Advice

Dear Dr. Locker: What are Genital Warts? How are genital warts related to HPV (human papillomavirus)?

Answer from Dr. Locker

Genital warts are skin warts that appear as small bumps on or in the genitals or anus. The virus HPV causes genital warts. It is also important to know that many people have HPV (human papillomavirus) without having any warts (or any symptoms at all). HPV passes during skin-to-skin genital contact, and the virus remains in the body for life. In men, if genital warts appear after contracting HPV, they often look like yellow-gray warts on the penis, in the urethra, or on the anus. In women, genital warts are more often white or pink warts on the vulva, in vagina, on the cervix, or on the anus. The warts may be very small bumps, or they may be a bit larger and with a more “cauliflower” appearance. If you notice any bumps on your genitals, ask a doctor to examine them. (Sometimes small bumps are harmless cysts or pimples, and only a doctor can tell for sure if they are genital warts.) If genital warts are found, then a doctor removes warts by either: surgery, freezing, topical cream or acid, or laser treatment. The treatment and recovery may be painful or difficult, but it is necessary. Warts may reoccur, needing removal again. Use condoms during sex. For information, please read the following q and a:

*I’ve heard that condoms are never 100% safe, and they protect against certain STDs better than others. What’s the story, and aside from celibacy, what do I do?

*Most of my sexual encounters are unprotected. I notice a pimple like bump on the outside of my vagina. Could I have an STD or HIV?

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