Life is good and you’ve been happy with everything, including your sexual activity. Then someone with whom you have enjoyed intercourse says they have genital warts. Or perhaps in a moment of passion, you had sex with someone new and overlooked using a condom. Now what? You don’t feel any different or have any symptoms of genital warts. How long before you know for sure you aren’t infected? And if you are infected, does that mean you’ll have embarrassing and ugly growths all over your sex organs for the rest of your life?
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Genital Warts Have Few Signs or Symptoms
Most sexually active people have HPV. Few people realize they have an HPV viral infection and frequently transmit it to their sexual partners. Unfortunately, many people with HPV sooner or later discover they have genital warts.
HPV genital warts often start out very small, sometimes tinier than a pinhead. They aren’t painful and it’s unlikely you’ll even notice them unless and until they start growing and spreading. Even when the warts are large or you notice lots of them, they are usually more bothersome than painful.
As the genital warts increase in size or number, you may start noticing some irritation. You might start to feel itching or burning. If you look, you’ll see bumps on your sex organs. The bumps can be flat or pointy. They might be flesh-colored, light brown, or gray. Some of them might be smooth and others could have a rough surface. When there are several clustered together, they can look like cauliflower. Some individuals experience a discharge.
Women who have warts that have invaded their vagina can experience painful intercourse or bleeding. They may also notice an abnormal vaginal discharge. Both sexes can feel excess moisture around the warts. Very rarely, the warts can grow inside the urethra and cause a feeling of obstruction when you urinate.
You are at risk for developing genital warts if:
- Your mother had HPV at the time of your birth.
- You were sexually abused as a child.
- You are an adult less than 30 years old.
- Your immune system is weak.
Individuals who smoke have a greater incidence of genital warts than those who don’t.
Some individuals have HPV but don’t experience the accompanying warts. Warts appear on other individuals, but disappear on their own. Most people who do have warts opt to have them removed. Your questions about genital wart treatments are answered here.
Genital warts have many names, including:
- Anal warts,
- Anogenital warts,
- Condylomata acuminata,
- Human papillomavirus,
- Penile warts,
- Perianal warts,
- Sexually transmitted disease (STD),
- Sexually transmitted infection (STI),
- Vaginal warts,
- Venereal warts.
Regardless of what you call them, there is no need to be embarrassed about having genital warts. You’re in the company of hundreds of thousands of other people that have the same infection.
Telltale Symptoms in Women
As a woman who may be having unprotected sex, you’ll need to check for warts before you notice any symptoms. You can also consult a medical professional for frequent Pap smears. It’s important that you become aware of any warts as soon as possible if you believe you contracted HPV.
HPV genital warts can appear on or in all your genitalia and rectal areas.
This includes your:
- Cervix (opening of the uterus),
- Inner thighs,
- Perianal area (region between the anus and vagina),
- Vulva (outer lips of the vagina).
The warts can grow both inside and outside your vagina or anus.
Vaginal wart symptoms can be so mild that you won’t notice them at first. They can start itching or you might feel a slight irritation when they’re small. If you have internal vaginal warts, you’ll likely experience mild discomfort to pain when you engage in sexual intercourse. You may start bleeding during or after sex.
A feeling of an obstruction when you have a bowel movement is an anal wart symptom. On occasion, your anus may feel itchy. Some individuals may notice anal bleeding or discharge.
HPV has more than 100 types, but only two are recognized as causing genital warts. They are benign. However, recent research has implicated HPV genital warts in cervical cancer. A Pap smear reveals abnormal cell growth that could later become cancerous. When you have genital warts and an abnormal Pap smear, your doctor may conduct a colposcopic exam of your cervix. He or she may also order additional testing to determine if you’re at risk for cervical cancer. You will also need to be tested regularly for anal, vaginal, or vulvar cancer.
Men Have Fewer Symptoms
HPV can infect men and lead to genital warts, but men have fewer symptoms and complications than women do. Men usually have to rely on visual observation as there isn’t a reliable HPV test available to them. Even if you have no symptoms, you are still contagious and can infect your sexual partners with HPV.
Genital warts in men occur in or on your:
- Upper thighs,
If you haven’t been circumcised, genital warts can grow under the foreskin.
Men who have sex with other men have an increased risk of anal cancer. Current research has related anal cancer to HPV infection. You should consult a medical professional if you can feel an obstruction or mass in your anus, or if you experience anal bleeding. Both are an anus wart symptom. Your doctor will use an anoscope to view the inside of your anus to determine if you have abnormal cell growth.
- They are caused by a viral infection,
- They can be removed,
- Removing them doesn’t cure the virus,
- Sometimes they will go away by themselves,
- They are contagiouss,
- You don’t get them from a toilet seat,
- They aren’t transmitted by body fluid.
Hormone changes in pregnant women can cause their genital warts to grow faster or larger.
It Takes Awhile for Symptoms to Appear
HPV can remain dormant in your body for years after you’re infected and you never experience symptoms. However, the usual genital warts incubation period between your initial infection and the appearance of growths is about three months. Your experience can be significantly different because warts have been known to appear within three weeks after infection. They have also been known to appear years later. The perversity of HPV symptoms makes it nearly impossible to know when or from whom you contracted the initial infection.
At the present time, HPV cannot be cured. Once you are infected, you may have it for the rest of your life. However, your body’s immune system can resist the initial infection and sometimes fight off an infection if you do get one.
It’s important to consult a health care practitioner as soon as you notice any bumps or lumps on your genitalia or anus even if you are otherwise symptom-free. If you do have a genital wart infection, it’s important to start treatment early. Not every bump is a wart, and it will ease your mind to know you aren’t infected. You can learn about genital warts vs pimples here.
You obviously want to avoid having sex with a person you know to have genital warts because they’re extremely contagious. The difficulty is that the person can have HPV and not have warts. You’ll need to use condoms, but that won’t fully protect you. HPV is transmitted via skin-to-skin contact and condoms don’t cover all your sex organs.
Awareness is an important first step when you want to know how to prevent genital warts. As embarrassing and uncomfortable as it is, you really need to ask potential sex partners if they have HPV or genital warts. If you’re infected, you’re obligated to discuss that with your partner before sexual intercourse takes place.
You’re at high risk for acquiring HPV if you:
- Began having sex while quite young.
- Consume alcohol excessively.
- Don’t practice safe sex.
- Have sex with many partners.
Genital warts can occur in the mouth and throat if you have oral sex with an infected person. Oral sex is just as risky as vaginal or anal sex when genital warts are present.
One of the best ways to prevent genital warts is to practice a lifestyle that keeps your immune system strong. That means eating healthy foods, exercising, losing weight if you need to, and keeping your stress levels down. You can learn about genital warts vaccine here. A case of HPV and genital warts that you have treated or had removed does not make you immune to a second infection.
The specter of HPV and the possibility of contracting genital warts doesn’t mean a fulfilling sex life is over. Practicing safe sex will help you avoid infection, and knowing the symptoms if you do become infected will enable you to be proactive. The key is to know your body so that you’re aware of any symptoms, changes, or growths immediately.