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How common are warts?

Genital and anal warts are one of the most common infections, with thousands of gay and bisexual men treated in UK clinics for them each year. It can take a long time for treatment to get rid of them.

What causes warts?

Anal and genital warts are caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV) that lives in the skin. Once you have the virus it can stay in your body for several years, but that doesn’t mean you’ll keep getting warts.

What are the symptoms of warts?

A few weeks, many months or even years after infection very small growths (the size of a pinhead to begin with) appear on their own or in groups. They:

  • grow mostly on the head of your cock and in and around your arse
  • might appear in your mouth, on your face or on other parts of your body
  • are lighter in colour than the surrounding skin
  • may itch
  • warts in the arse can bleed.

Untreated warts can spread and get bigger, sometimes becoming cauliflower-shaped.

How are warts passed on?

Warts are usually passed on when someone’s skin touches another person’s warts. This can be during sex, which you won’t see if they’re inside someone’s arse.

It’s also possible for the virus to be passed on when no warts are on the skin, or if you share sex toys, and very rarely through oral sex.

How to prevent warts

You can stop warts being passed on by:

  • using a condom when fucking or latex glove for fisting
  • covering the affected area with a latex barrier during sex until the warts have been treated.

If you have genital warts you must be seen by a doctor. They can’t be cured with treatments from chemists that are used for warts on the hand. The sooner warts are treated, the easier they are to get rid of, so it’s a good idea to check your penis regularly for warts.

Treatments are:

  • freezing the warts with liquid nitrogen
  • putting on a special type of (non-painful) acid
  • using a cream.

It can take several trips to the clinic to get rid of warts. You may be given cream to put on the warts at home. If other treatments don’t work, warts can be removed surgically or by laser, but this isn’t common.

The wart virus lives on in the body even when the warts have gone, so they can come back and need treating again. If you have HIV, warts can be harder to treat.

Gay and bisexual men across Britain up to the age of 45 can now access the HPV vaccine at a sexual health clinic.

Last review: 31/08/2018
Next review: 31/08/2021