Early signs of genital warts

All you need to know about whether you can spot genital warts early on


What are genital warts?

Genital warts can be vary greatly in terms of shape and size, so it is always preferable to get a professional diagnosis from a doctor. Here we’ll tell you what these warts typically look like and how to determine if you may have them.

Genital warts are the only major symptom of a sexually transmitted infection (STI) by human papillomavirus (HPV), There are a staggering 38 strains of HPV that can cause warts, however, they will most often be due to HPV srains 6 and 11.  HPV is contracted through skin-to-skin contact or through contact with sexual fluids during vaginal, anal, or oral sex with an infected partner. The chances of getting HPV from an infected partner are about 65% for each time you have sex.

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In the United States, approximately 20% of adults with an active sex life, who have not been vaccinated, will eventually contract a strain of HPV.  However, only 1% will have a visible genital wart outbreak.  Unfortunately, an infected individual without any visible warts, can still infect others through sexual contact.  Men are just as contagious as women despite being less likely to develop visible wart outbreaks. 
80% of genital wart outbreaks will resolve without treatment within 18 months. There is currently no cure for HPV.  Research is ongoing, but for now, once you have the virus it will stay with you, and wart outbreaks can occur or recur.  In most cases, in the long-term, the virus will be sufficiently supressed by the immune system so that visible wart outbreaks will not occur and transmission is also unlikely.

There are various effective medical treatments that can help you get rid of visible warts. In severe cases, surgical options are avaiable.

What are the signs of genital warts?

Since warts are the only sign of an HPV infection, there’s really nothing you can look for until the first wart appears on your skin. They may first show up inside your genitals, which makes them difficult to spot, especially since they normally tend to be painless and itch-free. Women should search for warts inside their vagina, on their vulva and around the groin, while men should check their penis and groin. If transmitted by anal and oral sex, warts can also appear inside the mouth, on the lips, and around the anus.

What makes genital warts very tricky, is that the incubation time (the time between transmission of the virus and the first wart appearing) can be as long as 8 months. Therefore, if you had unprotected sex with a partner whom you think may have HPV, talk to a doctor about whether tresting is appropriate. There are different tests available that can give you clarity.  


What do genital warts look like?

Genital warts are soft, skin-colored bumps that grow upward from the skin, first alone and later on in clusters. Clusters tend to be grayish in color and their shape and surface texture looks similar to cauliflower. Most people will only experience one or two small clusters or a few individual warts. 

It’s important to bear in mind that not all bumps around the genitals have to be genital warts. There are other STIs, such as syphilis, that causes similar-looking bumps. That’s why it’s essential to have any unusual skin growth checked out by a medical professional.


What are the treatment options for genital warts?

If found early on, several topical medications can treat genital warts effectively. Warts that do not resolve without treatment, may grow to a stage where a minor surgical procedure may be required, by excission, laser therapy, freezing, or chemical removal. 

Rarely, untreated warts can cause complications such as rectal bleeding, if present in the anal canal, or urinary obstruction, when present in the urethra.  More extensive surgical procedures may be needed in these cases.

Prescription-based topical creams like Imiquimod can guide your immune cells to attack abnormal growths including warts.  A 3 to 4 week treatment course can be very effective in clearing up warts. Talk to your doctor or gynecologist to learn more about available treatment options. 


  1. Kodner, Charles, and Soraya Nasraty. “Management of Genital Warts.” American Family Physician, vol. 70, no. 12, 2019, pp. 2335–2342, Accessed 16 Apr. 2020.
  2. Lopaschuk, Catharine C. “New Approach to Managing Genital Warts.” Canadian Family Physician, vol. 59, no. 7, 1 July 2013, pp. 731–736, Accessed 16 Apr. 2020.
  3. Kjær, Susanne Krüger, et al. “The Burden of Genital Warts: A Study of Nearly 70,000 Women from the General Female Population in the 4 Nordic Countries.” The Journal of Infectious Diseases, vol. 196, no. 10, 15 Nov. 2007, pp. 1447–1454,, 10.1086/522863. Accessed 16 Apr. 2020.

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