If you’ve never asked yourself “What are genital warts?”, well it’s about time. Because, believe it or not, it’s one of the most common STIs out there. In fact, nearly all sexually active people will become affected with at least one strain of the virus in their sexual lifetime.
Now, it’s important to note that there are over 100 strains, but only a few will affect the genital area. It’s also not always the same as the cancer kind. They can also appear around the genitals and anus or, sometimes, inside the vagina, rectum, or urethra.
WHAT ARE GENITAL WARTS EXACTLY?
The genital wart infection is also called HPV (human papillomavirus). They can also appear in a number of ways – from flat or raised, multiple or single, or groups together in something that looks like an unpleasant cauliflower cluster.
But here’s the kicker – they don’t always appear on the surface of the skin. More often than not, they are “subclinical.” This means “relating to or denoting a disease which is not severe enough to present definite or readily observable symptoms.”
HOW THEY’RE CONTRACTED
People often get genital warts from having unprotected sex. This can be skin-to-skin contact during vaginal, anal, or oral play. And, you don’t have to have any secretions or penetration to spread it.
This stuff is contagious as hell. You don’t even need to have visible warts to pass them along. And, in some cases, there have been infants who contracted them from their mother during childbirth (but it’s very rare).
They’re also finicky because they can show up on the skin weeks or even months after infection – sometimes not at all.
SYMPTOMS & TREATMENTS
Aside from the raised or connected bumps on your skin, there might be some itching or discomfort around the crotch area. But, for the most part, that’s all you have to go by.
As for treatments, you need to remember two important things.
- HPV is a virus that will usually go away on its own – from your body’s immune system.
- Any treatment will just get rid of the wart (not the virus), it’s more of a method to stop large spreading and create a more pleasant-looking area.
If you choose to go to a doctor or nurse they might do one of the following treatments…
Cryotherapy – Freezing the wart off with liquid nitrogen over several appointments.
Podophyllotoxin – This is a prescription lotion that is better for places that are easier for the person to reach on their own. However, any unaffected skin needs to be protected. Also, pregnant women should NOT use this.
Imiquimod Cream – It’s applied once a day and three times a week for as long as your doctor suggests. It’s another one that pregnant women should stay away from.
Laser or Diathermy – This is sort of a “last resort” option when the other choices haven’t worked. It’s also better when someone has a lot of warts. But, be prepared to go to the hospital to have it done. Thankfully, all you need is local anesthetic.
Also, remember that warts can still appear after treatment. But this doesn’t mean you’ve caught HPV again. During your course, you should also do the following…
- Keep the affected area clean, and don’t scratch!
- Put a cold compress on if there is discomfort
- Stay away from sex if you can, especially if it’s painful
- Wash your hands after touch any infected areas
HOW TO PREVENT CATCHING THEM
While HPV affects men and women equally, it seems more women have the virus detected. This is mostly because women have cervical cancer screenings that can also detect any infections.
When it comes to sex, it’s not as cut and dry as other infections. Yes, you should wear a condom to try a reduce the risk, but that doesn’t mean you’re 100% safe. Since warts can be transmitted even through non-genital contact, we can now understand why most sexually active adults will have HPV during their lifetime.
In most countries, there are a couple of options for vaccinations – depending on medical access. However, we won’t cover them here. It’s better to talk to your doctor about getting an injection and any side effects that might come with it.
WHAT ARE GENITAL WARTS? CONCLUSION
So, you probably now see that genital warts are, unfortunately, a common thing. Even condoms aren’t totally effective against them. And even though it might be embarrassing, you should ALWAYS tell any partners you’re sexually active with if you’ve caught an infection. This gives them the chance to stay away from sex for a while, so they don’t spread it. It also lets them seek their own treatment.
Finally, don’t ever be afraid to go to a health professional for help. If it exists, they’ve seen it … probably more than a few times. They are aware of what’s out there. They should never make you feel ashamed.
So, now you’re armed with more STI knowledge!