7 Things You Should Know About Genital Warts

Women's Health |

If you’ve got genital warts, you’re not alone. They’re actually pretty common, but it turns out there’s a lot of misunderstanding when it comes to below-the-belt bumps.

Here are seven genital wart revelations to help keep you healthy down there…

1. They Can Show Up Years Later

“Genital warts usually appear in the weeks or months after you’re infected, but it’s possible for them to pop up years down the road,” says Mary Jane Minkin, professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at Yale School of Medicine. So don’t even think about trying to point fingers. Other crappy news: You can’t cure the virus, so while warts can be removed (usually through freezing them off or applying a prescription cream), there’s a chance they can reappear in the future.

READ MORE: 8 Vagina Changes That Mean You’ve Just Caught An STD

2. They’re Not Always Easy to Detect

You’re probably pretty good at managing changes to your body (adios, stray nipple hair), but genital warts aren’t always so obvious to spot. They can come in different shapes and sizes (most are flesh-coloured bumps or look similar to cauliflower), and some are so small they’re not visible to the eye. The best thing you can do is bring up any changes to your doc: “If you’re not sure if it’s a skin tag, pimple, or something else, get it checked out,” says Minkin.

3. Pregnant Women Need to Be Extra Careful

Genital warts can grow more rapidly when you’re pregnant (blame a tamped-down immune system), and in rare cases, they can even be passed to a baby during birth, says Minkin. Docs will typically freeze warts off of future mothers (it’s the safest method of nixing them while someone’s knocked up) to avoid any pregnancy complications.

READ MORE: “Yes, I Have Herpes—And No, It Didn’t Ruin My Love Life”

4. Condoms Aren’t Guaranteed Protection

“Warts can live in places like the anus, scrotum, or vulva, and condoms only cover so much of the genitals,” says Minkin. Any skin contact down there with an infected person puts you at risk, regardless whether or not you’re having sex. (You should still use condoms since they can lower your STD risk, but know it’s not a bulletproof protector when it comes to warts.)

5. The HPV Vaccine Helps Prevent Them

Around 90 percent of genital warts are caused by two strains of HPV – type six and 11 – and the HPV vaccine protects you from both of these. Can we get a hell yeah!? (Just keep in mind that the vaccine is only recommended for women up to age 26.)

READ MORE: The 10 Sexual Health Tests Every Woman Should Tick Off Her To-Do List

6. Smoking Can Trigger Warts

The millionth reason to stop puffing: Nicotine can screw with your nether regions, too. One study found that smokers are 23 percent more likely to have genital warts than non-smokers. “Smoking suppresses the immune system so you’re not able to fight off the infection as well as someone who doesn’t smoke,” says Minkin.

7. They Can Show Up In Other Places (Like Your Throat)

True story: Oral sex can lead to genital warts in your mouth or throat, though Minkin says these warts often go undetected. A bigger issue when it comes to oral sex and HPV is your risk of contracting HPV-related oral cancer, which is rising fast among young women (and is caused by a different strain of HPV than the one that leads to warts).

Looking for more info on genital warts? This is the other scary way you can catch the HPV virus

READ MORE ON: Health Health Advice Sexual Health STDs and STIs