Fun fact: Genital warts are the most commonly diagnosed viral STI in the UK.
Common misconceptions: You can actually still get anal warts, even if you don’t have anal sex. Although most common associated with penetrative anal sex, warts may still appear in the back passage if you haven’t been partaking in a little booty action.
How it spreads: Genital warts are caused and spread by the human papilloma virus, aka HPV. It’s usually passed on during contact of skin or bodily fluids, and doesn’t require penetration to hop across.
Symptoms: You’ll usually find painless lesions around the genitals. They may itch and bleed but shouldn’t hurt. Unfortunately they can make sex uncomfortable and, if in an awkward place, make peeing more difficult too.
Evil super power: HPV is also the most important factor responsible for cervical cancer- it’s found in 99% of cases. Cervical cancer is the fourth biggest killer of women, and the third most commonly diagnosed cancer in the world. In the UK we have a screening programme to hep reduce cervical cancer deaths, but the best way to avoid it is to prevent infection.
Key weakness: The HPV vaccination is part of the UK vaccination schedule, as it protects against cervical cancer. It’s hoped that we’ll see a significant decline in cases with time. In Australia it’s given to all children (male and female) aged 12-13, and there’s been a 90% drop in reduction in warts in people under 21.
Our bodies are pretty kick ass at getting rid of the warts if we are unlucky enough to get them in about 1/3 of cases. However, it is always best if you head to you local GUM clinic, which can provide treatment to speed up the healing process, and check you for any other STIs.
Keeping safe: It’s super important when newly diagnosed with any STI to inform all sexual partners you’ve had the previous 6 months. That includes people that you’ve not gone “all the way” with- STIs can still be caught through oral and non-penetrative sex. Your local GUM clinic are able to organise “contact tracing”, where they anonymously contact these people on your behalf to recommend they too get tested.
Pop culture hero with HPV: Hannah Horvath and Elijah Woods in HBO’s Girls