Warts are caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV) that affects the skin and mucous membranes. There are many strains of this virus, most of which are harmless. Some cause harmless warts (on the hands or feet). Warts can also occur on your penis, or around or inside your anus. There are more than 40 types of HPV that can be passed on through sex.
Genital warts will appear as hard flesh-coloured bumps in or around your anus or penis. As they grow they develop a rough texture.
They often appear in clusters of three or four, and may grow and spread rapidly. They are usually not painful, although they may cause discomfort, bleeding, itching or a bad smell. They can be embarrassing and might make you shy to have sex.
HPV is transmitted by skin-to-skin contact during sex. Any contact with the anus or penis can pass on the virus. Although you can become infected from somebody who has no visible warts, transmission is much easier if there’s direct contact with a wart.
If you are infected, the virus will remain in your body for life, but warts only tend to form when your immune system is compromised. HPV is therefore more problematic for HIV positive men.
What Can You Do?
- Consult your healthcare provider if you suspect you have warts. If left untreated, warts will likely spread and grow and become harder to remove.
- Non-surgical treatments include using special creams and physically removing the warts, usually by freezing them with liquid nitrogen. If these methods don’t work, or if the warts are too deep inside your anus, they may require surgical removal.
- After they have been removed there is no guarantee that the warts won’t return.
- There is a vaccine against HPV but it should be administered before you have sexual contact for the first time.
The vaccine is expensive.
- Limiting your number of sexual partners and always using condoms and water based lubricant for anal sex remain your best defence against HPV.