What are HPV and Genital Warts? How Do I Prevent Them?


What are HPV and Genital Warts? How Do I Prevent Them?

HPV stands for Human Papillomavirus and it’s a common sexually transmitted infection. There are more than 100 different kinds of HPV! Most of them are harmless and go away on their own in two years or less. You might never even know if you had it.

Some kinds show up as bumps or warts around someone’s private parts. They can show up on someone’s penis, bottom growth, strapless, vagina, vulva, front hole, or anus. 

Even though most kinds of HPV are harmless, some of the less common types cause cancer. There’s no cure for HPV, but there are lots of ways to prevent it.

What are genital warts?

Genital warts are small, gray or skin-coloured bumps that show up in your private parts. They’re usually in groups. Even though they’re usually in places like a vulva, penis, testicle, front hole, anus or bottom growth, they can also show up in your mouth or throat. They’re itchy and uncomfortable.

Genital warts can go away on their own in a few months or it can take as long as two years. There are creams you can get from your doctor to make them go away faster. 

If you have genital warts it doesn’t mean you have or will get cancer. Most types of HPV don’t cause cancer. If you’re worried, you can talk to your doctor. They’ll tell you if you should get tested for early signs of cancer.

How is HPV spread and how is it prevented?

HPV can pass from skin to skin contact during many types of sex. It’s usually spread people’s private’s touch. There doesn’t need to be any bodily fluids, like semen, to get or give it. There is the most risk for HPV when two sets of genitals rub against each other without a barrier like a condom. You can also get HPV from sharing sex toys without sterilizing them or using a barrier.

Using a barrier like a condom or dental dam every time someone’s genitals touch someone else’s skin lowers the risk of getting or giving HPV. The barriers aren’t 100% effective because they don’t cover all the skin that can touch a partner, but it helps a lot!

What is the HPV vaccine?

There are vaccines that stop you from getting the 9 types of HPV that usually cause warts or cancer. It’s called the Gardasil vaccine and it’s very safe.

Doctors say it’s best for people to get the vaccine before they start having sex. Most Quebecers get the first dose of the vaccine in grade 4 and the second dose in secondary 3. If you’re not sure if you got it, you can ask your parents, a doctor, or a nurse. 

After grade 4, the vaccine is free for certain groups if they have RAMQ medicare:

  • Girls ages 9 to 17
  • Boys ages 9 to 13 and boys in Sec 3 who are at risk for HPV exposure
  • Boys aged 9-17 who are in youth rehabilitation, homeless, or in protective care
  • Men ages 26 or under who have or want to have sex with men
  • Anyone under age 26 with a weakened immune system or are HIV+

Does HPV cause cancer?

Having HPV doesn’t mean you have cancer, but some types of HPV can make the chance of getting cancer higher. People with different body parts can get different types of cancer from HPV.

What kinds of cancer can people with certain body parts get?

People who have cervixes, which is the part that connects a front hole or vagina to the uterus, can get cervical cancer from HPV. This is the most common type of cancer that HPV causes. After someone with a cervix turns 21, doctors say you should do a pap test every three years. This tests checks for cervical cancer so doctors can treat it quickly if someone gets it.

People with vaginas, front holes, or vulvas can also get cancer there. Usually, someone would have unusual bumps or soreness if they had this type of cancer.

People with penises or a strapless can get cancer from HPV. Changes in the skin on your privates, like getting sores, are the most common sign. This kind of cancer is very treatable.

What kinds of cancer can everyone get?

Anyone who has oral sex can get oral cancer from HPV. Usually, dentists find this kind of cancer because it starts in the throat. Signs of oral cancer are soreness when chewing or swallowing or having one tonsil bigger than the other. This kind of cancer is also really easy to treat if doctors find it early.

If someone has anal sex, they can get anal cancer from HPV. People who have anal cancer might have bleeding in their bum, itching, pain, or lumps near their anus. If a doctor finds this early, it’s easy to treat.

There are lots of different types of HPV. Some are harmless and hard to even notice! Others can be more dangerous, but using barriers, getting the vaccine, and regular checkups can make getting HPV or serious side effects less likely.

More info

The HPV Vaccine FAQ – Scarleteen

Scarleteen answers common questions about the vaccine that protects against some strains of HPV that can lead to cervical cancer or genital warts.


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