There are several ways you can protect yourself against genital warts, and lower your risk of contracting (or spreading) the virus that causes them.

On this page, we’ll discuss how to prevent genital warts through:

How to prevent genital warts through safe sex

As with other STIs, you can reduce the chances of transmitting and getting genital warts by practising safe sex. But it’s important to remember that barrier contraception such as condoms are less effective at preventing genital warts than they are other STIs.

Infections like chlamydia and gonorrhoea tend mostly to be spread through sperm and vaginal fluid, so barrier contraception (when used correctly) almost completely eliminates the risk of these. Genital warts on the other hand are spread through skin-to-skin contact with the wart; and because a condom doesn’t necessarily cover the area where the warts are, it is still possible to transmit the virus when using one.

This doesn’t mean that you should forego using barrier contraception; it will still reduce the risk of coming into contact with warts that are very small and not quite visible to the naked eye.

But if warts are present in a place where a condom or dental dam is not likely to prevent physical contact, it’s better to refrain from having sex until the warts have been successfully treated (and gone).

Couples who use sex toys can also reduce the risk of HPV transmission by not sharing toys, ensuring they are cleaned between uses, or covering them with a condom before each use.

Read more on our information page about how genital warts look.

How to prevent genital warts through being open with your partner

It’s best to be as open as possible with your partner about your STI status, to reduce the risk of contracting or passing on a sexually transmitted infection such as genital warts. Having a discussion before sexual intercourse takes place will help to ensure that you are both aware of what the risks are, and what precautions to take.

Because they are spread through physical contact, using treatment for genital warts can help to get rid of them faster, and in turn lower your risk of passing them onto someone else.

How to prevent genital warts with the HPV vaccine

There is a vaccine available that can protect against various strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV), some of which cause genital warts, and others cervical cancer.

The vaccine is offered routinely through schools to children aged 12-13, but is also available on appointment at most GP surgeries for teenagers up to the age of 18. Men who have sex with men up to the age of 45 are also entitled to the vaccine for free on the NHS. Other adults may benefit from the vaccine, but they won’t be able to get it for free and may have to pay for it.

The vaccine protects against HPV 6 and 11, as well as several other strains; and it is thought that these two strains are responsible for 9 out of 10 cases of genital warts.

Contact your GP surgery to find out more about the HPV vaccine.

Page last reviewed:  19/10/2018