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You get genital warts by having sexual contact with someone who has the virus. Getting the HPV vaccine and using condoms helps to lower your chances of getting or spreading genital warts.

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How do I avoid getting genital warts?

First thing, talk to your doctor about getting the HPV vaccine — most vaccine brands protect you against the types of HPV that cause most cases of genital warts. That’s the best way to avoid any HPV-related problems, including genital warts.

Genital warts are spread from sexual skin-to-skin contact with someone who has it — including vaginal, anal, and oral sex. So the only surefire way to avoid getting genital warts and other STDs is to not have any contact with another person’s mouth or genitals.

But most people have sex at some point in their lives, so knowing how to have safer sex is important. Using protection like condoms and dental dams when you have sex really helps to lower your risk of getting any STD.

You can also avoid sex with someone if you see warts on their genitals or anus, because that’s when they spread the most easily. But remember, it is possible to get them or spread them when there are no visible warts, so it's important to use condoms and dental dams even if everything looks totally OK.

And while there’s no genital warts test, getting tested for STDs at routine checkups with a doctor or nurse is a part of keeping yourself healthy.

How can I prevent spreading genital warts?

If you find out that you have genital warts, try not to freak out. There are a few ways that you can stop it from spreading to your partners.

  • Encourage your partner to talk with a doctor or nurse about the HPV vaccine. Most brands can protect against some types of the virus that cause most cases of genital warts.

  • Always use condoms and dental dams during oral, anal, and vaginal sex.

  • Don’t have sex when you have visible warts, even with a condom. There may be warts on places the condom doesn’t cover.

  • Stop smoking. If you smoke, you may have a bigger chance of getting warts than people who don’t smoke, and warts are more likely to come back if you smoke.

  • Always tell your sexual partners that you have genital warts before you have sex, so you can work together to prevent them from spreading.

How do I talk to my partner about having genital warts?

Telling someone you have an STD can be hard, but genital warts are common and they don’t lead to serious health problems. So try not to be too embarrassed or stressed out about it.

There’s no one way to talk to a partner about having an STD, but here are some basic tips that may help:

  • Keep calm and carry on. Lots of people have genital warts, and plenty of them are in relationships. For most couples, having genital warts isn’t a huge deal. Try to go into the conversation with a calm, positive attitude. Having genital warts is simply a health issue — it doesn’t say anything about you as a person.

  • Make it a two-way conversation. Remember that STDs are super common, so who knows? Your partner might have genital warts, too. So start by asking if they’ve ever been tested or if they’ve had an STD before.

  • Know your facts. There’s a lot of misinformation about STDs out there, so read up on the facts and be prepared to set the record straight. Let your partner know there are ways to avoid passing genital warts during sex. And you can also remind them that genital warts aren’t dangerous and don’t cause cancer or any other serious health problems.

  • Think about the timing. Pick a time when you won’t be distracted or interrupted, and find a place to talk that’s private and relaxed. If you’re nervous, you can talk it through with a friend first, or practice by talking to yourself. It sounds silly, but saying the words out loud can help you know what you want to say and feel more confident when you talk to your partner.

  • Safety first. If you’re afraid that your partner might hurt you, telling them in person might not be safe. You’re probably better off with an e-mail, text, or phone call — or in extreme cases, not telling them at all. Call 1-800-799-SAFE or check out the National Domestic Violence Hotline for help if you think you might be in danger.

So … when’s a good time to tell your partner about those genital warts? You might not need to bring it up the very first time you hang out, but you should let them know before you have sex. So when the relationship starts heading down that path and you feel like you can trust the person, that’s probably a good time.

It’s normal to be worried about how your partner’s going to react. And there’s no way around it: Some people might freak out. If that happens, try to stay calm and talk about all the ways there are to prevent spreading genital warts. You might just need to give your partner a little time and space to process the news, which is normal. And lots of people know that genital warts are common and not a big deal.

Try not to play the blame game when you talk to your partner. If one of you gets genital warts for the first time during the relationship, it doesn’t automatically mean that somebody cheated, or that one of you got them from the other. Warts can take weeks, months, or even longer to show up after you get the infection. So it’s usually really hard to tell when and where someone got them. The most important thing is that you both get checked out. If it turns out only one of you has genital warts, talk about how you can prevent passing them on. Tell your past partners too, so they can get checked out. 

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