How do I prevent genital warts?

Updated on:
February 16, 2022

How do I prevent myself from contracting genital warts?

The best way to prevent genital warts is to prevent HPV, the virus that causes genital warts. Getting an HPV vaccine provides protection against infection by certain types of HPV. 

Even after getting genital warts or another type of HPV, the vaccines can still be taken to help prevent infection by other types of HPV. Vaccination does not help clear an existing HPV infection or make genital warts disappear. 

The HPV vaccines work by administering an inactive form of HPV into your body. Your body responds to this inactive form by making antibodies against the HPV virus, thereby forming immunity against the types of HPV the vaccine is effective against. 

Current Canada guidelines recommend that all people receive the HPV vaccine by age 12. It is also recommended that men who have sex with men and trans women be vaccinated as they have an increased rate of HPV and other STIs. 

Dosage Schedule 

2 Doses: Ages 9-14

Vaccines for HPV are given as two separate doses spaced 6-12 months apart for individuals who receive their first dose between the ages of 9-14. 

3 Doses: Ages 15-45, Immunocompromised

Individuals receiving their first dose between the ages of 14-45 will receive three doses, within the span of 6 months. Immunocompromised individuals of any age should also receive the three-dose vaccine schedule. 

The second dose is usually given 1-2 months after the first, and the third dose is administered 6 months after the first dose.

Types of HPV Vaccines

Health Canada currently has two approved HPV vaccinations which protect against genital warts caused by low risk HPV types 6 and 11:

Gardasil® (HPV4) – which protects against HPV types 6, 11, 16 and 18

Gardasil®9 (HPV9) – which protects against HPV types 6, 11, 16, 18, 31, 33, 45, 52 and 58

In people who have never been infected with HPV types contained in the vaccine, both Gardasil® and Gardasil®9 have been shown to prevent approx. 90% of genital warts. 

Vaccine Effectiveness

People with vaginas aged 16-26:

  • Gardasil® and Gardasil®9 vaccines were found to provide between 95-99% effectiveness in preventing external genital lesions associated with HPV types 6, 11, 16, or 18, including genital warts .

People with penises aged 16-24:

  • Gardasil® was found to be 84-100% effective against external genital lesions associated with HPV types 6, 11, 16, or 18, including genital warts.

Which Vaccine?

Gardasil®9 (HPV9) provides the most holistic protection against the most different types of HPV including the strains (6 and 11) which cause genital warts. 

Talk to your healthcare provider about the different vaccines choices available to determine which one is best for you. 

Side effects of the vaccine can include:

  • Pain
  • Nausea
  • Headache 
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Red, swelling, for soreness where the vaccine was administered on the arm 

How do I prevent myself from transmitting genital warts?

The HPV virus which causes genital warts is passed by intimate skin-to-skin contact, which can include oral, vaginal, or anal sex. 

If you have a genital wart after being exposed to transmission, ensure it is covered by a condom during sexual contact. Sometimes, genital warts can be located in areas that cannot be covered by condoms.

Can you prevent genital warts 100% of the time?

Unfortunately, you cannot prevent genital wart transmission 100% of the time. If you believe you've been exposed, get tested.

Because genital warts can be transmitted just through skin-to-skin contact, protecting against it can be more difficult. But condoms and safer sex practices will help lower your chances of spreading or getting genital warts. 

Genital warts and HIV

HIV-positive individuals with HPV types that cause genital warts (usually 6 and 11) experience an increased likelihood of developing genital warts. Those with HIV may also have more difficulty in treating genital warts and have more frequent reoccurrence of genital warts after treatment.

Additional Resources:

Reviewed by:
Emeline Mugisha

Emeline’s expertise stems from over a decade of community/public health practice among marginalized communities in the U.S. and abroad, with a clinical focus on HIV and infectious diseases.

Using a social justice lens, she is a fierce advocate for empowerment-based practice, trauma-informed care, and cultivating rest as tools for advancing towards whole-life wellness.

She holds a Master of Science in Nursing and a Master of Public Health from Johns Hopkins University.