Because the human papillomavirus (HPV) is spread through skin to skin contact, it is quite common for genital warts to be spread through foreplay. Penetration is not necessary and a condom will not necessarily protect you from genital warts even in foreplay because it may not cover all of the affected area.

The virus that causes genital warts is passed by direct contact during foreplay or intercourse with a wart or skin that is infected with the virus. It is possible to get the warts on the hands and in the mouth during foreplay or oral sex. About 50 percent of the people who are infected with HPV never develop genital warts, but are still capable of transmitting the virus to others through foreplay or intercourse. Intimate skin contact such as dry humping and genital to genital contact during foreplay can easily transmit the virus that causes warts.

The reason a condom may not protect you during intercourse or foreplay is that it does not cover the base of a man's penis, his pubic hair or scrotum (places where HPV may lurk).Skin to skin contact is all that is necessary so rubbing during foreplay (when a condom often isn't used) can deposit the virus. Washing with soap and water after foreplay or sexual intercourse can help reduce your chances of infection.

For many people with HPV infection, there are no obvious signs of infection, such as genital warts. However, if warts are present, a doctor can diagnose HPV infection by their characteristic appearance and by obtaining a history of how they may have been obtained through sexual intercourse or foreplay. In women, doctors often use a colposcope, (a telescope with a very powerful magnifying lens) to diagnose genital warts. PAP smears can also be good indicators of HPV infection.

If you know that you are infected with genital warts, it is very important that you tell your partner before you engage in foreplay or intercourse. Then your partner can make an informed decision about whether it is worth the risk.

If you have genital warts, talk to your doctor about ways to minimize the chances of infecting a partner during foreplay or intercourse. Your physician can advise you on the best way to manage your sexual life, including foreplay, when you are infected with HPV.

Glossary

Colposcope: A powerful magnifying lens used to diagnose genital warts
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