Nowadays, the majority of savvy individuals will be up to speed on STIs and the risks that they pose to health - and thereby will be taking numerous measures to reduce - if not eliminate - the chance of them playing host to any uninvited guests down there. However, what exactly can you do to limit the possibility of contracting genital warts?
What exactly are genital warts?
Genital warts - the second most common STI in England after chlamydia - are caused due to the human papillomavirus (HPV), a viral skin infection.
Rather than being one simple virus, HPV comprises a group of more than 100 different strains, with most HPV cases showing no symptoms at all. Around 90 per cent of all cases of genital warts are caused by two of these strains.
The one piece of 'good' news as far as genital warts are concerned is that they do not pose the same risks to health that other more serious STIs like chlamydia do. Nevertheless, they can be unsightly and cause a significant amount of psychological distress, meaning that it is equally important to ensure that you do not catch them - or indeed pass them on to someone else.
How do people pass them on?
As with most STIs, genital warts get passed from person to person via vaginal or anal sex, as well as by the shared use of sex toys.
However, one of the most important things to be aware of is that genital warts can be passed on even if penetrative sex does not occur. This is because by its very nature, the viral skin infection can be present all around the genital area and can be spread merely by skin-to-skin contact.
This is how - although less common - a mother is able to pass HPV on to her child when she gives birth. It has also been suggested that a person with HPV on their hands could pass on the infection if their hand comes into contact with someone else's genitals.
How can I avoid getting them?
Ensuring that you only ever engage in protected intercourse is one of the best things you can do to avoid catching them. However, a condom - either male or female - will not provide complete protection as it will not cover the whole area that could be infected with the virus; for example, a male condom will only sheath the penis, but leave the remaining skin in the area exposed to pass on the virus.
If engaging in oral sex, it is highly recommended to use a dental dam to avoid any direct contact with skin that may be infected. Furthermore, individuals should also aim not to share sex toys. If they do, the toys should be thoroughly washed and ideally covered using a condom where possible.
Unlike with many other STIs, there is in fact a vaccine called the Gardasil vaccine which will protect against the two aforementioned strains which are most commonly responsible for genital warts. Nevertheless, the immunity of a person who has had the vaccine will diminish within a few years, meaning it is far from a sure-fire substitute for using a condom or taking other protective measures.
All of these practices will not only afford you the best possible chance of not contracting genital warts, but they carry the added bonus of reducing the likelihood you will contract all manner of other STIs too, such as chlamydia and gonorrhoea.