Anonymous on September 20, 2011

We’re how could my husband have genital warts?

I’ve been with my husband for four years and he just discovered three small bumps on the shaft of his penis up in his hairline. We’re both very faithful and I’m scared this could be genital warts. They’re very small and brownish colored and they don’t look like cauliflower or anything...but they do look like small warts. My husband has skin-colored bumps on his penis that are perfectly normal...they look like goose bumps. What could this be?

answered by Ruthann M. Cunningham, MD on September 20, 2011

Thanks for your question. I certainly understand your concern. 

First, yes: the small brownish warts on your husband’s penis could be genital warts. Genital warts usually look brownish, pinkish or skin-colored...and they can vary widely in their size and texture. Although many online resources might describe genital warts that look like a  “cauliflower,” genital warts can instead look smooth and flat, or be elevated and have a rougher texture. 

Keep in mind that having genital warts doesn’t mean anyone was unfaithful. Why? Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the virus that causes genital warts, and like many other types of HPV, you can have it for years and never show any symptoms. That’s also why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention counsel that getting genital warts doesn’t mean anyone cheated.

Moreover, HPV is common...more than 50% of sexually active people will catch the virus in their lifetime. It’s quite possible that one of you was infected by a previous partner and neither of you showed symptoms until now.

Next steps? I encourage you to see a doctor and practice safer sexOnly your husband’s regular doctor will be able to diagnose whether he has genital warts through a visual examination...and you could benefit from a doctor’s visit too ⎼ specifically an examination for genital warts and a Pap test. 

Meanwhile, during the time that your husband has obvious symptoms, I encourage you to temporarily stop having sex. Once the symptoms have cleared and you do resume sexual activity, using condoms can help reduce the risk of passing the virus back and forth. To learn more about HPV and genital warts, see our HPV Overview

I hope this helped you understand your husband’s symptoms of genital warts a little better. Good luck and I wish you both the best of health.

Related info:

Ruthann M. Cunningham, MD

Dr. Cunningham is a member of the Analyte Physicans Group. She's also a member of the American College of Emergency Physicians, practicing at both Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital in Illinois and at Wheaton Franciscan All Saints Medical Center in Wisconsin. An ER physician since 2000, she regularly treats patients with STDs. Dr. Cunningham was educated at Wayne State University School of Medicine and completed her Emergency Medicine residency at Cook County Hospital in Chicago, IL.

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