Medically reviewed on Nov 17, 2023 by Jillian Foglesong Stabile, MD, FAAFP. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.
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Finding abnormal growths anywhere on your body can be unnerving, especially if cropped up in private areas. Small sores on your penis or vulva may indicate you’ve contracted an STI, like genital herpes.
So, how do you know if you’re dealing with a genital herpes vs. pimple outbreak?
Herpes outbreaks are frequently mistaken for dermatological flare-ups since the infection often occurs with no other noticeable symptoms. The easiest way to get a sure answer as to whether you’ve contracted the herpes simplex virus is to test for an STI, either at home or in person with a healthcare provider.
Because as many as 1 in 5 Americans are estimated to carry an STI, diagnosing unusual lumps and bumps remains pressing for both personal and public health. Below, we’ll note some genital or oral herpes signs to look for before you talk to a healthcare provider, plus next steps for ensuring you get treated.
Genital herpes, most commonly due to HSV-2, is a viral, highly infectious STI that’s usually transmitted through sexual activity. Current estimates report nearly 12% of people between 14 and 49 years of age have genital herpes.
Unlike some other STIs (e.g. gonorrhea or chlamydia), herpes is unusual because it cannot be cured. While an HSV infection may be managed with suppressive antiviral medication, people who contract herpes will carry the condition for the rest of their lives.
Another one of herpes’ particularities is that it's often asymptomatic. Many people aren’t aware they have an HSV infection because symptoms tend to be mild or entirely absent.
Other people may notice tiny blisters on their penis or vulva known as vesicles. However, these blisters are often mistaken for pimples or another dermatological condition, preventing them from getting treatment promptly.
If you notice blisters or pimple-like growths on your vagina, vulva, penis, or other areas, it’s important to know about some other symptoms that can accompany a herpes outbreak. These include :
It’s also very common for people who’ve contracted herpes for the first time to experience symptoms similar to having the flu. If your pimples were preceded by a period of fever, swollen lymph nodes near the groin, or head and body aches, it’s important to get tested to verify your bumps aren’t a symptom of herpes.
If you’ve ever had acne, you’ve probably encountered it on your face, back, buttocks, or other body parts. But is it normal to have a pimple on your penis or vulva?
It’s possible. Pimples occur when oil, bacteria, dirt, and other substances mix together and get stuck in your pores.4 As a highly normal inflammatory response of the skin, pimples can crop up on any area of your body that has oil glands and pores.
Sometimes, what looks like a pimple is actually a different, mild skin condition, such as:
The best way to know with certainty whether you have herpes or another skin condition is to take an STI test. You can take one:
If you suspect you might have herpes or another STI, you’ll want to get an accurate diagnosis as soon as possible. Getting tested can:
Discovering you have genital herpes can be a difficult experience for many people. Because the STI can’t be cured, you must work with a healthcare provider to manage the condition properly and ensure the highest possible quality of life.
Your healthcare provider may suggest several approaches for treating and managing herpes:
Finally, communicating with partners about your sexual health status is a critical component of living with herpes. Being open about your diagnosis can ensure you both make informed decisions about your relationship and overall health.
You might also consider limiting your sexual partners to help reduce the likelihood you’ll pass the infection on to someone else. The CDC reports that being in a long-term monogamous relationship where both partners test regularly for STIs is the best way to prevent infection.
Prioritizing safe sex practices can help curb your and your partners’ exposure to herpes, as well as other STIs. As a refresher, the cornerstones of a healthy and safe sex life include :
A combination of immediate treatment and some behavioral prevention methods may help you dispel and prevent genital pimples and other dermatological imperfections around your pubic area. You can try :
In some cases, you may be able to use acne medication to reduce genital pimples. Just be sure to ask your healthcare provider or dermatologist first, as some acne products may irritate the sensitive skin around your penis or vagina.
Getting proactive about your sexual welfare protects more than your physical well-being: By regularly testing for STIs, you and your partner(s) will know where you stand, and you won’t have to worry that a lump or bump is anything more than a cosmetic complaint.
And fortunately, Everlywell makes regular testing easier than ever before.
With Everlywell, you can test for 6 common STIs at once from the comfort of your own home to ensure your pimples aren’t the result of an underlying infection. Plus, all Everlywell test kits are scanned by CLIA-certified labs and reviewed by physicians, ensuring you receive clinically accurate results. If you need further treatment, Everlywell will even connect you to telehealth professionals who can provide you with STD treatment online and counsel you on next steps forward.
Get ahead of your sexual health by browsing the Sexual Health test collection at Everlywell today.