Man in pink shirt against a blue background researching if molluscum contagiosum is an std on a mobile phone

Is Molluscum Contagiosum An STD?

Written on August 20, 2023 by Amy Harris, MPH, RN. 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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The short answer to this somewhat complicated question is, yes, molluscum contagiosum is a sexually-transmitted disease (STD). Keep reading to learn more about how molluscum can spread sexually and non-sexually and how to get treatment for this common skin condition and STD. Sexual health is an essential part of your overall wellness. Everlywell is here to help make wellness easier and more accessible with its at-home testing options for STDs and telehealth consults for the treatment of some STDs.

What Causes Molluscum Contagiosum?

Molluscum contagiosum, or just molluscum for short, is caused by a poxvirus called, you guessed it, Molluscum contagiosum. Other STDs, such as herpes, HIV, and hepatitis, are also caused by viruses. The virus responsible for chicken pox is similar but a different type of poxvirus.

What Are the Symptoms of Molluscum?

The tell-tale sign of molluscum is either a single or cluster of small, white, pink, or flesh-colored bumps. Mollusca (plural of molluscum) range from about the size of a pinhead to as large as a pencil eraser (2 to 5 millimeters in diameter).[1] They usually grow in size the longer you have them or if your immune system is weakened.

Other possible molluscum signs and symptoms can be [2]:

  • Pearl-like raised bumps or lesions with a white core
  • Itching, sore, red, swollen, or painful skin bumps
  • Dome-shaped circles with a central dimple or pit that look like tiny donuts
  • Clusters of large bumps, especially if your immune system is impaired (if you have had an organ transplant, treatment for cancer, or have HIV)

The groin and genital areas are the most common places molluscum hides out in adults because adults more commonly transmit molluscum through sexual activity.[3] Sometimes, if you have molluscum on your vulva, friction with sexual activity or accidentally cutting them when shaving could cause vulvar pain.

Bumps caused by molluscum appear more commonly on children’s skin in or on the following [2]:

  • Torso
  • Armpits
  • Knees (especially the backs of the knees)
  • Arms (especially in the crooks)
  • Groin area

How Long After Being Infected Until Symptoms Appear?

Unbelievably, it can take as long as six months for you to develop molluscum after coming in contact with the virus. More typically, people report developing bumps two to eight weeks after being exposed.[4] New bumps can keep popping up for several months.[2]

Can Molluscum Go Away Without Treatment?

Yes, molluscum usually gets better without treatment in six months to two years.[1] When the bumps become red and look like pimples, it means your body is fighting off the virus. These changes show that the bumps will soon clear.[2] There’s no way to know how long it will take for your bumps to clear. Sometimes, clearing takes longer — anywhere from three to five years.[2]

Keep in mind, however, that even if you have already had molluscum and they have healed, you can still become reinfected.[5]

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How Is Molluscum Contagiosum Spread?

The virus responsible for molluscum contagiosum can be spread by:[1,3,5]

  • Oral, anal, or vaginal sex
  • Genital touching
  • Skin-to-skin contact
  • Touching an object that the virus has contaminated, like a towel, clothing, bathing sponge, pool toy, or sex toys
  • Scratching, picking at the bumps, or shaving them and then touching other uninfected skin areas

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), researchers have not yet proven that molluscum can be spread through contact with swimming pools, saunas, public baths, or other wet and warm environments.[3] The virus remains confined to the top layer of your skin. This is good news because it means that you can’t spread molluscum through coughing or sneezing.

So, Is Molluscum Contagiosum an STD?

Yes, molluscum contagiosum is an STD. It is a virus that can be spread through any sexual activity involving skin-to-skin, mucus membrane contact. If you have sex — oral, anal, or vaginal intercourse or genital touching — you can get molluscum.

But, like some other STDs, such as HIV or Hepatitis C, you can spread and catch molluscum contagiosum in other ways besides sexual activity. If someone has molluscum, that does not mean they are sexually active or have had sexual intercourse.

How Do Healthcare Providers Diagnose And Treat Molluscum Contagiosum?

There are several treatments that healthcare providers can either prescribe for you to apply yourself at home, or that they apply at an office visit. A healthcare provider may prescribe medicines that irritate the molluscum sores, such as retinoic acid or benzoyl peroxide. [5] The remaining types of molluscum treatments all require an in-person office visit and include [1,5]:

  • Scraping
  • Freezing (cryotherapy)
  • Laser therapy, which might be an option for people with a weakened immune system
  • Applying a medicine that causes blisters (cantharidin) and lifts off the bumps

Some of these same medications or procedures are used for genital wart treatment. Talk with your healthcare provider about which treatment might be best for you. Keep in mind that the possible side effects of some of these treatments include infection or permanent scarring of your skin.

Why Choose Everlywell To Maintain Your Sexual Health And Wellness?

Everlywell is committed to making screening for and treating STDs like molluscum more affordable, more accessible, and less stigmatizing. Even though there is not yet a test available for molluscum, knowing your risk for STDs, how to test for STDs, and how often to test is valuable information that goes a long way in staying safe and healthy.

You can schedule a sexual wellness telehealth appointment from the comfort of your own home — no embarrassing office or clinic visits. Everlywell’s trained nurse practitioners will help you develop a personalized sexual wellness plan based on your individual risk factors.

Everlywell offers at-home STD tests for six STDS: gonorrhea, chlamydia, HIV, hepatitis C, trichomoniasis, and syphilis. Everlywell STD tests require only a small sample of blood (collected via finger prick), urine, or a vaginal swab depending on which test you choose.

If your STD test results come back positive, Everlywell can help you find the right treatment, either by referring you to a healthcare provider for an in-person appointment or prescribing medications such as antibiotics or antiviral drugs if safe for you.

Everlywell is your partner in achieving optimal sexual health and wellness.

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  1. Molluscum contagiosum. Mayo Clinic. Published May 6, 2022. Accessed July 31, 2023.
  2. Molluscum contagiosum. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Accessed July 31, 2023.
  3. Chen X, Anstey AV, Bugert JJ. Molluscum contagiosum virus infection. Lancet Infect Dis. 2013;13(10):877-888. doi:10.1016/S1473-3099(13)70109-9.
  4. FDA approves first drug for treatment of molluscum contagiosum.
  5. van der Wouden JC, van der Sande R, Kruithof EJ, Sollie A, van Suijlekom-Smit LW, Koning S. Interventions for cutaneous molluscum contagiosum. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2017;5(5):CD004767. Published 2017 May 17. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD004767.pub4.
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