Found a suspicious spot on your penis and starting to freak out? Don’t stress! Just like the rest of your body, it is perfectly normal to occasionally get spots on your genitals.
Dr Roger Henderson looks at the symptoms of the different types of penile spots, so you will know when to chill out and when to hotfoot it to your local sexual health clinic:
Common penis spots and what they mean
From septic spots to itchy sores, finding a suspicious spot (or three) on your penis can be worrying. But while anything amiss on your penis might be sexually transmitted, they could just as easily be a hair follicle or a skin rash, so it’s worth getting clued up.
Here are the most common penis spots. See if any of these sound familiar and if you start to itch or become inflamed, head to your local sexual health clinic for a check-up:
Fordyce spots are tiny white or yellowish spots, found on the head of the penis or the shaft. If your skin is brown or black, they may look more prominent. They are normal, common (up to 95% of men have them) and are very small sebaceous glands – very small glands found near the skin surface – that are part of the natural structure of the penis. Some men also have them around their lips. Fordyce spots are not sexually transmitted and they don’t do any harm which is why no treatment is ever required.
• What do fordyce spots look like?
Fordyce spots look like white or yellow spots on the head or the shaft of your penis.
• Should you be worried about fordyce spots?
There’s no need for treatment, fordyce spots are harmless.
Pearly penile papules are also normal. They are very small bumps, the same colour as your skin, but with a pearly appearance. They usually appear around the glans (head) of the penis in a row. Again, they are not sexually transmitted, they are not linked to hygiene in any way and they don’t need any treatment. But if you really want them removed for cosmetic reasons, this is sometimes possible.
• What do pearly papules look like?
Pearly papules look like small bumps on your penis, typically found on the head of the penis in small rows that can go all the way around it.
• Should you be worried about pearly papules?
There’s no need for treatment, pearly papules are harmless and cause no symptoms.
Most men have quite a few hairs growing around the base of the penis. Often, the hairs extend some distance up the underside of the penis. Human hairs grow out of a tiny pit, called a follicle and the follicles on the penis may be quite prominent which is why they can be seen.
• What do hair follicles look like?
Hair follicles look like small hair bumps.
• Should you be worried about hair follicles?
Hair follicles on and around the penis are nothing to worry about and no treatment is needed.
People often get pimples on their face and other parts of the body – particularly in young adults – and sometimes a small pimple can also develop on the penis. This is not a serious matter and no treatment is needed but it can be helpful to abstain from sex until it’s completely gone – which it usually does by itself over a few days.
• What do septic spots look like?
Septic spots look like small pimples on your penis. These can be slightly reddened and sometimes can have a white spot in the centre.
• Should you be worried about septic spots?
If something that you think is a pimple has not gone away within a week, ask your doctor to check it out.
Genital warts are transmitted by sexual contact. They are pink, brown, ivory-coloured or black (depending on your skin shade). The characteristic appearance is of a ‘wobbly’ projection – a bit like a tiny strand of seaweed. Occasionally, they grow out of the opening at the tip of the organ.
Genital warts are caused by one of the human papilloma viruses (HPV), which like living in warm, moist parts of the human body. They are passed on by vaginal and anal sex, sharing sex toys and – more rarely – by oral sex. Treatment is either by application of special paints or creams, by freezing them off, or else by removing the wart altogether with an electric probe or laser (this is virtually painless.) Do not have sex until the warts have cleared up. There is no specific cure for genital warts, but it is possible for your body to fight the virus over time.
• What do genital warts look like?
Genital warts look like small fleshy pink, brown or black spots on your penis shaft, occasionally the penis head and sometimes under the foreskin.
• Should you be worried about genital warts?
It is strongly recommended that you go to a sexual health clinic if you suspect you have genital warts.
Herpes causes tiny blisters, rather than actual spots, on the penis (and at other points of sexual contact such as the scrotum, base of the penis, thighs, buttocks and mouth (if it’s passed through oral sex) and is caused by a virus, which is transmitted during sex (including oral sex).
The first symptoms of genital herpes is usually an inflammation of the skin in the genital or anal area, which may sting, have a tingling sensation or you may experience some itching. Blisters then appear, which usually last for several weeks before slowly receding. Although there is no cure for this virus, taking a course of antiviral tablets may help suppress outbreaks (you need to start taking this within 5 days of the symptoms appearing) and you can be prescribed cream for pain relief. However, symptoms of recurrent outbreaks are usually milder and clear up more quickly.
• What does herpes look like?
Genital herpes looks like blisters on your penis.
• Should you be worried about herpes?
If you think you might have herpes, visit your GP or sexual health clinic. You will be given treatment with an anti-viral agent and advised how long you should abstain from sex – and what precautions you should take when you resume.
Molluscum is pink or brown (depending on your skin colour), and they usually have a little dimple on top. If they are squeezed, a pus like substance comes out.
Molloscum contagiosum is caused by a virus that is transmitted by skin-to-skin contact. For this reason a lot of children develop the spots (9 out of 10 cases are in children), often on their chests or sides, after playing with other children. In teenagers and adults, molluscum is often transmitted through physical contact and can be anywhere on the body, including on the penis.
Often, the doctor will advise you that no treatment is needed for Molloscum contagiosum because the spots will get better of their own accord in a few months. While you have them, abstain from intercourse and physical contact.
• What does molluscum look like?
Molluscum contagiosum looks like small, pearly, firm, raised papules (spots) on the skin with a characteristic small dimple in the middle. The spots are not painful, but can be itchy. The spots may develop in small clusters and can be spread across different parts of the body. They’re most often found in the armpit, behind the knees or on the groin but can affect the groin and penis – in such cases they are considered an STI.
• Should you be worried about molluscum?
If you think you’ve got molluscum, go to a sexual health clinic – where they see this condition frequently, and are used to diagnosing it correctly.
Less common penis spots
There are some more serious causes of spots on the penis, but these are not very common in the UK so try not to worry. If you do have cause for concern or you have recently been abroad and noticed some unusual spots on your genitals, visit your GP as soon as possible. Less common penis spots include the following:
Syphilis is a very serious STI and over 5,000 people are diagnosed with it every year. After an incubation period of nine to 90 days, syphilis announces its arrival when a painless lump (about the size of a 5p piece) appears on the penis – or at any other site of sexual contact. Depending on your skin colour, the lump will be dull red or brown or black. It soon breaks down into a raw place (an ulcer), which is also painless.
What makes this disease so dangerous is that the ulcer soon goes away – and you may well think you are cured, but you won’t be.
• What does syphilis look like?
Syphilis looks like red spots on your penis.
• Should you be worried about syphilis?
If you have the slightest suspicion that red spots on the penis (bumps or ulcers) are due to syphilis, go to a sexual health clinic as soon as possible for an examination and tests. Happily, this infection is very curable – if caught early. Abstain from sex until you’ve been treated.
Lymphocele happens when the lymph channels in the penis become temporarily blocked (lymph forms part of the body’s immune system and is a clear fluid) and is not usually anything to worry about.
• What does a lymphocele look like?
A lymphocele is a hard, usually painless swelling that develops on the shaft of the penis, typically after sex or masturbation.
• Should you be worried about a lymphocele?
No treatment is required for lymphocele and as the channels unblock the swelling goes down by itself with no permanent long-term problems as a result.
Lichen planus is a non-infectious rash that can affect many parts of the body, including the penis.
• What does lichen planus look like?
Lichen planus is characterised by an itchy reddish-purple rash.
• Should you be worried about lichen planus?
Lichen planus on your skin usually gets better on its own in about 9 to 18 months, although creams and ointments from a GP can sometimes be needed to help control the rash and ease any itching. In rare cases where these do not work, steroid tablets light therapy can help. You cannot catch lichen planus and it does not usually come back once it’s cleared up.
Tropical venereal diseases
Tropical venereal diseases look quite like the lump caused by syphilis. Often the glands in your groin swell up too. So if you’ve recently had sex in a tropical country – or had sex with someone who’s come from a tropical country – you could be a risk.
• What do tropical venereal diseases look like?
Tropical venereal diseases look like small brownish or pink bumps on the penis.
• Should you be worried about tropical venereal diseases?
If you think you could be at risk of a tropical venereal disease go to a sexual health clinic for expert diagnosis and tests. The diseases they’ll be looking for are:
Sexual health services
If you are worried about spots on your penis or have any other sexual health concern, visit your GP or get a confidential opinion from your local sexual health clinic. Don’t be embarrassed, they are trained specialists who are used to dealing with sexual health concerns.
To visit a sexual health clinic you don’t need a referral letter from your GP, but we recommend contacting the clinic to find out their opening hours, and to check if you need an appointment.
Last updated: 24-02-2021
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