It might be alarming to discover a bump on your penis. You’re probably wondering, “Is this a sexually transmitted disease (STD) or something less serious, like a pimple?” Most bumps aren’t cause for concern, but some can indicate health issues which may require treatment. If you are concerned about the bumps on your penis, you should consider getting tested or talking to a doctor so you can pinpoint what’s happening.
Getting tested is not only quick and easy, it’s the only way to know for sure if you do or do not have an STD.
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There are many causes for bumps developing on the penis, with a large portion being non-sexual. Many skin conditions that affect skin elsewhere, like acne or skin tags, can also affect the skin of the penis. Bumps on the penis that aren’t caused by sexually transmitted infections are generally less worrisome than bumps caused by STDs, but they still shouldn’t be ignored.
The following are examples of non-infectious causes for bumps on a penis:1,2
Finding a bump on your penis may not always mean that you have an STD, but sometimes it can. If you haven’t tested recently, it’s worth getting tested to know if you have contracted an infection such as herpes, HPV, or syphilis. It’s almost impossible to determine the cause of bumps on the penis without a blood or urine test, which is why getting tested for STDs is so important.
The herpes simplex virus (HSV) is one of the most common sexual causes of bumps on or around the penis. There are two types of herpes virus: HSV-1 and HSV-2, and both can cause itchy red bumps to appear on or around the penis. HSV-2 more often affects the gential region than HSV-1, enough so to be informally known as genital herpes. Herpes rashes suddenly come and go, and it’s known as outbreaks when they show up.4
Herpes is a lifelong viral infection, meaning the virus is incurable and can lie dormant for years at a time. Outbreaks tend to be the most painful and unpleasant at first, then slowly begin to improve and become less frequent with time. Antiviral medication is available to treat herpes and make the herpes rash less painful. Outside of outbreaks, herpes does not cause any serious or life-threatening problems.
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the leading cause of genital warts and is easily transmitted through skin-to-skin contact. HPV can cause genital warts on the penis and in the surrounding area (any skin covered by boxer shorts). Genital warts appear in clusters of painless, flesh-colored bumps. Unlike a herpes outbreak, genital warts can take a long time to go away on their own. There are over one hundred types of HPV, some that cause genital warts, and others that do not but can cause penis cancer.6 There is no way to test for HPV in men; however, men who recieve anal sex are at higher risk of anal cancer and should consider routine anal Pap tests.
One of the first and only signs of syphilis infection is a small, firm sore called a chancre, which develop about three weeks after contracting the STD. Chancres are small, firm bumps that are highly contagious, painless, and difficult to notice. They typically develop around the genitals, anus, or sometimes in the mouth. Because they’re painless and only a single chancre develops, it can be easy to completely miss the sore before it goes away. Relying on noticing a chancre sore is an extremely unreliable method for diagnosing syphilis, and blood tests should be the only method used.
Syphilis sores can develop 3 to 12 weeks after contracting syphilis and will disappear with or without treatment in 3-6 weeks.
Molluscum contagiosum is a fairly common viral skin infection that causes small benign bumps to develop on the skin. The bumps caused by molluscum contagiosum have dimples or pits in them and are typically either white or flesh-colored. How many bumps that appear vary based off the body’s immune system strength.6 These bumps are extremely contagious and can be transmitted through all types of direct skin-to-skin contact, including sexual contact. STDcheck.com does not test for molluscum contagiosum because the standard method of diagnosis is visually by a doctor, who will perform a skin biopsy if they’re unsure based on a visual diagnosis.
To determine the cause of bumps or sores, doctors may ask:
A doctor may choose to perform a pelvic exam or swab a skin lesion for a culture test to determine the cause of sores or bumps. They may also suggest that you be tested for STDs. This combination of visual analysis and testing will determine what is the cause of the penis bumps.
Getting tested for STDs can be done in minutes and you can have your results back in as soon as a day. Testing is the only way to know if you are positive for STDs, and will greatly aid in diagnosing the cause of a bump on the penis. If you have a penis bump(s) and believe it could be caused by an STD, then a positive result can confirm your suspicions. Even if the bump doesn’t clear up after treatment, it’s still best to identify and treat STDs as quickly as possible to prevent serious health problems.
The proper treatment for penis bumps depends on what is causing it. Some bumps may go away on their own, but some cases, like with syphilis, having a bump go away without treatment does not always mean the problem is resolved. Also, bear in mind that it’s never a good idea to pop or pick at bumps because that can lead to irritation or infection.
The herpes simplex virus is, unfortunately, incurable today. Many are understandably distressed to learn they have herpes, regardless if it is oral or genital, but it may help to know that an incredible number of people have it and live their lives largely unaffected by the virus. Genital herpes outbreaks reduce in severity, frequency, and duration over time.7 Antiviral medication can further help manage genital herpes outbreaks.
If you test positive for herpes, our doctors can help you by consulting and prescribing antiviral medication. In addition to it helping shorten and even prevent outbreaks, herpes treatment also makes it less likely for you to spread herpes to your sex partner(s).
Syphilis can be easily cured with penicillin, which kills the bacteria. How much penicillin is needed depends on the stage syphilis has progressed to, as more penicillin is needed the further it progresses. If syphilis is identified early enough, it should not cause any permanent damage.8
There is no cure for HPV, although genital warts caused by it can be treated by using a prescription cream, laser treatment, or surgery. Some types of HPV are preventable through vaccines, which there are multiple options of. These HPV vaccines protect against high-risk strains of HPV which cause cancer, but some vaccines also protect against genital wart-causing strains.
Treating molluscum contagiosum is sometimes considered unnecessary because it generally goes away on its own without issue or scarring, but the CDC does suggest treatment for those who have bumps or lesions in the genital area.9 This is because the bumps caused by molluscum contagiosum are infections and can easily be spread through sexual contact. Bumps caused by MG can be removed by your doctor through freezing, draining, or laser treatment. The disappearance of these bumps indicates that you do not have the virus anymore, however, it is still possible for you to get it again in the future.
It can be alarming to discover a bump on your penis, especially if it’s painful or looks bad, and you may quickly assume it’s an STD. The truth is there are many things that can cause bumps, and the only way to know for sure if a bump is caused by an STD by getting tested. Even if the bump isn’t caused by an STD, it’s good practice for those who are sexually active to get tested at least once per year anyways.10
Medically Reviewed by J. Frank Martin JR., MD on February 14, 2020Written by Nick Corlis on January 25, 2020