Does Genital Herpes Discharge Smell?

Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by the herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) or herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2). It is spread through genital or oral contact with an infected person who might or might have symptoms or a diagnosis. Symptoms of genital herpes can include a discharge from the genitals that can have a distinct smell.

This article covers the types of genital herpes discharge, other genital herpes symptoms, other possible reasons for genital discharge, when to see a healthcare provider, and diagnosis and treatment of genital herpes.

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Genital Herpes Discharge

There are two types of genital herpes discharge: vaginal discharge and penile discharge.

Vaginal Discharge

Vaginal discharge is common. The fluid the vagina normally secretes keeps the area safe from infection and clean. It should be clear, sticky, and have a mild and mostly neutral scent.

If vaginal discharge has a noticeably unpleasant smell, especially if sores are also present, then an STI test likely is necessary.

Penile Discharge

Penile discharge or discharge from sores on the penis are signs of genital herpes. This discharge will likely have a strong smell, and soreness and pain while urinating might also occur.

There are some penile secretions that are normal. With an uncircumcised penis, a material called smegma, a natural substance meant to keep the area moist, is produced under the foreskin by glands on the head of the penis. Excess smegma, which is a result of not keeping the area clean, can eventually cause odor.

Precum, which is a liquid that is produced during sexual arousal, is also normal. Younger people with penises produce more precum than older people.

Other Genital Herpes Symptoms

Many people with genital herpes do not experience any symptoms or have very mild symptoms. It's even possible to confuse herpes symptoms with something like genital pimples (which occur when hair follicles are clogged by oil and skin cells). Symptoms that do appear with genital herpes include:

  • Red blisters or sores around the anus, genitals, or thighs that might break open and scab
  • Tingling or burning around the genitals
  • Genital itching
  • Pain urinating
  • Flu-like symptoms like headache, fever, body aches, and swollen glands

Other Possible Reasons for Discharge With an Odor

Genital discharge with a strong smell could also mean the following:

Vaginal Discharge

Vaginal discharge with a strong odor could also be a sign of:

Penile Discharge

Penile discharge with a strong smell might also be a sign of:

  • Urethritis: Swelling of the urethra, the tube that urine travels through
  • Gonorrhea and chlamydia
  • Acute prostatitis: Inflammation of the prostate gland
  • Hygiene issues

When to See a Healthcare Provider

If genital discharge has a strong smell, and especially if your condition also includes sores or bumps and pain urinating, it's likely time to take an STI test.

Herpes Risk Factors

Risk factors for herpes include:

  • Genital or genital-oral contact with an infected person (whether or not they are aware they have the virus)
  • Sexual contact with a person experiencing an outbreak
  • Sexual contact with a person who has herpes with regular outbreaks but does not take medication to suppress the virus
  • Not using a condom correctly or not covering up all sores and bumps with a condom
  • More than one sexual partner at the same time

If someone already has the herpes simplex virus in their system, risk factors for repeated infections include:

  • Stress
  • A compromised immune system
  • Smoking and alcohol use
  • Menstrual cycles
  • Surgery on the genitals


A healthcare provider can diagnose genital herpes in one of these three ways:

  • Examining the sores, blisters, and other symptoms
  • Scraping off a small part of a sore for laboratory testing
  • Taking a blood test to look for HSV antibodies (disease-fighting proteins in the blood)


Even during a first genital herpes outbreak, it is important to get treated with antiviral medications, even for mild cases. The risk of regular outbreaks in the future is higher with a longer or more difficult first outbreak. In rare cases, untreated herpes can cause brain disorders.

Pregnant people who get herpes are also at risk for hepatitis, which is an inflammation of the liver. If a pregnant person is diagnosed with hepatitis and fever but does not have herpes sores, it is advised to get tested.

Three commonly prescribed antiviral medications for herpes are:

  • Zorivax (Acyclovir)
  • Famvir (Famciclovir)
  • Valtrex (Valacyclovir)

There are three ways antivirals for herpes are prescribed:

First-episode: At the onset of an outbreak to shorten its duration, usually three times a day for a week to 10 days.

Suppressive: Regular doses to suppress the virus and prevent it from spreading to others. For suppressive purposes—which means decreasing the likelihood of the spreading the disease via sexual contact by 70% to 80%—medications are taken once or twice a day.

Episodic: Antiviral medications are taken whenever an outbreak appears. This requires one to two pills a day for one to five days, depending on the medication and dose.

To manage an outbreak with or without medication, it can also help to:

  • Keep sores clean with plain or salt water.
  • Apply ice wrapped in a cloth to sores.
  • Apply petroleum jelly (Vaseline) or a pain-relieving cream on sores.
  • Pour water over the genitals while urinating.
  • Wash hands before and after handling sores.


Genital herpes is an STI caused by the spread of the herpes simplex virus via contact with someone who has the infection. One symptom of genital herpes is abnormal genital discharge that has a strong, unpleasant smell. Vaginal or penile discharge can also indicate other conditions, like the STIs gonorrhea and chlamydia, a yeast infection, problems with the urethra (for penises), or bacterial vaginosis (for vaginas), among other conditions.

An abnormal smell from genital discharge, especially if it's accompanied by other symptoms of STDs (like pain or sores), usually calls for taking an STD test. Diagnosing herpes can include an examination and either a test of the blistered skin or a blood test.

A Word From Verywell

While an odd smell from genital discharge can seem embarrassing, it is also highly treatable. Note, though, that an abnormal discharge can be a sign of other diseases or infections. Therefore, seeing a healthcare provider is vital to get the correct diagnosis and treatment.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How long does herpes discharge last for?

    Symptoms usually appear about two to 20 days after the first contact with the virus. Genital herpes outbreaks can disappear on their own, but a first outbreak can mean two to four weeks of herpes sores. After the first outbreak, future outbreaks are usually milder and shorter, though having a compromised immune system can make them worse.

  • How do I know if I'm having a herpes outbreak?

    A herpes outbreak can include symptoms like a smelly discharge from the genitals; sores or blisters around the anus, mouth, or anus; flu-like symptoms, pain while urinating, and tingling and itching around the genitals. These symptoms can appear two to 20 days after contact with someone who had the virus.

  • Is herpes discharge clumpy?

    Herpes discharge is not likely to be clumpy, but it is likely to have an unpleasant smell and possibly appear with other symptoms, like sores and pain urinating. Clumpy discharge is more likely to be a sign of a yeast (like thrush) or a bacterial STI like chlamydia or gonorrhea, which can be treated with antibiotics.

19 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Neha Kashyap
Neha is a New York-based health journalist who has written for WebMD, ADDitude, HuffPost Life, and dailyRx News. Neha enjoys writing about mental health, elder care, innovative health care technologies, paying for health care, and simple measures that we all can take to work toward better health.