What Does Genital Herpes Look Like on Males?

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). The condition is a common STI that infects about 600,000 people in the United States every year.

Sores on the genitals are usually the first sign of a genital herpes outbreak. Other symptoms of genital herpes can include a foul-smelling discharge from the genitals and flu-like symptoms like fever and swollen glands.

This article covers genital herpes symptoms in men, what genital herpes sores look like and where they form on the penis when to see a healthcare provider, and diagnosing and treating genital herpes.

Happy young indian female gp doctor showing test result on clipboard to interested snake person african ethnicity male patient, discussing healthcare medical insurance or illness treatment at clinic.

Genital Herpes Symptoms in Men

Genital herpes symptoms in men can include:

  • Blisters or sores that can break open on the genitals, anus, or mouth
  • A smelly discharge from the urethra (the front of the penis)
  • Flu-like symptoms like body aches, swollen nodes, and fever
  • Tingling around genitals
  • Burning around genitals
  • Pain while urinating

What Do Genital Herpes Sores Look Like?

Genital herpes sores can look like red bumps or blisters, and they can be, at times, small or mild enough to resemble pimples or ingrown hairs. The blisters can scab over after breaking, and healing can take about a week. Complete healing of an outbreak can take up to four weeks. Antiviral medication can shorten the duration of an outbreak of herpes sores.

What If It's Not Genital Herpes?

There are other possibilities for what sores or bumps on the penis or scrotum could be, including:

  • Pearly penile papules: These are bumps on the penis that are neither sexually transmitted or affected by hygiene. Penile papules that are pearly should go away in about two days.
  • Fordyce spots: These yellowish or white spots on the penis are simply glands that do not have hair follicles in them. No treatment is required for Fordyce spots.
  • Lichen planus: This is an itchy rash that can be red or purple. It is not contagious.
  • Genital warts: These are bumps that can be found on the penis, and they are usually a sign of the human papilloma virus (HPV), another sexually transmitted virus.
  • Molluscum contagiosum: This viral infection causes raised clusters of spots on the skin. Molluscum contagiosum is an STI if found on or around the penis.
  • Penile cancer: A sore lump on the penis could mean penile cancer.

Where Do Genital Herpes Sores Usually Form on Men?

Genital herpes can form in and around the urethra (the hole of the penis), scrotum, anus, thighs, and mouth.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

You should see a healthcare provider if:

  • You have herpes symptoms.
  • A partner has herpes symptoms.
  • You're pregnant with herpes symptoms.
  • You're pregnant and diagnosed with hepatitis.
  • You're sexually active and getting a regular STI screening.

Herpes symptoms usually appear about two to 12 days after intercourse. However, outbreaks can happen long after sex as well.It's important to see a healthcare provider as soon as symptoms appear.

Early diagnosis of genital herpes is key. Taking antiviral medication during a first outbreak can not only make it shorter, but it can also make future outbreaks less likely. This is true for both mild and severe outbreaks.

Genital Herpes Diagnosis

To diagnose genital herpes, a healthcare provider might:

  • Visually examine herpes sores
  • Scrape a part of a sore for laboratory testing
  • Take a blood test for virus antibodies (disease-fighting proteins in the blood that remains after exposure to a virus)

Genital Herpes Complications for Men

For men, complications of genital herpes can include:

  • During a first outbreak and in rare cases, there can be a risk of meningitis (inflammation of the spinal cord and brain membrane)
  • Genital ulcers if a person has human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and genital herpes that is untreated
  • Greater risk of other STIs, including HIV
  • Rashes on other areas of the body, including around the eyes


During a first genital herpes outbreak, it can be important to get treatment with antiviral medications, even for mild cases. The risk of future outbreaks is higher with a longer or more difficult first outbreak. For pregnant partners, treatment is especially important, as genital herpes can be passed on to a fetus or unborn child. In rare cases, untreated herpes can even cause brain disorders.

Three commonly prescribed antiviral medications for genital herpes are:

  • Zofirax (acyclovir)
  • Famvir (famciclovir)
  • Valtrex (valacyclovir)

The medications are taken in three ways:

First episode: At the onset of an outbreak, to shorten its duration, the drug is usually taken three times a day for seven to 10 days

Suppressive: Regular doses are taken to suppress the virus and prevent it from spreading to others. "Suppressive" means decreasing the likelihood of the spreading the disease via sexual contact by 70% to 80%. In this case, medications are taken once or twice a day.

Episodic: Medications are taken whenever a herpes 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 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.

Preventing Genital Herpes

There are several ways to decrease or minimize the chance of getting or spreading herpes, including:

  • Correct condom use, including covering all infected areas if someone has herpes
  • Avoiding genital, anal, or oral sex when a partner has sores or other symptoms like itching or tingling
  • Not sharing sex toys or not sharing them without washing or using condoms


Symptoms of genital herpes for men include sores around the genitals, anus, or mouth; a foul-smelling discharge from the urethra, pain urinating, and flu-like symptoms like swollen nodes and body aches. Genital herpes sores can look like red blisters, and they can sometimes be small enough to be confused for a pimple. Some sores can break open and then heal over time.

If you or a partner has herpes symptoms, it is advised to take an STI test. Genital herpes can be diagnosed after a medical profession scrapes a sample from a blister for lab testing, by a blood test, or by visual observation of sores. Treating herpes includes antiviral medications taken at the start of an outbreak or daily for long-term suppression.

A Word From Verywell

While discussing genital herpes can be embarrassing, your health, as well as the health of your partners, is important. Talking to partners openly while taking medication, watching for outbreaks, and taking preventive measures, can ease your mind.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What can be mistaken for genital herpes?

    Herpes may be mistaken for the following:

    • Genital warts, a symptom of the HPV
    • Molluscum contagiosum, an STI that causes clusters of spots
    • Genital pimples
    • Pearly penile papules, bumps on the penis that are neither sexually transmitted or affected by hygiene
    • Fordyce spots, yellowish or white spots on the penis from glands that do not have hair follicles in them
    • Lichen planus, an itchy rash that can be red or purple
  • What do herpes sores look like?

    Herpes sores are red and can look like blisters. At times, herpes sores can be small and mild, which can lead some to think their sores are simply genital pimples. At times, herpes sores can break and heal in a process that takes two to four weeks.

  • How long do herpes sores last?

    Herpes sores can take about a week to heal if they break open. In general, a first herpes outbreak could take two to four weeks to completely heal. Antiviral medication can shorten the length of outbreaks, and a shorter first outbreak can decrease the chances of future outbreaks.

15 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.