Do HPV and Herpes Look Like Pimples?

Learn the symptoms and causes of genital pimples, warts, and herpes

It’s quite common to notice small bumps in the genital area. Sometimes, they might even be filled with pus—just like pimples that can appear on your face. Lumps and bumps in the genital area can happen for various reasons.

While they’re nothing to worry about most of the time, it’s important to know the difference between genital pimples, warts, and herpes sores. Genital warts are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), while herpes is caused by the herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2). Hormonal fluctuations, clogged pores, and other common causes of pimples can drive pimples in the genital area. Each has a different treatment. 

This article examines the differences between genital warts, pimples, and herpes sores and their symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment options. 

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   Genital warts  Genital herpes  Genital pimples
 Symptoms Small, soft, flesh-colored growths. They can be flat or raised. Fluid-filled blisters that may break open and form a scab Raised, inflamed bump that contains pus
Causes Human papillomavirus (HPV) Herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2) Hormones, clogged pores
Prevention Barrier protection during sex with condoms and dental dams Barrier protection during sex with condoms and dental dams Good hygiene, using cotton underwear, avoid ingrown hairs
Treatment Prescription creams, cryotherapy, surgical removal Anti-viral medications Warm compresses, topical creams

What Are Genital Warts?

Genital warts is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). There are more than 100 strains of HPV, with some causing genital warts and others causing cancer, which affects women more often than men.

The contagious growths can come and go. In most cases, the growths are painless, but they can itch and bleed.


Genital warts are:

  • Small and flesh-colored
  • Flat or raised
  • Soft to the touch

They can look a little bit like cauliflower. More often than not, they appear in clusters.


The HPV virus causes genital warts. It's transmitted through skin-to-skin contact. Penetrative sex is not necessary for transmission.


Genital warts may be prevented by HPV vaccination. To prevent transmission of genital warts, herpes, and other sexually transmitted infections, use a condom or dental dam during sexual activity. Avoid skin-to-skin contact with warts or sores.


Genital warts may go away on their own (although you will still be living with HPV and can transmit it to sexual partners). For recurring or large warts, your healthcare provider may recommend:

  • Chemical treatment 
  • Prescription creams 
  • Cryotherapy (application of extremely cold liquid nitrogen to the wart)
  • Loop electrosurgical excision procedure (LEEP): A wire loop is charged with electricity to remove the wart surgically.

Don’t try to remove genital warts on your own. It’s essential to see a healthcare provider for treatment if they’re bothering you.

What Are Genital Pimples?

Pimples can occur in the genital area, just like other places on the body. A pimple is a blocked pore associated with a hair follicle. If bacteria grow in a pimple, it may become raised and inflamed. It can form a cyst, a walled-off area of infection under the skin that can be painful and filled with pus. If they’re very painful and inflamed, you may have an infection that requires treatment.  


Pimples on your genital area are a lot like pimples you get on your face or other places. Symptoms include:

  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Pus-filled bump

If you have pimples that don’t go away, are very itchy and painful, or keep coming back, they may not be pimples at all.


Pimples can pop up around the genitals for many reasons or seemingly no reason at all. Clogged pores can happen when you produce excess oil, or the area isn't cleaned regularly.

Ingrown hairs, like pimples, are common after shaving, plucking, or waxing.


Sometimes, pimples crop up randomly. But some things can make them more likely. To prevent pimples and ingrown hairs from forming, it’s important to:

  • Use shaving cream when shaving your pubic area
  • Avoid using a dull razor to shave
  • Stop shaving altogether
  • Use mildly scented or unscented products around the genital area
  • Use gentle detergents and soaps to clean underwear
  • Wear breathable cotton underwear
  • Maintain proper hygiene, like washing after a workout


Most pimples will go away on their own in a few days. Applying a warm compress may sometimes encourage the pimple to break open and start healing more quickly. 

Before applying any topical creams like those containing tea tree oil or salicylic acid around your genital area, make sure to read the instructions carefully. Ideally, you should choose a product specifically formulated for the genital region.

If you are wondering if a specific product is OK to use for a vaginal pimple, don’t hesitate to ask a pharmacist or a healthcare provider.

In some cases, ingrown hairs can cause the formation of a cyst. Ingrown hairs occur when a hair grows into the skin rather than out of the pore. This can cause a red, raised, painful bump that may contain pus and look like an inflamed pimple. 

What Is Genital Herpes?

Genital herpes is a viral sexually transmitted infection that causes painful blisters in the genital area. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over half a million people between 14 to 49 were newly infected with genital herpes in 2018.


The bumps caused by genital herpes are more blister-like (filled with fluid) than pimple-like. When they break open, they turn into sores that seep fluid. Eventually, the active infection will scab over and heal. And a flare-up is likely to occur again in the future.

Infection with HSV-2 can also be accompanied by other symptoms, including:

  • Body aches
  • Painful blisters
  • Itching and burning
  • Fever

If you have genital herpes, you may experience periods with no symptoms, followed by painful flares.

Herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1) causes what is known most commonly as oral herpes. HSV-2 causes genital herpes. However, HSV-1 lesions can appear on the genitals after receiving oral sex.


Genital herpes is caused by either HSV-1 (oral herpes) or HSV-2 (genital herpes). You can get genital herpes via:

  • Contact with a herpes sore
  • Contact with the skin around the oral area of someone with oral herpes
  • The saliva of someone with an oral herpes infection
  • The genital fluids of someone with a genital herpes infection
  • Contact with the genital area skin of someone with genital herpes


Practicing safe sex is the best way to prevent herpes. Use a condom during penetrative sex or a dental dam during oral sex. Use barrier protection every time you have sex. You can transmit the virus to sexual partners even if you have no active symptoms during sexual contact. 

If you are diagnosed with herpes, it is important to notify your past sexual partners so they can be evaluated and help prevent spreading herpes to others.


There’s no cure for this condition. However, certain anti-viral medications can help reduce your risk of transmitting the infection to someone else. Medications can also help reduce the length of outbreaks.  While treatment won’t cure genital herpes, it can prevent painful flare-ups of symptoms.

Other Causes of Genital Bumps and Sores

Other reasons for bumps and sores around the genital area may include the following:

  • Bartholin's gland cysts: These cysts form in the glands that provide vaginal lubrication for sex.
  • Molluscum contagiosum: This viral skin infection causes small, firm papules to grow on the body. It's transmitted by direct skin contact or sexual contact.
  • Vaginal boils: This is a larger walled-off lump under the skin filled with pus. It occurs when a hair follicle becomes blocked and infected.
  • Varicosities: These are otherwise known as varicose veins. They are enlarged surface veins that can create a bump in the vulvar area. This type of varicose vein is more likely to occur in people who have had two or more pregnancies.
  • Skin tags: These non-cancerous skin growths often form in skin folds, including the genital area and groin.
  • Lichen sclerosus: This condition causes white spots around the genitals and sometimes the anal area. It commonly causes itching.
  • Cancer: Some types of cancer, like vulvar cancer, can cause skin changes like rashes, bumps, and sores.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

You should see a healthcare provider for genital bumps and sores if:

  • They are extremely painful
  • They won't go away
  • They keep coming back
  • You think you contracted a sexually transmitted infection
  • You have abnormal bleeding
  • You’re worried or otherwise bothered by the bumps


Genital bumps are common, and while most aren’t anything to worry about, some genital lumps and bumps may require treatment. They can be a pimple, ingrown hair, genital warts, or genital herpes sores.

Some bumpy genital conditions are also contagious. If you think you have an STI, getting a diagnosis is crucial to avoid transmitting them to sexual partners.

A Word From Verywell

Talk to a healthcare provider about any genital bump or sore that concerns you. Some conditions, like genital herpes and genital warts, aren’t curable, but they can provide medications to manage them. And if you have a bump-causing STI, learn about adequate protection to prevent transmitting it to someone else.

17 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 Steph Coelho
Steph Coelho is a freelance health and wellness writer and editor with nearly a decade of experience working on content related to health, wellness, mental health, chronic illness, fitness, sexual wellness, and health-related tech.She's written extensively about chronic conditions, telehealth, aging, CBD, and mental health. Her work has appeared in Insider, Healthline, WebMD, Greatist, Medical News Today, and more.