What Does Syphilis Look Like in People With Penises?

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Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection that can spread through intimate contact, such as sex.

The infection is caused by a bacteria called Treponema pallidum. In the early stages of the infection in people with penises, sores may appear on or around the penis, anus, rectum, mouth, or lips.

Learn more about the symptoms of syphilis in people with penises, syphilis sores, diagnosis, treatment, how to tell a partner, and when to see a healthcare provider.

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Early Symptoms of Syphilis in People With a Penis

Syphilis in the earliest stage, called primary syphilis, typically appears as a sore or multiple sores on the skin.

These sores are often (but not always) painless and may be round and firm.

These sores are found on areas of the body where syphilis has entered. In people with penises, this may include on or around the:

  • Penis
  • Rectum
  • Anus
  • Mouth
  • Lips

In secondary syphilis, sores may be accompanied by a rash that may be rough and red or reddish brown in color.

Other symptoms that may occur in this stage include:

  • Fever
  • Weight loss
  • Aching muscles
  • Sore throat
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Patchy hair loss
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue (feeling very tired)

When to See a Healthcare Provider

If you have symptoms that could indicate syphilis, you should contact your healthcare provider.

You should also call a healthcare provider if you engage in high-risk sexual behavior like having multiple or unknown sexual partners.

In latent-stage syphilis, there are typically no visible signs.

Tertiary-stage syphilis, which is rare, may affect organ systems, even causing death. The organs affected include:

  • The heart
  • Blood vessels
  • Brain
  • Nervous system

This is a very serious stage and can occur about 10–30 years after the infection begins.

Without treatment, syphilis can also spread to the nervous system (neurosyphilis), the eye (ocular syphilis), or the ear (otosyphilis). This can occur during any of the stages listed above.

What Do Syphilis Sores Look Like?

Sometimes syphilis sores go unnoticed due to their location, particularly in hard-to-see places like the anus.

Typically, the sores are round and firm.

What Does Syphilis Rash Look Like?

In secondary syphilis, a rash may appear on the skin. This most commonly appears on the palms or the soles of the feet.

The rash typically doesn't itch and is sometimes faint enough to escape notice. Otherwise, a rash may have a red or brown color and a rough-looking texture.

How Contagious Is Syphilis?

Syphilis is highly contagious, particularly when syphilis sores or a rash are present. But even people without sores or a rash can spread syphilis.

The infection is spread from intimate physical contact, like during sex. It may also be passed from an infected mother to an unborn baby.

In the United States, it is most common among gay men, bisexual men, and men who have sex with men.


Diagnosing syphilis may involve a number of tests. These may include:

  • A blood test: This can look for signs of present or past syphilis infection.
  • A physical exam: During this test, a healthcare provider will examine the genital area to look for sores, rashes, or growths.
  • A swab test: This involves a healthcare provider using a cotton swab to take fluid from a sore for testing.


Syphilis can be treated with antibiotics. This may include:

However, antibiotics will not repair damage that a syphilis infection has already caused.

Telling Your Partner

It is important to tell your partner if you are diagnosed with this sexually transmitted infection, even if you don't have any symptoms and feel fine.

When telling a partner about a diagnosis of syphilis, give them time to absorb what you are telling them.

It is a good idea not to pressure them into making decisions about your sex life or relationship straight away.

Your partner should also get tested for syphilis.


Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection that can spread through intimate sexual contact. It can cause sores that may occur on or near the genitals, anus, rectum, mouth, or lips. It may also cause a rash and other symptoms like swollen lymph glands.

Syphilis in people with penises can be diagnosed with a swab test, physical exam, or blood test. It can be treated successfully with antibiotics.

It is contagious, and it is important for those diagnosed with syphilis to inform their sexual partners.

A Word From Verywell

Dealing with a diagnosis of syphilis may be uncomfortable or embarrassing. If you are worried about your health or telling your partner about a new diagnosis, speak with your healthcare provider for guidance and support.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Where does a syphilis rash typically appear?

    Typically, a syphilis rash will appear on the palms or soles of the feet. But it may be too faint to notice.

  • How long does a syphilis rash last?

    The rash from syphilis can last from two to six weeks but in some people may recur on and off for up to two years.

  • Is a syphilis rash itchy?

    A syphilis rash is not typically itchy, and some people may not even notice it.

    In other people, the rash will appear red, brown, or rough.

  • Can syphilis go away on its own?

    Symptoms of syphilis like sores and rashes may go away without treatment. However, treatment is still necessary to stop the infection from progressing to more serious stages.

    If left untreated, syphilis can cause a variety of complications that can be life-threatening.

7 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.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Syphilis – CDC fact sheet (detailed).

  2. MedlinePlus. Syphilis.

  3. Penn Medicine. Syphilis.

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Syphilis – CDC fact sheet.

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Syphilis & MSM (men who have sex with men) – CDC fact sheet.

  6. NHS. Testing - syphilis.

  7. Nemours TeensHealth. Telling your partner you have an STD.