Last Updated on June 4, 2020 by Nancy Carteron, MD, FACR
Many people only see their own genitals and very rarely examine others’ in broad daylight. Therefore, it is almost impossible for people to know if recent changes, new developments, color variations and lumpy bumpy bits are, in fact, a normal variant or something they should rush to the clinic with.
This guide is intended to give you an overview of some of the things commonly mistaken for an STD. Likely, it will confuse you even more as these things can look strikingly similar to STDs. 🙂
So, at the end of this page, I’ve included links to pictures of STDs as well and ways to find testing (at-home testing, free/low-cost testing, etc.) globally.
Really, the only way to know for sure is to get tested.
Take the leap, face your fear – it’s really not that bad – and find out for sure if what you’re experiencing is friend or foe!
Pearly Penile Papules
Most penises have some and some penises have a lot. These seem to develop more prominently during teenage years and can be alarming to young men.
They are completely normal glands.
They will never go away and they should not be treated, even if some people think they look ugly.
- Scroll to Figure 1 (page 5 – labeled page 3) of Normal Genital Spots Mistaken for an STD
These are normal glands that are scattered on either side of the frenulum. Sometimes there are just three or four lined up symmetrically.
However, more often there is a scattering of glands that can look suspiciously like genital warts to the inexperienced eye. In darker colored skin they can be even more dramatic.
The glands are usually small and smooth in comparison to warts which have a rough surface.
- Scroll to Figure 2, 3 & 4 of Normal Genital Spots Mistaken for an STD
These glands are scattered in clusters along the refexprepuce, the shaft of the penis and in the vestibular area of the vulva. In some patients, these patches of glands can be extensive and can be quite dramatic, especially when the skin is stretched.
- Scroll to Figure 5, 6, & 7 of Normal Genital Spots Mistaken for an STD
These small frond-like glands can be quite confusing if they are extensive.
In some patients it may be almost impossible to tell whether they are early genital warts or vestibular papillae. Unlike warts, vestibular papillae are usually located in asymmetrical fashion.
However, if uncertain, it’s best just to wait a month or two and review.
- Scroll to Figure 8 & 9 of Normal Genital Spots Mistaken for an STD
These are very common in the genital area.
They can be alarming.
They can grow quite fast, and many patients want surgical excision of these for cosmetic reasons. In some cases, however, they can be relatively discreet, painless and even unnoticed, as in figure 10.When they are on the scrotum they can be very prominent and most men want something done (Figure 11).
These, however, are quite harmless, and can be left alone, other than for cosmetic reasons.
- Scroll to Figures 10 & 11 of Normal Genital Spots Mistaken for an STD
This is a cord like swelling that develops behind the coronalsulcus. It is a lymph channel that has become solidified. The cord like swelling can be smooth (Figure 12) or develop knobbly lumps and cause concern over cancer (Figure 13). This can happen spontaneously or it can happen after vigorous sex or masturbation.
It can be painful, so anti-inflammatory medication may be necessary.
The cord like swelling gradually disappears and is of no consequence.
- Scroll to Figures 12 & 13 of Normal Genital Spots Mistaken for an STD
What To Do Now?!?!
Does this post have you even more confused and worried than before you read through it??! Do you feel like you might have one of the above normal genital spots commonly mistaken for an STD but you’re still unsure?
The only real way to find out is to see a professional and get tested.
Odds are, you’re still worried you might have an STD because you’ve engaged in manual, oral, vaginal or anal sex and now you’re noticing something new. Cheers to you for getting it on!
Here are some things you can use to reduce your risk next time (in case you didn’t think about them this time around).
What you are experiencing might be totally normal and nothing to worry about and it might not.
The emotional and psychological implications of a diagnosis are often one of the most difficult things to deal with and are usually why people wait until the last minute to have symptoms checked out. Don’t wait until your symptom disappears (just because a symptom subsides doesn’t mean the issue has corrected itself) or gets worse.
Find out for your own piece of mind.
Think you might have an STD?
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Did this post help you determine what to do next or what you think you’re experiencing? Have you had one of these issues occur and were afraid of an STD? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!