Dear Drs. Lewis and Gail Wyatt:
There are tiny bumps on my husband’s penis. Should I be worried he has an STD? —Dionne C.
Most bumps on the penis are not caused by a sexually transmitted disease. However, most men or women don’t really understand what they are when they see them.
The tiny bumps may be a reaction to something that might be irritating the skin. Some men are surprised when they see these bumps and cannot always tell you how long they have been there. You would think that a man looks at his penis several times a day, each time he goes to the bathroom or showers, but this is not the case. Most men tend to look at their penis when there is a problem. Even when they look because of irritation or pain, they may attribute the discomfort to the penis rubbing against their underwear or because of rough sex or masturbation. Most of the time, the bumps disappear within a few days, so they usually do not cause any alarm.
But bumps on the penis can also be caused by STDs such as herpes, HPV, gonorrhea and syphilis. When they appear, they should not be squeezed or ruptured. The only way you can be sure about why the bumps have appeared is first to ask your husband if he has seen them and if he knows what they are. The reason for asking is that he may have already been to a doctor and may know.
If he is unsure, both of you should visit his doctor for an exam and diagnosis while the bumps are still visible. You should avoid a self-diagnosis, or a diagnosis made over the phone, without proper laboratory tests being performed. Until you are both sure of the cause, you should avoid having sex or contact with your husband’s genitals, even with a condom, and wait for the results of all testing to be available to both of you. Going to the doctor with him will ensure that both of you know the test results.
If you discover these bumps on your husband’s penis after you have had sex or after he has tested negative, note whether you have a discharge, rash, burning and soreness, or itching. If you have had vaginal, oral or anal sex with your partner, see if these symptoms occur in your vagina, bottom or mouth. If they do, you should visit your doctor for an examination and testing. It is possible that you may have the STD and not know it. If the results of your tests are positive for an STD, you and your partner need to discuss where this STD might have come from.
Both of you need to be truthful about whether you have other partners. Repeated STD infections are a sure sign that one or both of you are getting infected from someone and bringing that infection into your relationship. It is also possible that one of you may have become infected from a previous partner long ago but there have been no symptoms except those tiny bumps on your husband’s penis.
Getting tested is so important to your sexual health. The more honest both of you are, the less likely you are going to play ping-pong, like continuing to give an STD to each other. Honesty also means that both of you are more likely to get treated.
For answers to your questions about sexual health, write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Be sure to include your age, gender, any medications you’re taking and the nature of your sexual problem.
Gail Wyatt, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist and sex therapist. She is also a professor at UCLA and director of the university’s Sexual Health Program. Lewis Wyatt Jr., M.D., is a board-certified obstetrician-gynecologist in private practice in Beverly Hills, Calif. He specializes in sexual health and bioidentical hormone treatment.