Expert Answers Factual Answers to Your Sexual Health Questions

anonymous on September 14, 2011

Are these red dots on my penis genital herpes?

I’m in college and I just started having sex with my girlfriend. My girlfriend is clean (and my other partners were either virgins or had STD tests). But after we have sex, I get red dots around the base of my penis. The dots disappear after a few days as long as we don’t have sex. At first I thought they were the result of a tight condom (often after sex I have a red ring around the base of my penis), but then a sore opened up where the red dot was. Could this be a sign of herpes? Is it possible to get herpes without having intercourse?

answered by Terri Warren, MS, RN, ANP on September 14, 2011

Thanks for your important questions. I’m glad to know that you’re using condoms and paying such close attention to changes in your body...I’ll do my best to point you in the right direction. 

First, the red dots around the base of your penis could be many different things...including a sensitivity to latex, a reaction to lubricants, a fungal infection, a herpes infection or something else entirely. And you’re right to be concerned about the sore you describe...it could be a symptom of herpes or syphilis. The good news is that all sexually transmitted infections are treatable, and some ⎼ like syphilis ⎼ are curable.

So I encourage you to get thoroughly checked out by a clinician who is experienced in evaluating sexually transmitted infections. You say you’re in college...luckily, college health centers are great places to get a medical exam and to talk to someone about these kinds of issues. 

You mention that your girlfriend is "clean," but are you sure of what that means? Often, people believe they’ve been tested for more STDs than they actually have. When you chat about STDs with your partner, it’s worth knowing which specific tests were included...ideally, chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, HIV, hepatitis B, hepatitis C and ⎼ of course ⎼ herpes 1 and 2. 

If both of you haven’t been tested for these conditions, I encourage you to do so. For anyone who’s sexually active, getting tested is the only way to know your health status for sure. 

And yes, it’s possible to get genital herpes without ever having intercourse. For example, a herpes infection can be spread from the mouth of a person infected with herpes type 1 (HSV-1) ⎼ the most common cause of cold sores ⎼ to the genitals of their partner. And this can happen even if no cold sore is present. 

Besides oral sex, it's also possible to transmit the virus through naked genital-to-genital rubbing ⎼ even without penetration or ejaculation. You can learn more about herpes risks and prevention in our Expert Guide to Herpes 1 + 2

I hope this information has been helpful to you, and I wish you the best of health in getting to the root cause of your symptoms.

Related Info: 

Terri Warren, MS, RN, ANP

Warren is a Nurse Practitioner and owner of Westover Heights Clinic in Oregon. She is a renown expert and author in the field of genital herpes research, diagnosis and treatment. Warren was educated at Oregon Health and Sciences University and the University of Portland.

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