I get a painful, pea-sized bump on my genitals. What is it?
About four times a year, I get a painful, pea-sized bump on my genitals that lasts only a few days. I never get more than one at a time, and they’re never in the same place. The bump looks like bad acne and even has a whitehead...like a pimple. What is it?
Lisa Oldson, MD on September 20, 2011
Thank you for getting in touch. It sounds as though this is something that has been worrying you for a while. Although I can't diagnose you without an examination, I can offer you some ideas about what the bump might be.
The good news is, a bump on the genitals doesn’t necessarily mean you have sexually transmitted disease (STD). Instead some other options include occasional ingrown hairs, a boil (called a furuncle) or a cyst.
Boils typically need to be drained or treated with antibiotics...although sometimes a warm compress will clear up a boil. Cysts feel like tiny water balloons that can change size under your skin...they may not get infected, but they could swell up. Cysts often go away on their own..but, again, it's best to talk to your doctor to find out if the bump you describe is caused by one of these conditions, and to learn what treatment you might need.
That said, is there a chance you’ve been exposed to STDs? The reason I ask is because signs and symptoms of STDs can sometimes be mistaken for other conditions, and are therefore often misdiagnosed or undiagnosed...which can lead to potentially more serious health problems in the future.
So I suggest you consider your risk factors for getting an STD, which include having unprotected sex, multiple sexual partners, or sex with people whose sexual history you don't know very well. And if any of these risk factors apply to you, I encourage you to get tested for common STDs. That way, you'll know for sure whether your symptoms are related to an STD, or some other condition. If you do test positive for an STD, you can start any necessary treatment and take appropriate precautions with future sexual partner(s).
The next time the bump appears, I encourage you to visit your doctor. That's the best time to get the bump examined so you can find out what's causing it.
Meanwhile, for more information about STD symptoms and testing, you might want to browse our Expert Guides to STD Basics.
Thank you for sharing your question, and I wish you a speedy resolution of your recurring bump.
Dr. Oldson is Medical Director of the Analyte Physicians Group. She is on staff at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, as well as Clinical Instructor at the Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University. Her areas of expertise include STDs (with a particular clinical emphasis on herpes), women's health, preventive medicine, diabetes, obesity and weight management, and mood and anxiety disorders. Dr. Oldson was educated at Rush Medical College and completed her residency at Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center in Chicago, IL.