Expert Answers Factual Answers to Your Sexual Health Questions
I’ve noticed some red marks on the end of my penis. They dry up and become scabby after a while...what could they be?
Lisa Oldson, MD on August 16, 2011
You’ve done a great job describing your symptoms, and I understand your concern. To find out what you’re experiencing for sure, I encourage you to visit your regular doctor or local clinic. Spots like those you described need to be examined by a health care professional.
That said, some STDs can cause spots and/or rashes. For example...syphilis, often called “the great imitator,” can cause various types of rashes. A rash on the penis can also be a symptom of gonorrhea. And HIV has been associated with different rashes or skin symptoms, although that seems less likely based on your description.
Herpes is a possibility, because herpes sores tend to appear as small blisters that break quickly into small red sores. They’ll scab over, typically within two weeks, however herpes symptoms usually don’t last for a month. And pubic lice can cause an itchy rash that may also explain why your ex’s other partner has similar itchy symptoms.
Remember that not all genital rashes are STDs. Based on the symptoms you describe, you may have another condition that’s not an STD. For example, psoriasis is a skin disorder that can occur on the penis and other parts of the body, and it can be intensely itchy. Even a yeast infection can cause an itchy rash that can lead to sores, if scratched. Scabies (very common in hotels, unfortunately) can cause a rash and itching anywhere on the body.
For your peace of mind, I encourage you to get tested for common STDs...talk to your doctor about STD testing or find a confidential online service if that makes you more comfortable. However, an examination of your skin is important, too. Seeking evaluation from your regular doctor and/or dermatologist will help you find out what the rash is for sure.
Also, please revisit the issue of safer sex with your current partner. STD testing for both of you is probably a good idea even if your signs and symptoms turn out to be something that isn’t sexually transmitted. (Many STDs don’t have symptoms right away, if ever, so testing is the only way to know if you have an STD.)
Using condoms and dental dams every time you have sex is also a good step to help keep one another safe. And while you didn't mention pregnancy prevention, don't forget to include that as part of your safer sex planning, too.
Finally, you may want to browse our Expert Guide to STDs to learn more about STD signs, symptoms and prevention. Thank you for your question, and I wish you the best of health.
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.