Expert Answers Factual Answers to Your Sexual Health Questions

Anonymous on September 29, 2011

My boyfriend has red lines around his penis...is an STD the cause?

My boyfriend has red lines around his penis, just below the head. Sometimes they are dry and chapped, and sometimes they look very red and shiny. He says sometimes they’re sore, and intercourse is irritating. I think it’s from having sex with different partners. I may be wrong, but when I ask him to get his symptoms checked out, he refuses.

answered by Lisa Oldson, MD on September 29, 2011

Thank you for your questions. I’ll do my best to offer you some ideas for your consideration.

First, it’s hard to diagnose the cause of your boyfriend’s symptoms without a visual examination...so I encourage him to visit his doctor. A penis rash could indicate something harmless ⎼ like an irritation from aggressive masturbation, or sex without enough lubrication. Or, a penis rash could be a sign of a serious condition...so the sooner he sees a doctor, the sooner he can be treated, if necessary.

One possible cause of the red lines on your boyfriend’s penis is contact dermatitis. This is a skin condition caused by either an irritant or an allergy. For example, some people have allergic reactions to fragrances, perfumes, soaps, lotions, or detergent...even lube. If he’s switched products lately, this could be the cause. Again, a doctor can diagnose this condition on sight, and recommend treatment if necessary.

Another possible cause is a yeast infection. Although more common in women, men can get yeast infections, too. Symptoms often include a red rash and is more common among uncircumcised men. 

Itching and burning ⎼ especially after sex ⎼ can be symptoms of a yeast infection, too. Also, be aware that male yeast infections are more common in men with diabetes...so, depending on your boyfriend’s risk of diabetes, his doctor may also decide to check your boyfriend’s blood sugar. Because untreated diabetes puts people at risk for a lot of other health problems, it’s better to catch it early.

The good news is that yeast infections are easily treatable.

Poor hygiene is another possibility. Sometimes men ⎼ especially uncircumcised men ⎼ develop an irritation below the head of the penis because of poor hygiene. If they don’t regularly pull back the foreskin and clean the tip of the penis, dead skin cells, sweat, dirt, bacteria and fungus can accumulate and cause irritation or infection.

As you suspect, it’s also possible that your boyfriend has a sexually transmitted disease (STD). If he hasn’t been tested for STDs, he could have one that he isn’t aware of. And if you’ve had unprotected sex with him or with other partners, you’re also at risk for a sexually transmitted infection. Just so you know, some STDs, like herpes, can cause red painful sores on the penis, although herpes sores do go away in between outbreaks.

To keep each other safe, get tested and practice safer sex. To find out if an STD is the cause of his rash, and if you may be infected as well, getting tested for common STDs is a good idea. And of you aren’t already, I suggest that you and your boyfriend use condoms or dental dams during all sexual activity, including vaginal, anal and oral sex. This can help prevent the passage of STDs back and forth until you’ve both been tested ⎼ and treated, if necessary ⎼ for STDs. 

You can read more about STD risks, symptoms, prevention and testing in our Expert Guide to STD Basics.

As for your boyfriend’s refusal to see a doctor...he’s not alone. Many people delay medical exams, sometimes with serious consequences. Untreated STDs, diabetes, skin conditions, allergies or infections can continue to cause discomfort and might cause irreversible health damage down the road. So perhaps you can keep encouraging him to take better care of his ⎼ and your ⎼ health. It might also help to speak with a trusted friend, doctor or therapist to discuss your boyfriend’s resistance to medical care, which may also be putting your health at risk. 

I hope this information is helpful to you, and that your boyfriend’s symptoms are soon diagnosed and resolved.

Related info:

Lisa Oldson, MD

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.

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