Anonymous on September 14, 2011

Is this a pimple or do I have herpes?

Can you get a pimple on your outer vaginal area? My boyfriend and I have been having unprotected sex for more than three years, but I get tested every year and I haven’t tested positive for anything so far. Recently, when he inserted his penis, I felt some discomfort...not inside, but when his penis hit the outside. Then I found this bump, very sore to the touch and looks like a pimple. Once I popped it, it didn’t hurt as much and it’s slowly going away. Should I be concerned about herpes?

answered by Lisa Oldson, MD on September 14, 2011

You bring up several important aspects of sexual health…I’d like to help. 

First, it’s absolutely possible to get pimples in your vaginal area…and sometimes little cysts or boils can appear on the labia. These are actually quite common and not related to STDs. So there’s a good chance that you have nothing to worry about, but ⎼ to be sure ⎼ I would encourage you to see your regular doctor for a visual examination of the bump on your vagina.

That said, you’re right: red bumps, sores or blisters can also be signs of a herpes infection, or some other sexually transmitted disease (STD).

You mention that you get tested every year, which is fantastic…but do you know exactly what you’re getting tested for? Most healthcare providers don’t automatically test for a full array of common STDs, including herpes 1 & 2, chlamydia, gonorrhea, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, HIV and syphilis. When you get tested, it’s a good idea to ask specifically for the tests you want.

The only way to know for sure whether you have herpes or another STD is to get tested...and I would encourage your boyfriend to get tested, too. Remember, you can’t tell if you have an STD just by looking. Many STDs are “silent” (no obvious symptoms).

Getting tested will give both of you the peace of mind of knowing that you are either STD-free…or, if either of you tests positive for an STD, you can move forward with appropriate treatment and avoid potential health complications in future.

Let’s also talk about practicing safer sex to help prevent herpes and other STDs. Have either of you had sexual activity with anyone else? If so, one or both of you might have an STD…and by having unprotected sex, you’re putting each other at risk. 

If you haven’t already, I encourage you to have an honest conversation with your boyfriend about each other’s sexual activity. For your health’s sake, you both deserve to know if there’s a chance that you’ve been exposed to STDs…in the meantime, if there’s any concern, be sure to use latex condoms or dental dams every time you have oral, vaginal or anal sex.

Thanks for your important question. I wish you and your boyfriend good sexual health.

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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