The Effects Of Herpes On The Penis

How does a herpes infection affect male genitals?

Man looking up the effect on herpes on the penis on his smartphone

Key takeaways

  • Blisters are the main effect of a herpes outbreak on the penis

  • A doctor can assess you for herpes symptoms on your penis

  • Although herpes blisters can be painful, they shouldn't do serious damage to your penis

  • Apart from repeat outbreaks, herpes shouldn't have long-term effects on your penis health or fertility

  • There are things you can do to protect your penis from herpes and keep in healthy

Contents of this article

What does herpes on the penis look like?

Blisters are the most visible sign of herpes on the penis – they will appear in mostly on the penis and around the anus. However, the virus can also affect the urethra making urination painful. The number of blisters that form will differ between individuals. Some men will only have one or two while others may have many – all of which can be very painful. Just like normal blisters, herpes blisters will fill with liquid and eventually burst. Once burst, the blisters will leave behind open wounds which can be sore. These wounds will turn to scabs and begin to heal.

Other symptoms you may notice with genital herpes are:

  • Pain when urinating
  • Fever
  • Swelling

Where do genital herpes symptoms comes from? – you can catch herpes from anyone who has visible sores who you engage in sexual contact with. However, it is also possible to catch it from individuals who do not have visible sores and just have the infection within them. A herpes episode which affects the penis can last up to 3 weeks. Usually, the first outbreak will cause the most severe symptoms. While recurrent bouts may only last a few days.

How can you tell if you have herpes on your penis?

Checking against pictures online – although many people now check their symptoms online by comparing pictures, the only way to get a proper diagnosis is to speak to a health professional. Not all genital bumps are warts or herpes, so you may end up treating your symptoms with the wrong medication which could even make them worse. 

Getting a diagnosis online – if you would prefer not to visit your GP, you can use our online doctor service which offers a free photo assessment. You only need to pay if you are diagnosed with genital herpes and request treatment from us. Alternatively, if you have already been diagnosed with genital herpes, you can purchase antiviral medication from us to treat the symptoms. 

Getting checked in person – if you notice any abnormalities on your genitalia you should visit your GP or local sexual health clinic. They will be able to help to confirm a diagnosis as well as find the cause of your symptoms, enabling you to get the correct treatment.

It is possible to mistake the presence of genital herpes with genital warts – genital warts are growths on/around the genitalia and unlike genital herpes, they are painless. However, a health professional will be able to distinguish between both and give you a correct diagnosis. Psoriasis, a skin condition, can also cause itching or burning sensations so may be mistaken for genital herpes in the early stages.

What does a herpes infection do to the penis?

Sometimes they won't do anything – most 'herpes simplex virus-2' infections present without any symptoms which can mean that many people people are unaware they have the infection. Worryingly, this means that the infection can be passed on to other individuals unknowingly and can delay treatment. Usually, genital herpes on the penis present with lesions or blisters on the penile shaft or head. It can present with one blister or there may be many and these are usually accompanied by pain. 

Penile herpes infections often resolve themselves – there is no cure for genital herpes. The symptoms can be addressed with antiviral herpes treatments which can help to speed up the resolution of symptoms. Although the symptoms can disappear after an outbreak there is the possibility that they will come back later. 

Your penis can be infectious without you knowing – infection with herpes occurs when there is genital to genital or skin to skin contact. Therefore, it can be spread through skin touching skin and there doesn’t need to be any visible signs of the infection to be present.

Can herpes affect the penis long-term?

Normally it shouldn't cause long-term problems – for most men who are otherwise healthy, the infection shouldn’t cause any long-term medical complications. However, recurrent outbreaks are common, once the infection has been contracted. There are treatments available to reduce the number, frequency and severity of the outbreaks, but there is no definitive cure. Therefore, if you catch herpes it will be a lifelong condition. 

Increased risk of getting HIV – if you develop genital herpes sores, you may be at an increased risk of contracting HIV, too. This is because the lesions caused by the herpes virus can leave behind the perfect environment for the spread of HIV. Therefore, it is important that you take precautionary measures to prevent the spread of infection and if you don’t have the infection stop the risk of developing it.

Effect on your ferility (chance to get someone pregnant) – the herpes infection doesn’t usually cause infertility. There is some research, however, which suggests that the herpes infection may reduce your sperm count which can make pregnancy more difficult. As well as this, recurrent episodes of the infection can make it more difficult to have sex with your partner due to the pain and active infection. If you are planning to have children, you should take this into consideration.

How you protect your penis from herpes?

Condoms and hygiene – the best way to prevent genital herpes is to use condoms whenever you have sex. You should also avoid touching an infected area with the skin, especially the hand. If you do touch an infected blister or sore, yours or anyone else’s, you should wash your hands immediately with warm, soapy water. The virus is most contagious when there are visible signs, however, it is still possible to catch it even when there isn’t. 

Some simple tips for avoiding infection, include:

  • Use a condom every time you have sex including vaginal, anal and oral
  • Avoid vaginal, anal or oral sex if your partner has blisters or sores
  • Avoid vaginal, anal or oral sex if your partner has a tingling, itching, or burning sensation around an infected area
  • Avoid sharing sex toys

If you currently have an outbreak – there are things you can do to help manage your symptoms:

  • Avoid tight clothing
  • Avoid drinking excess alcohol
  • Avoid UV light – sunbeds etc

If you have herpes but aren't currently having an oubreak – you can do things to help avoid outbreaks and symptoms. There are 'triggers' which can lead to a herpes outbreak and so avoiding them can reduce the chances of one occurring. There are some triggers which can’t be prevented, but if you are aware of them you may be able to prepare yourself for a potential outbreak. They include:

  • Being unwell
  • Having your period if you’re female
  • Having a weakened immune system
  • Surgery on your genitals

You can help to keep your penis healthy by:

  • Always wearing a condom when you have sex
  • Washing after you have sex
  • Washing after you urinate
  • Washing your hands after you touch your own genitals or somebody else’s
  • Eat five portions of fruit and vegetables per day
  • Incorporating more whole grains into your diet
  • Snack on nuts or fruit rather than sugary drinks
  • Drink plenty of water to keep yourself hydrated
  • Aim for 30 minutes of exercise 5 days per week
  • Reduce your alcohol intake
  • Quit smoking
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