The Effects of Herpes on the Penis

Dr. Babak Ashrafi

Medically reviewed by

Dr Babak Ashrafi

Last reviewed: 24 Jun 2022

Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by a virus known as herpes simplex. The most common symptom is small blisters on your penis and pain when peeing. Symptoms can clear up on their own but you may get outbreaks where symptoms return. You can get antiviral medications such as aciclovir to relieve symptoms and shorten outbreaks.


What are the first signs of herpes on the penis?

The first signs of herpes on the penis can include:

  • pain, tingling, or burning on or around your penis
  • small blisters on your penis and the surrounding area
  • red open sores on your penis, caused by blisters that have burst
  • difficulty peeing or pain when peeing

You may get some or all of these symptoms, which can appear weeks or sometimes years after being infected with herpes. You should always speak to a doctor if you think you have herpes for the first time, even if you have not had sex recently.

What does herpes look like on the penis?

Herpes on the penis can look slightly different for every man. Herpes on your penis or penis head can cause small blisters that look red or white. These blisters can also form around your anus. You may have a few blisters or many and this is known as a herpes rash. These blisters fill with clear or yellow liquid and burst, causing red, open sores that ooze. The blisters will eventually scab over and heal.

What parts of the penis are affected by herpes?

You can get herpes sores on any part of your penis, but they are often found on your penis head, shaft, and base.

Are there any similar conditions that could be mistaken for herpes?

Some STIs have similar symptoms to herpes, such as chlamydia, syphilis, and gonorrhoea which also cause pain when peeing and stinging or burning on your penis. Syphilis can also cause small grey or white growths on your penis, but these tend to look different than herpes blisters.

Genital herpes is sometimes mistaken for genital warts, but unlike herpes these warts are painless. If you are not sure whether you have herpes or another infection, you should speak to your doctor and take an STI test.

How long do symptoms last?

The first time you get symptoms this is known as an initial outbreak. This usually lasts the longest between 2 and 6 weeks, but symptoms can go away faster with the help of antiviral medications.

If you have another outbreak, symptoms can last around 1 to 2 weeks. Antiviral medications can relieve and shorten the amount of time you have symptoms. Symptoms are often milder than your initial outbreak. Some people never get another outbreak.

How to recognise herpes sores

Looking at a photo of herpes sores can help you to recognise it, but the only way to know for sure if you have herpes on your penis is by speaking to a doctor and getting a herpes test. You can test yourself with a home genital herpes test kit or by visiting a sexual health or STI clinic. You can get herpes sores on your penis, anus, and buttocks.

What does herpes look like on a man?

An illustration showing herpes on the penis

Protecting yourself from genital herpes

Genital herpes can be passed on through skin to skin contact during sex, including vaginal, oral, and anal. You can pass genital herpes on even if there are no visible signs of herpes on your penis. It is best to use a condom during sex to protect yourself and others from catching genital herpes. You should also maintain good hygiene and wash your hands if you come into contact with the infected area.

Can a condom prevent genital herpes from being passed on?

Yes, a condom can prevent you from passing genital herpes onto your sexual partner but it must cover the infected area. You should avoid having sex if you or your sexual partner has symptoms of an outbreak, such as blisters, sores, or tingling. Avoid sharing sex toys to minimise the risk of passing on genital herpes.

Is genital herpes permanent?

There is currently no cure for herpes, but there are treatments available to manage outbreaks. Herpes is caused by a virus called herpes simplex and once you catch herpes the virus stays in your body until you have an outbreak. You may get several outbreaks a year or none at all.

Genital herpes may be triggered by certain things, such as drinking alcohol, stress, being unwell, having sex, or smoking.

Is there a vaccine for herpes?

There is currently no herpes vaccine, although possible vaccines are being researched.

Is herpes on the penis serious?

Herpes on the penis is not usually serious and tends not to have any long term effects on your general health. Herpes on the penis often resolves on its own or with the help of herpes treatments like aciclovir. Men tend to have more frequent outbreaks than women but avoiding sex and using a condom can protect yourself and your sexual partner.

Genital herpes can be more serious if you also have HIV. Genital herpes can increase your risk of HIV during an outbreak, especially if you have open sores on your penis. It can also be dangerous for pregnant women to get genital herpes, as it could cause the baby to get neonatal herpes. You can speak to your doctor if you have herpes on your penis and your partner is pregnant.

Medically reviewed by:
Dr Babak Ashrafi Clinical Lead for Service Expansion

Babak studied medicine at King’s College London and graduated in 2003, having also gained a bachelor’s degree in Physiology during his time there. He completed his general practice (GP) training in East London, where he worked for a number of years as a partner at a large inner-city GP practice. He completed the Royal College of GPs membership exam in 2007.

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Last reviewed: 24 Jun 2022

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