It is quite common to notice small bumps in the genital area. Sometimes they can even be filled with pus – just like pimples that can appear on your face. Lumps and bumps in the genital area can occur for a variety of reasons.
While most of the time they are not a cause for concern, it is important to know the difference between genital pimples, warts and cold sores as each has a different cause and requires different treatment.
This article looks at the differences between genital warts, pimples and cold sores and their symptoms, diagnosis and treatment options.
What are genital warts?
Genital warts are a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). The contagious growths can come and go and may appear:
- Small and flesh-colored
- Flat or raised
- Soft to the touch
- In clusters or alone
In most cases, the growths are painless, but they can itch and bleed.
What are genital pimples?
Pimples can appear in the genital area as well as anywhere else on the body. A pimple is a clogged pore connected to a hair follicle. When bacteria grows in a pimple, it can rise and become inflamed. It can form a cyst, a confined area of infection under the skin that can be painful and filled with pus.
In some cases, ingrown hairs can lead to the formation of a cyst. Instead of clogging the pore like a pimple, the hair grows into the skin and not out of the pore. This can result in a red, raised, painful bump that may contain pus and look like an inflamed pimple.
What are genital herpes sores?
Genital herpes is a viral sexually transmitted infection that causes painful blisters to form in the genital area. It is caused by the herpes simplex virus – either type 1 (HSV-1) or type 2 (HSV-2).
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than half a million people between the ages of 14 and 49 were newly infected with genital herpes in 2018.
If you have genital herpes, there may be periods without symptoms, followed by painful flare-ups. You can transmit the virus to sexual partners even if you have no active symptoms during sexual contact.
Symptoms can include:
- body aches
- Painful blisters
- itching and burning
While treatment won’t cure genital herpes, it can prevent a painful flare-up of symptoms.
Symptoms of genital warts vs. pimples vs. genital herpes
You may be wondering how to identify these different genital conditions. Luckily, they present themselves in quite different ways.
All of those lumps and bumps have a few things in common. They may:
- Be painful when touched
- itching and bleeding
- Show yourself all over your genitals
HPV Specific Symptoms: How to Spot a Wart
Genital warts are usually:
- Soft to the touch
- Look a bit like cauliflower
Most often they appear in clusters.
Pimple Specific Symptoms: Is It Just a Pimple?
Pimples on your genitals look like those on your face. They may be raised and red, forming a pus-filled whitehead. If they’re very painful and inflamed, you may have an infection that needs treatment.
Most pimples go away on their own after a few days. If you have pimples that won’t go away, are very itchy and painful, or keep coming back, they may not be pimples at all.
Herpes-specific symptoms: what you should know
The bumps caused by genital herpes are blister-like (fluid-filled) rather than pimple-like. When they rupture, they turn into wounds that ooze fluid. Eventually, the active infection will crust over and heal. And a flare-up is likely in the future.
Causes of genital warts vs. pimples vs. herpes
The causes of each of these conditions is different.
Causes of genital warts
HPV causes genital warts. It is transmitted through skin-to-skin contact. Penetration sex is not necessary for the transmission.
Causes of Herpes
Genital herpes is caused by either HSV-1 or HSV-2. You can get genital herpes via:
- Contact with a herpes sore
- Contact with the skin around the mouth area of a person with oral herpes
- The saliva of someone with an oral herpes infection
- The genital fluids of someone with a genital herpes infection
- Contact with the skin on the genital area of a person with genital herpes
Causes and risk factors for pimples in the genital area
Pimples can appear around the genitals for many reasons or seemingly for no reason. Clogged pores can develop if you produce excess oil or if the area is not cleaned regularly.
Ingrown hairs, which resemble pimples, often appear after shaving, plucking, or waxing.
Treatments for Vaginal Warts vs. Pimples vs. Herpes
These conditions each have a unique set of treatments.
Treatments for genital warts
Genital warts can go away on their own (although you can still live with HPV and transmit it to sexual partners). For recurring or large warts, your doctor may recommend the following:
- chemical treatment
- Prescription creams
- Cryotherapy (applying extremely cold liquid nitrogen to the wart)
- Electrosurgical Loop Excision Procedure (LEEP): A loop of wire is charged with electricity to surgically remove the wart.
Don’t try to remove genital warts yourself. It’s important to see a healthcare provider for treatment if it’s bothering you.
There is no cure for this condition. However, certain antiviral medications can help reduce the risk of passing the infection on to another person. Medications can also help shorten the duration of outbreaks.
Vaginal Pimple Treatments
If you develop a pimple in your genital area, it will likely go away on its own. In some cases, applying a warm compress can encourage the pimple to break open and heal faster.
Before applying topical creams, such as those containing tea tree oil or salicylic acid, around your genital area, be sure to read the directions carefully. Ideally, choose a product specially formulated for the intimate area.
If you’re wondering if a particular product is okay for a vaginal pimple, don’t hesitate to ask a pharmacist or your doctor.
Other causes of bumps and sores in the genital area
Other reasons for bumps and sores in the genital area can include:
- Bartholin gland cysts: These cysts form in the glands that provide vaginal lubrication during sex.
- Molluscum contagiosum: This is a viral skin infection that causes small, firm papules to grow on the body. It is transmitted through direct skin contact or sexual contact.
- Vaginal boils: This is a larger, walled lump under the skin that is filled with pus. It occurs when a hair follicle becomes blocked and infected.
- varicose veins: These are also known as varicose veins. They are enlarged surface veins that can create a bulge in the vulvar area. This type of varicose veins is more likely to occur in people who have had two or more pregnancies.
- skin tags: These are noncancerous skin growths that commonly form in skin folds, including the genital area and groin.
- lichen sclerosus: This condition causes white patches around the genitals and sometimes in the anal area. It often causes itching.
- Cancer: Some cancers, such as vulvar cancer, can cause skin changes such as rashes, bumps, and sores.
When to see a healthcare provider
You should see a doctor for genital bumps and sores if:
- They are extremely painful.
- They don’t go away.
- They keep coming back.
- You think you have contracted a sexually transmitted infection.
- You have abnormal bleeding that is not related to your menstrual cycle.
- You worry or are otherwise bothered by the bumps.
Prevent vaginal pimples
Sometimes pimples appear randomly. But some things can make them more likely. To prevent pimples and ingrown hairs from forming, it is important to:
- Use shaving cream when you shave your pubic area.
- Avoid using a dull razor for shaving.
- Quit shaving altogether.
- Use mildly scented or unscented products on the genital area.
- Use gentle detergents and soaps to clean underwear.
- Wear breathable cotton underwear.
- Maintain proper hygiene, like washing up after exercise.
Genital warts can be prevented with HPV vaccination. To prevent transmission of herpes and genital warts, use a condom or rubber dam during sexual activity. Avoid skin contact with warts or sores.
Genital bumps are common, and while most are nothing to worry about, some genital lumps and bumps may require treatment. These can be pimples, ingrown hairs, genital warts, or genital herpes.
Some bumpy genital diseases are also contagious. If you think you have an STI, it’s important to get a diagnosis to avoid transmission to sexual partners.
A word from Verywell
Talk to a healthcare provider about any genital bump or sore that worries you. Some conditions, such as genital herpes and genital warts, have no cure, but they may have medication available to treat them. And if you have a sexually transmitted infection that causes a bump, be sure to educate yourself about proper protection to prevent it from being passed on to someone else.
frequently asked Questions
Can warts be mistaken for pimples?
Yes, especially when they are small.
What is a white worm pick?
Some pimples contain pus that squirts out when you squeeze it. The pus ring looks like a worm, but it isn’t.
Can you poke a wart?
no You can’t pick out a wart.