Medically reviewed by: Dr. Kimberly Langdon (M.D) on 3 January 2022.
Herpes simplex virus (HSV) causes a sexually transmitted infection (STI) known as herpes. It is spread usually via sexual intercourse, kissing, or oral sex.
As per the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), herpes is one of the most widespread STDs.
Many variants of herpes may or may not cause any major health problems if treated on time.
However, some strains of herpes, like genital herpes can lead to health complications, like genital sores or blisters (which are often confused for pimples).
HSV-1 & HSV-2. are the two strains of herpes. In general, the former leads to oral herpes (present around the mouth area) while the latter leads to genital herpes (and spreads sexually).
As per the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 400 million people are suffering from herpes right now.
HSV-1 virus caused oral herpes but can also lead to genital herpes from sexual contact, Most individuals spread genital herpes through sexual contact. ,
Many individuals carry genital herpes without knowing since it is often confused with pimples.
Also, herpes may or may not exhibit symptoms in many individuals.
Also, it is possible to have HSV-1 and HSV-2 in your body at the same time.
HSV can easily be spread through skin-to-skin contact and moist parts of the body, like mouth and nose, vagina, vulva, penis, and rectum.
Many times, herpes does not lead to any health complications or visible symptoms initially.
Only 50% of the individuals suffering from herpes exhibit early symptoms.
However, the virus is still in the individual's body, However, spread occurs when an open sore comes in contact with susceptible skin or mucous membranes.
In case, herpes doesn't go away by itself, it can lead to severe complications, including neurological conditions, The strains of herpes can affect your genital as well as non-genital areas either way.
One of the major symptoms of herpes is the development of pimple-like bumps on your genitals, thighs, buttocks, or mouth.
These bumps may appear skin-colored or red.
They may be fluid-filled and itchy.
That's when people mistake these bumps for pimples since these have similar features.
However, some herpes-specific symptoms in men and women may help differentiate between the two.
This is clarified in the next subheadings:
Many men who contract a herpes infection have no symptoms, although some may develop genital or oral herpes or both.
See your doctor if you notice any unusual bumps or lesions on your penis, scrotum, or anus.
Some men may be more at risk for developing HSV-related health complications, especially those who have a weakened immune system.
When genital herpes outbreaks, it is usually present at reddish or whitish bumps and is often painful.
These may also appear on the buttocks or mouth in many cases.
These blisters which are fluid-filled eventually pop up and leave an open sore on the skin. Men may also experience:
- ● Headaches
- ● Swelling in the lymph nodes
- ● Usual penile discharge
- ● Body pain
Also, it is important to know that the lesions formed due to herpes tend to be softer (and blister-like) than a normal pimple.
Some symptoms of herpes in women may be blisters or cold sores surrounding the mouth or genitals.
Sometimes these may be present around 7-21 days at a time.
Women may also experience genital herpes on:
- ● Vagina
- ● Vulva
- ● Anus
- ● Face
- ● Under the thighs
- ● Groins
- ● Buttocks
However, these can be treated with over-the-counter medications. While healed lesions don't cause any chronic scarring.
Risk factors for normal pimples vs genital herpes
The risk factors for normal pimples differ from herpes bumps.
For pimples in your genitals, the risk factors may be:
- ● Extreme sweating
- ● Wearing uncomfortable clothing
- ● Live in a hotter climate
- ● Shaving your pubic hairs
To contract genital herpes, sexual activity is important to contract the virus.
It is also possible for herpes to spread from one individual to another, even if you are practicing safe sex.
Genital pimples often go away on their own.
However, if you have developed pimple-like bumps soon after sexual activity, see a doctor immediately.
Your physician will help you diagnose, treat, and cure your type of condition, but needs to conduct tests. The testing procedures may include,
- ● DNA testing procedure for HSV
- ● Culture test for HSV
- ● Serologic test for HSV
If you test positive for herpes, then your doctor may also examine you for other STDs, including chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis as well.
Why? Well, the next heading sheds light on this.
Other STD & non-STD infections that cause pimple-like bumps
Many other STIs cause pimple-like bumps on your genital areas as well as your mouth.
Wondering what these species look like?
From your inner thigh pimples due to an STD to pimples on your elbow, STDs can even lead to pimples on your vagina.
The following STIs may cause pimple-like bumps as a symptom:
1. Genital warts: HPV pimples, or what we call genital warts⁴, are pimple-like structures present as a single entity or as a group. These may be skin-colored and are flat in appearance.
2. Syphilis: The first sign of syphilis is usually a chance, or painless sore that might be confused for a pimple-like bump on your genitals, but may cause white spots to appear on the back of your throat.
3. HIV/AIDS: Whether it is due to HIV itself, or due to the HIV medications, oftentimes pimple-like bumps get filled with pus, and tend to appear on the face and upper body of HIV-infected people. Bumps may appear as flat structures, often reddish.
This may also include HIV pimples on the chest.
This is often known as HIV rash and is a typical symptom of its acute phase.
It tends to last for about 2-4 weeks after exposure.
4. Jock itch: While jock itch isn't s sexually transmitted infection (STI), this is a fungal infection causing skin rashes.
Jock itch may cause pimple-like bumps in the inner thighs and genitals but generally is a flat, red rash.
When bacteria or other germs get inside them, this can make them swell and itch. Sometimes the pimple-like bumps itch or fill with pus. Eosinophilic folliculitis is the type that affects people with HIV and AIDS. It causes bumps on the face and upper body.
Do I need a herpes test?
As per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), asymptomatic people don't need to get tested for herpes.
However, if you fall under the following categories then you may want to get tested immediately:
- ● You have blistered skin on your genitals, or face, inner thighs, anus, chest, etc
- ● Your spouse is infected with herpes or any other STD
- ● You are expecting a baby
- ● You have been detected with an STD
- ● You are suffering from HIV or have any other medical complication
If you fall under any of these, then getting timely treatment is vital, but it cannot cure the condition, only shorten the outbreak.
If systemic herpes is left untreated, it can lead to fatal diseases of the brain and spinal cord — also termed as meningitis.
If you have a fever along with headaches, a stiff neck, or are suffering from hallucinations, you may be carrying herpes for a long time without noticing.
In case that's you, consult your physician as soon as possible.
Your physician may get you tested for herpes. It may take a few weeks for your results to arrive.
After your results come, it may be either a negative test result or a positive one.
The former means that you are not carrying herpes or it means that the sample you gave didn't carry enough HSV in it.
In this case, your doctor may advise you to get retested for clarity.
However, the latter test result means that herpes is present in the sample you provided.
This means either you have an HSV infection or you had it in the past.
If you are positive, do not worry!
Even if herpes is not curable at present, it can be well-managed with antivirals.
These medications not only help in lowering the frequency of herpes, but also the severity of your signs and symptoms.
Also, remember that you are not alone.
There are hundreds of millions of people who carry HSV each year.
Apart from taking medicines, you can also consider using some home remedies, including:
- ● Refraining from any skin-to-skin contact with others
- ● Do not let anybody touch your lesions, and nor do it by yourself
- ● Keep yourself hygienic
- ● Have a lot of rest
- ● Avoid bathing in a hot tub
- ● Wear comfortable clothes
Also, the best you can do is *refrain* from any sexual activity during this time.
If symptoms recur, revisit your doctor immediately!
Do you have an STI/multiple STI or no STI?
It is intimidating to know that you could be carrying multiple sexually transmitted infections (STIs) at the same time. Also, many non-STD infections often overlap with the symptoms of STIs.
For example, genital herpes resembles a jock itch — surprisingly, it isn't an STI.
Also, pimple-like bumps are caused by several STIs, including syphilis, HIV, etc.
Therefore, it is hard to self-diagnose whether you could be carrying an STI, multiple STIs, or no STI.
This holds if you have had genital herpes or any other STI in the past, or are sexually active.
Thus, without getting regularly tested for STI/multiple STIs, you cannot confirm what kind of STI you could be carrying. This holds even if you are not carrying any STI at all.
Can You Perform A Single Test For Many STIs Simultaneously?
Yes, you can perform a single test for multiple STIs at the same time.
Only through regular testing, you will be able to detect any STIs in their acute stages.
This helps you to diagnose, treat and prevent their spread.
A standard testing panel can detect more than ten STIs simultaneously, including herpes, HIV, gonorrhea, etc.
Thus, it is always recommended to get tested for multiple STIs.
This is because you never know how many sexually transmitted infections (STIs) you could be developing simultaneously.
Make sure you find a trustworthy physician with whom you can share everything about your sex life.
To get tested you will have to go to your physician's nearby clinic or order an at-home testing kit.
A normal testing procedure usually involves scrapings of the sore, urine, or blood samples.
This may be taken by you or a medical professional.
Test results will come back in a few weeks via a direct post, or on your mobile number or email.
When to see a doctor
When it comes to pimple-like bumps on your genitals, thighs, buttocks, anus, face, or even chest, there may be a variety of reasons for their appearance.
Some non-STD causes may be fungal infections like a jock itch.
However, if your pimples appeared some days after having sex, then it might be time to consider going to a doctor immediately.
This holds even if you are sexually active, or have suffered from an STD before.
Thus, going to a physician is the best thing you can do to save yourself from any complications related to STIs.
Your physician may recommend you take some antivirals along with a regular check-up routine.
Also, it is vital to keep track of your sexual health by being conscious of any changes that occur in your body. This is regardless of how minor the symptoms may appear.
After getting tested, your doctor will determine the type of medications you need to combat the infection.
If STIs are left untreated, these may lead to various complications.
Meanwhile, it is best to refrain from any sexual activity.
In case you feel lightheaded, or have a sudden change in mental states, such as confusion, seek help from a physician nearby you, or by calling 911.