Penis Rash

Reviewed by Ruthann Cunningham, MD, July 21, 2017

The appearance of a rash on the penis can create concern about possible STD exposure, but the reality is that there are many different causes for penile rashes. Rashes are often accompanied by itching, and both can be caused by irritation, an allergic reaction to a detergent or soap used in the groin area, or infection by a sexually transmitted or non-sexually transmitted organism.

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Among the most common causes for rashes on the penis or in the groin are are:

  • Jock itch (a fungal infection)
  • Contact dermatitis (irritation caused by exposure to a certain chemical or material)
  • Yeast infection
  • Psoriasis
  • Scabies
  • Pubic lice
  • Other STDs

Different causes will produce slightly different symptoms, but there can be some overlap. For example, an itchy rash caused by a jock itch in the groin (also known as tinea cruris) typically appears as a large, red, raised, itchy patch with flaking skin and uneven borders that advances over the inner thighs, but rarely involves the testicles. Contact dermatitis, another common cause of penile rashes, can also appear as a red, itchy, uneven rash. Yeast infections can present in a similar fashion, but can also produce a whitish film on top of the rash's red base. Psoriasis is a skin condition that produces itchy red, scaly, thickened patches of skin, and can affect the penis, groin, and other body areas.

STDs and penile rash

Conditions that can be transmitted sexually (scabies, pubic lice, syphilis, herpes viruses, etc) can also produce rashes on the penis. Scabies is caused by mites that burrow into the skin. Burrows appear as tiny grey irregular tracks on the penis, between the fingers, on the wrists, in armpits, on the buttocks, etc. The rash caused by scabies appears as tiny, red itchy bumps on the limbs and trunk. Pubic lice can produce what appears to be a rash (tiny, red spots) which are actually bite marks produced when the lice feed. In addition, live lice may be seen moving in the pubic hair. Primary syphilis produces a red, painless ulcer on the penis or groin, but secondary syphilis can become more widespread, causing raw, red mucosal surfaces (in the genital area, inside the mouth, throat, and anus). In addition, syphilis can produce greyish-white moist, raised patches in the groin, inner thighs, and armpits. Genital herpes outbreaks are typified by clusters of small, fluid-filled blisters that eventually burst and become red and scaly. These outbreaks are typically accompanied by pain or a burning sensation.

Just because you have a penile rash doesn't mean you necessarily have an STD. In addition, STDs don't always produce symptoms, so you can't be assured that you are "STD free" just because you're not experiencing symptoms. If you're sexually active and have never been tested, or have had a new partner since your last STD test, it's important to get tested to determine your status.

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