Managing genital symptoms
Not all symptoms that you may experience around your genitals are caused by a sexually transmitted infection (STI).
Symptoms can be caused by a variety of natural changes in your body as well as infections that are not sexually transmitted.
Urgent advice: Phone 111 if you:
Become very ill and have:
- severe pain
- a high temperature
- nausea and/or vomiting
Symptoms to discuss with sexual health services
Ulcers on the genitals
Single ulcers (sores) could be a sign of a recent infection of syphilis, especially if there is no pain.
Painful ulcers may be due to herpes, other infections or recent trauma. It can help to take a photo of your ulcer so you can show the sexual health clinician at your appointment.
If you think you have mpox (monkeypox) or you've come into contact in the last 21 days with someone who has mpox, you should phone your local service before you attend in person.
There are many causes of pain in the lower tummy. For example issues of the bowel or urinary tract and many gynaecological conditions.
Some STIs such as gonorrhoea, or chlamydia, can very occasionally spread up into the womb and cause pelvic pain and/or deep pain during sex.
If you have pain like this and think you have been at risk of an STI then you should contact your local service.
If there is any possibility that you could be pregnant, take a pregnancy test.
Discharge from the end of the penis
Whether you have discomfort peeing or not, discharge from the end of the penis could mean that you have an STI such as chlamydia or gonorrhoea. Book a consultation online or contact your local sexual health service for advice.
Pain, swelling or inflammation around the testicles
Gonorrhoea and chlamydia usually affect just the urinary tract. But sometimes infection can spread to the testicle and/or the epididymis (the small tube part next to the testicle).
This will cause painful swelling for which you should get treatment urgently.
Book a consultation online or phone for advice.
Multiple painful genital ulcers
Having multiple genital ulcers could indicate genital herpes which is the same virus that causes cold sores.
Herpes is an extremely common virus. It sometimes causes symptoms which are mostly self-limiting. This means your immune system will deal with this itself, but it can take a few days for symptoms to settle.
Sometimes the ulcers are itchy before they become sore. There may be pain when peeing because this stings the ulcers.
Milder cases can be diagnosed and treated by your GP. If you're worried about your symptoms, you could also contact your local sexual health service for advice.
Symptoms that aren't usually a sign of anything serious
Spots or lumps on the genitals
Sometimes hair follicles (the tiny pockets from where each hair grows) around the genitals or groin area can become inflamed. This is called folliculitis. It may be more common if you shave the area. At first it may look like a small pimple. It may be itchy, and sore but in most cases it will resolve on it's own. If you have any concerns contact your local sexual health service.
Another common cause of new spots or lumps on your genitals is warts.
Another possible cause is molluscum. Sometimes, teenagers notice lumps that are completely normal.
If you think that the lumps you have noticed are likely to be genital warts they might clear up on their own. One third of warts disappear within 6 months.
Your GP practice may be able to prescribe treatment for you or refer you to a sexual health clinic if treatment doesn't work. Sexual health services available may vary across Scotland.
Genital skin can be sensitive. Itching is often a sign that you're doing something, or using a product, that's irritating the skin. If itching is your only symptom, it isn't often related to an STI.
Itching around or inside the vagina is often due to thrush. You can get treatment over the counter at your local pharmacy.
Change in vaginal bleeding pattern
If you've changed your method of contraception, then you might notice a change in your bleeding pattern. This should settle but if you have any concerns, talk to your contraception provider.
Chlamydia can sometimes cause bleeding after sex or between periods. If you have had unprotected sex with a new sexual partner and notice this type of bleeding, then get tested for STIs.
Change in vaginal discharge
Genital washing advice
- use a soap substitute (emollient) to add moisture instead of soap – these are available from pharmacies
- use non-soap bath additives such as unfragranced bath oil instead of bubble bath
- treat athlete's foot straight away to prevent it spreading to your genital area when you pull your underwear on
- if you have a penis with a foreskin, always remember to pull back the foreskin gently but fully when washing and dry gently with a towel before replacing the foreskin
- do not use soap on or near your genital area, it can be drying
- do not let products like shampoo or conditioner run onto your genital skin
- do not use bubble baths, essential oils or soap or shower gels in the bath as they'll get onto the genital skin and may cause irritation
- do not use wet wipes on the genital skin
- do not use feminine washing products – even if they say they are pH balanced as they disrupt healthy bacteria in the vagina
- do not ‘douche’ (wash out the vagina with water or other products) as it damages the healthy vaginal organisms and changes their natural balance
- do not use fabric softeners
17 March 2023
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