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What are these bumps on my penis?

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crimsonballer asks:

Hi I have had these small (2mm or less) bumps on my penis for a long time (at least 4 years) they are white or mainly the color of my skin, and go about half the way up my penis. They are much more visible when my penis is erect, and it seems like after a while hair sprouts out of these bumps. I have been doing some internet research and think they are Fordyce's spots. They don't hurt or itch or anything, it just embarrasses me. I would like to get rid of them, but talking about that with my parents would be hard. Before this year I had been masturbating with Vaseline, but this year I stopped using the Vaseline, and the appearance of these bumps seemed to be reduced, but they aren't gone totally. Please help!

Heather Corinna replies:

Fordyce's spots -- if that's what we're talking about here -- are nothing to be concerned with.

If they are on the lower shaft of the penis -- rather than around the glans -- and you have had them for a while and have not been sexually active with a partner, that's certainly a possible issue here.

But you might also just be looking at other normal sweat glands, which tend to be more visible on the lower portion of the shaft of the penis, especially on the underside, towards your scrotum (where you likely can also see some visible bumpy glands). You might be looking at hair follicles given the location, which can tend to look a bit chicken-skin like, on male and female genitals alike. Those follicles are more prominent in some people than others, and also sometimes more visible in some places than others, like on the penis or scrotum, or for women, just inside the outer labia.

Often, people have the idea that the texture of the genitals is very smooth, when in fact, more times than not, there's some kind of bumpy, textured thing of some type going on. The bumps you're worried about are not only not likely anything to worry about, they're probably something you'll see on lots and lots of other genitals and which is perfectly normal. I know that it is easy to feel like some part of your genitals is embarrassing, or like something is wrong with them when you're probably not very familiar with what other genitals really look like up-close-and-personal, but I can assure you that some measure of bumpy is the rule more often than the exception.

Given what you're describing are bumps that don't itch at all, and which are the same color as your skin or lighter, I'm more inclined to think they're one of these two things rather than Fordyce's, but they may be all of these things or Fordyce's. In any case, though, they are not likely something to worry about given what you're describing and how long you've had them for.

When we are talking about Fordyce's, those bumps aren't a sign of infection, or of poor health, and they're very common: it's usually stated that around 90% of men have them. I'd be more surprised so see a penis without any visible sebaceous glands than I would to see one with them. They are a type of sebaceous (oil) gland, and everyone's genitals have lots of sebaceous glands: without them, we'd be pretty uncomfortable, especially during sex. If and when you have sexual partner, no matter their gender, if you're really looking at their genitals, you're probably going to see Fordyce's spots and other visible sebaceous glands on theirs, too.

Fordyce's spots on the genitals are actually understood to be present at birth -- they're thought to primarily be congenital -- but just don't tend to show themselves until puberty. They can and often do appear on male as well as female genitals, and some people also have them on parts of their lips (I do myself, actually, just a little on the underside of my top lip). The only concern with them tends to be cosmetic, and the only person who is usually going to eve notices them that much is the person whose body they are on.

I'd suggest that no one really concern themselves with Fordyce's, and understand that they -- like other common and normal genital variations -- are nothing to be embarrassed about. For starters, there's little that can be done for them cosmetically in the first place, and most doctors don't advise doing anything at all. A doctor could give you a serum to use on your penis in conjunction with an alpha-hydroxy cream (though AHAs tend to sting delicate tissue: ouch!) or a dermatological peel or an oral medication -- the kinds often used for acne -- but while those treatments may diminish their appearance for a little while (though likely only if they are an infection, rather than normal glands), they will return when not using those things. Those things cost money and also carry possible side effects, too (like dry or itchy skin or peeling skin which is likely to be a lot more uncomfortable and odd-looking on your penis than a normal variation), which seems pretty unnecessary for something you'll find on may people's genitals, lips or other places on the body, and which is totally harmless.

This is a normal variation, rather than a capital-C condition of any kind which requires treatment or where it even makes sense to treat it.

Using or not using the Vaseline may make some difference just because that's an oily substance that puts a barrier o the skin that can lock some degree of sweat, other fluids and/or bacteria into the skin, keeping it from breathing. No matter what the lumpy-bumpies are, petrolatum or other thick, oily creams could certainly have a effect, just like they ca when you put them on your face.

If you like, you can certainly discuss this with your doctor, and you don't need to discuss it with your parents if you don't want to. The next time you're in for a general checkup -- where you should be in the examination room without a parent -- you can simply mention your concern to your healthcare provider, and they can have a look. That's going to be the best person to determine what these are and if you've any cause for concern since they'll be able to see them in person and make the most accurate diagnosis.

Lastly, having someone else see your genitals or other parts of the body in sexual or intimate situations is always going to be a little daunting because it's pretty much always something where we are all a little more vulnerable than usual. It's understandable to be concerned -- and more so if you don't know what's normal -- but just know that when you're choosing a sexual partner or partners who you can trust, with whom you are comfortable (and take the time to get comfortable with before getting naked or sexual), that ideally, you both are going to accept each other's bodies just as they are and be open to embracing even variations that are not so normal when one or both of you have those. And for the most part, when we're bringing sensitivity and body acceptance to the table with a partner on our parts, partners tend to respond the same way in-kind.

Here are a few links to add some more context to all of this:

written 17 Aug 2008 . updated 22 Jan 2014

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