Ines Vuckovic/Dose

Stop WebMDing. We’ve got the facts.

This is the first installment in our Middle School Mysteries series, where we’ll investigate childhood rumors you never bothered to fact-check yourself.

So, maybe you fooled around with somebody new.

And now you’ve noticed one or a series of raised, red bumps on your bits. Panic ensues. You’ve already Googled some really horrific images that are forever burned into your brain, with inconclusive takeaways.

The Fear

The rando Tinder dude was full of shit when he said he doesn’t usually become intimate so soon— It’s herpes.

The Reality

It could be herpes. It could also be a multitude of other things. More often than not, it’s an ingrown hair.

Shaving your pubic area can cause red bumps due to skin irritation or ingrown hair. When you have an ingrown hair, it sometimes looks a bit like a herpes lesion.

Most hairs will come up through the skin without a problem, but sometimes hairs begin to grow back curled or directionally challenged. When this happens, the body treats the hair as if it’s a foreign object and we experience symptoms like pain, itching, redness or swelling.

How to tell the difference

Both ingrown hairs and herpes lesions will fade with time, but herpes typically will return every few months if left untreated. An ingrown hair, on the other hand, will disappear permanently once it’s healed.

You should go to the doctor to have it examined, but who has the patience for that when you’ve just discovered you could have an STI? According to Med Health Daily, you can easily conduct a self-analysis as a pre-examination. All you’ll need is a mirror, soap, water, a towel and a cotton ball.

Using the mirror, get very up close and personal with your genitals. Make sure you’re mentally prepared before setting up shop—you’re going to be thoroughly disgusted and confused, regardless of the outcome. (Genitals are weird, dude.)

Once you’re cozy with your privates, here’s what to do.

  1. Look for a shadow. An ingrown hair will typically show a dark shadow where the new hair is growing. The hair growing beneath the skin may be coming in sideways or curled. For this reason, the shadow might not be the same shape as the other hairs on your skin. If you don’t see a shadow or dark line beneath the skin’s surface, the bump could be a herpes lesion.
  2. Check the size and color. Normally, herpes are smaller than an ingrown hair (around one to two millimeters in size). They also may have a yellow tint to them. A herpes lesion will normally have a dimple in the middle, and an ingrown hair will not. An ingrown hair will look similar to a pimple and is often covered in dead skin.
  3. Touch with care. Can’t see a hair under the lesion? Try touching it with a cotton ball. The ball is there for protection, in case the lesion ruptures. Make sure not to touch it with your hands, because it could spread infection! If it does burst, take note of the pus. Yellow=scary/bad sign. White=you’re probably fine. White, waxy or solid pus is usually from an ingrown hair.

Luckily, an ingrown hair is much more likely than herpes, so you’re probably fine. The only way to be 100% certain is to get a blood test from a medical practitioner and make sure that the sores aren’t caused by HSV-2, one of the two herpes viruses. With a blood test, medical history and culture sample, your doc will be able to tell you what’s up.

The worst that can happen

If you actually do have herpes, it’s not a big deal. Most likely, your doctor will prescribe an oral antiviral treatment. A daily dose of the medication prevents the spread of herpes and decreases the duration of outbreaks.

According to the National Institutes of Health, many people with genital herpes never even have outbreaks, or their outbreaks decrease over time. In fact, just one or two outbreaks a year is not uncommon. The only times that having genital herpes can be dangerous is when having sex with someone who has HIV (since herpes can increase your chances of getting HIV) and during pregnancy.

The last worst thing? You’ll have to tell your current and future sexual partners that you’re infected. Take the prescribed medicine and use a condom going forward (which—let’s be honest—you should have been doing, anyway). Herpes is largely stigmatized and is really not such a big deal. If someone doesn’t want to have sex or pursue a relationship because of the the infection, fuck ’em (but not literally).