Why do I have pearly penile papules?

For most people, it’s unsurprising that noticing new lumps and bumps around the genitals will cause concern, with many automatically jumping to the conclusion that they have an STD. However, not all such changes are sexually transmitted: including pearly penile papules, or PPP.

These small white spots are found around the head of the penis – and they are more common than you may think. They can affect men and boys of any age – and will affect approximately 20% of the male population.

As with any unusual changes in the body, it is understandable that many men will be looking to understand the cause of PPP, in order that they can avoid the unsightly bumps in the future. However, a true medical cause is not yet known. While unsightly, pearly penile papules are not harmful or infectious, but we remove many for cosmetic purposes.

There has been a great deal of research conducted into the cause of pearly penile papules, but as yet there are no definitive answers as to why they occur. It was previously thought that age was a factor, as many occurrences happen just after puberty and in males in their 20s. However, the fact that PPP can occur at any stage of life suggests that age is not a cause.

Other studies have reported that pearly penile papules are more prevalent in males who are uncircumcised than in males who are circumcised, while another study claimed that prevalence is higher in black men than in white men. Another theory is that pearly penile papules are actually vestigial remnants of the penile spines found in other primates, which are designed to contribute to sexual pleasure.

It has also been suggested that PPP could be the result of engorged sebaceous glands in the skin under the penis, which leads to the formation of cysts.

Whatever the cause, pearly penile papules are certainly not transmitted sexually, and are not a result of poor genital hygiene. While they are harmless, many men will find that they feel better psychologically if they opt for removal.