What is genital herpes?
Genital herpes is an STD caused by two types of viruses – herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) and
herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2).
What is oral herpes?
HSV-1 often causes oral herpes, which can result in cold sores or fever blisters on
or around the mouth. However, most people with oral herpes do not have any symptoms.
Most people with oral herpes get it during childhood or young adulthood from non-sexual
contact with saliva.
Is there a link between genital herpes and oral herpes?
Yes. Oral herpes caused by HSV-1 can spread from the mouth to the genitals through
oral sex. This is why some cases of genital herpes are due to HSV-1.
How common is genital herpes?
Genital herpes is common in the United States. In 2018, CDC estimates show there were
572,000 new genital herpes infections in the United States among people aged 14 to
How is genital herpes spread?
You can get genital herpes by having vaginal, anal, or oral sex with someone who has
the infection. You can get herpes if you have contact with:
- A herpes sore;
- Saliva from a partner with an oral herpes infection;
- Genital fluids from a partner with a genital herpes infection;
- Skin in the oral area of a partner with oral herpes; or
- Skin in the genital area of a partner with genital herpes.
You also can get genital herpes from a sex partner who does not have a visible sore
or is unaware of their infection. It is also possible to get genital herpes if you
receive oral sex from a partner with oral herpes.
You will not get herpes from toilet seats, bedding, or swimming pools. You also will
not get it from touching objects, such as silverware, soap, or towels.
If you have more questions about herpes, consider discussing your concerns with a
How do I know if I have genital herpes?
Most people with genital herpes have no symptoms or have very mild symptoms. Mild
symptoms may go unnoticed or be mistaken for other skin conditions like a pimple or
ingrown hair. Because of this, most people do not know they have a herpes infection.
Herpes sores usually appear as one or more blisters on or around the genitals, rectum
or mouth. This is known as having an “outbreak”. The blisters break and leave painful
sores that may take a week or more to heal. Flu-like symptoms (e.g., fever, body aches,
or swollen glands) also may occur during the first outbreak.
People who experience an initial outbreak of herpes can have repeated outbreaks, especially
if they have HSV-2. However, repeat outbreaks are usually shorter and less severe
than the first outbreak. Although genital herpes is a lifelong infection, the number
of outbreaks may decrease over time.
Ask a healthcare provider to examine you if:
- You notice any symptoms; or
- Your partner has an STD or symptoms of an STD.
STD symptoms can include an unusual sore, a smelly genital discharge, burning when
peeing, or bleeding between periods (if you have a menstrual cycle).
How will my healthcare provider know if I have genital herpes?
Your healthcare provider may diagnose genital herpes by simply looking at any sores
that are present. Providers can also take a sample from the sore(s) and test it. If
sores are not present, a blood test may be used to look for HSV antibodies.
Have an honest and open talk with your healthcare provider about herpes testing and
Please note: A herpes blood test can help determine if you have herpes infection.
It cannot tell you who gave you the infection or when you got the infection.
How can I prevent genital herpes?
The only way to completely avoid STDs is to not have vaginal, anal, or oral sex.
If you are sexually active, you can do the following things to lower your chances
of getting genital herpes:
- Being in a long-term mutually monogamous relationship with a partner who does not
- Using condoms the right way every time you have sex.
Be aware that not all herpes sores occur in areas that a condom can cover. Also, the
skin can release the virus (shed) from areas that do not have a visible herpes sore.
For these reasons, condoms may not fully protect you from getting herpes.
If your sex partner(s) has/have genital herpes, you can lower your risk of getting
- Your partner takes an anti-herpes medicine every day. This is something your partner
should discuss with his or her healthcare provider.
- You avoid having vaginal, anal, or oral sex when your partner has herpes symptoms
(i.e., during an “outbreak”).
Is there a cure for genital herpes?
There is no cure for genital herpes. However, there are medicines that can prevent
or shorten outbreaks. A daily anti-herpes medicine can make it less likely to pass
the infection on to your sex partner(s).
What happens if I don’t receive treatment?
Genital herpes can cause painful genital sores and can be severe in people with suppressed
If you touch your sores or fluids from the sores, you may transfer herpes to another
body part like your eyes. Do not touch the sores or fluids to avoid spreading herpes
to another part of your body. If you do touch the sores or fluids, quickly wash your
hands thoroughly to help avoid spreading the infection.
If you are pregnant, there can be problems for you and your unborn fetus, or newborn
baby. See “I’m pregnant. How could genital herpes affect my baby?” for information about this.
Can I still have sex if I have herpes?
If you have herpes, you should talk to your sex partner(s) about their risk. Using
condoms may help lower this risk but it will not get rid of the risk completely. Having sores
or other symptoms of herpes can increase your risk of spreading the disease. Even
if you do not have any symptoms, you can still infect your sex partners.
You may have concerns about how genital herpes will impact your health, sex life,
and relationships. While herpes is not curable, it is important to know that it is
manageable with medicine. Daily suppressive therapy (i.e., daily use of antiviral
medication) can lower your risk of spreading the virus to others. Talk to a healthcare
provider about your concerns and treatment options.
A genital herpes diagnosis may affect how you will feel about current or future sexual
relationships. Knowing how to talk to sexual partners about STDs is important.
What is the link between genital herpes and HIV?
Herpes infection can cause sores or breaks in the skin or lining of the mouth, vagina,
and rectum. This provides a way for HIV to enter the body. Even without visible sores,
herpes increases the number of immune cells in the lining of the genitals. HIV targets
immune cells for entry into the body. Having both HIV and genital herpes increases
the chance of spreading HIV to a HIV-negative partner during oral, vagina, or anal