Genital Herpes

Genital herpes is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and is caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). There are two types of HSV.

  • Herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1)
    HSV-1 usually causes fever blisters and cold sores on the mouth, but can also cause sores on the genitals, usually from oral-genital contact (i.e., oral sex) from someone who is infected with oral herpes.
  • Herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2)
    HSV-2 usually causes blisters and sores on the genitals (vagina, penis, anus) and the skin around those areas.

Genital herpes is transmitted via direct skin-to-skin contact during oral, anal, and vaginal sex. It is possible for genital herpes to be transmitted even when blisters or sores are not present. Once HSV gets into the body, it lives there forever, either with periodic symptoms or without any symptoms at all. Genital herpes is not usually a severe or dangerous infection by itself. The sores can be painful and it can cause emotional distress because the infection is not curable.

About 50-80% of the adult population in the United States has oral herpes and about 15% of adults in the United States has genital herpes; however, as many as 90% of these infected people don't know they have the virus.

Genital Herpes Facts Sheet
Download Options:


Learn to recognize the symptoms that occur during the period just before the sores appear. People often describe a tingling or burning feeling during this time. Taking medications in this time period before an outbreak can prevent the sores from starting or reduce how long an outbreak lasts.

We recommend discussing your herpes diagnosis with your partner before you have sex. It’s possible to transmit herpes even if you're using condoms since not all affected areas can be covered by a condom. If you're in a long-term relationship, your partner might want to test for herpes as they might already be infected.

Having genital herpes increases your risk of becoming infected with HIV if you are exposed to HIV, and increases the risk of transmitting HIV to a sex partner if you have HIV. Taking PrEP for HIV prevention reduces the risk of HIV infection even if you or your partner has genital herpes.

Your donation makes a difference