Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted infection (STI). It may no always cause symptoms, but can cause open sores to develop on the genitals. People may also notice a headache, fatigue, fever, and swollen lymph nodes.
This article gives an overview of genital herpes, including its symptoms, causes, treatments, and complications.
- herpes simplex 1 (HSV-1), which usually causes oral herpes
- herpes simplex 2 (HSV-2), which usually causes genital herpes
Although HSV-1 usually causes oral herpes, it can spread to the genitals through oral sex, especially if a person has open cold sores.
A person can have HSV-1 and HSV-2 at the same time.
Genital herpes can cause open sores in the genital area, but people might also experience headache, fatigue, fever, and swollen lymph nodes. Sometimes, however, there are no symptoms at all.
There is currently no cure for genital herpes. It can be easy to transmit to others, even if a person does not have open sores.
Vs. oral herpes
A note about sex and gender
Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.
To prevent the transmission of genital herpes, it is important to use barrier protection during sex.
Genital herpes is very common, affecting
People assigned female at birth are more likely to have genital herpes than males because vaginal tissues can tear easily, allowing the virus to enter the body. Estimates from the Office on Women’s Health
When genital herpes does lead to symptoms, it typically causes open sores on the genitals and anus.
Initially, the sores usually develop on the part of the body that was first exposed to the virus. The lesions usually appear between
The hallmark of genital herpes is small blisters that break open, leaving painful sores that can take a few weeks to heal. A person may mistake a mild case of herpes for a few pimples or ingrown hairs.
People with genital herpes may also notice the following, prodromal symptoms:
Herpes is most contagious when a person has open genital sores, though people can transmit the virus even when there are no sores.
A doctor will usually diagnose genital herpes by asking about a person’s symptoms and examining any lesions that are present. Blood tests and skin scrapings can help diagnose the condition, though these are usually not necessary.
Some symptoms are specific to people assigned male or female at birth.
Symptoms of genital herpes in males
People assigned male at birth are more likely to have repeat outbreaks of genital herpes than females. They may notice blisters or sores on the penis, scrotum, or anus, or unusual discharge from the penis.
Symptoms of genital herpes in females
Getting a menstrual period can cause an outbreak of genital herpes.
Genital herpes can spread in the
- vaginal sex, anal sex, or genital contact with someone who has the virus
- receiving oral sex from a partner with a cold sore
- touching a herpes sore, then touching the genitals
- a baby can contract genital herpes during birth if the mother has the virus
People can sexually transmit the virus even if they have no visible symptoms.
It is not possible to contract genital herpes from toilet seats, bedding, swimming pools, or touching other objects. The virus can only spread from human-to-human contact.
There is no cure for genital herpes. It lays dormant in the body for long periods, then reappears as an outbreak of sores.
However, doctors can prescribe medications that reduce the likelihood of recurring outbreaks. These medicines may also lower the risk of transmitting the virus. According to the
When a person has a genital herpes outbreak, they may be able to promote healing and lower the risk of transmitting the virus by:
- avoiding sexual contact with another person until the sores have healed
- keeping the sores clean and dry
- refraining from touching the sores whenever possible
- washing the hands immediately after touching the sores
- using barrier protection during sexual contact until told otherwise by a doctor
The first herpes outbreak is usually the worst. Subsequent outbreaks tend to become less bothersome.
If a person has genital herpes sores, viruses and bacteria, including HIV, have more opportunity to enter the body. Avoid scratching the sores, as this can lead to bacterial infection.
Also, having HIV can make genital herpes outbreaks more severe.
Genital herpes can also transfer to a fetus through a vaginal delivery if there are active lesions at this time. Pregnant people will need to take antiviral medications as their doctor directs.
Avoiding sexual contact, especially when sores are present, is the only sure way to prevent the spread of genital herpes.
Using condoms reduces the risk of transmitting the infection. However, people can contract herpes from the skin around the genitals, so this is not guaranteed to be effective.
Many people have STIs without knowing it. Doctors recommend getting regular checks, especially after a person has had sex with a new partner.
Genital herpes is an STI that a person
There is no cure for genital herpes, but by taking antiviral medication, a person can reduce the likelihood of outbreaks and the risk of transmitting the virus.
A doctor can help diagnose genital herpes and recommend treatment options.
People can help prevent the transmission of genital herpes by using barrier protection during sex and by taking antiretroviral medication.
Here are some commonly asked questions about genital herpes.
Do genital herpes go away?
There is no cure for genital herpes, and the condition can flare up with symptoms every so often. These symptoms include open sores on the genitals that can heal over a few weeks and reappear.
What is genital herpes mistaken for?
Genital herpes may appear similar to genital warts, but the two conditions are caused by
How long is herpes contagious?
Genital herpes is always contagious and a person can pass it on at any time, even if they are not currently experiencing symptoms themselves or never have done – in fact, this is
Genital herpes are a contagious sexually transmitted infection that happen as a result of exposure to the herpes simplex virus (HSV). This condition can cause no symptoms at all, but it can also cause open sores, headache, fatigue, fever, and swollen lymph nodes.
Once a person has genital herpes, they can pass it onto other people through sexual contact even when wearing a condom or when not currently experiencing open sores.
There is no cure for genital herpes. However, there are medical treatments available to manage the symptoms and reduce flares.