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Genital Herpes 101

A couple days ago I posted Handle This: He Has Herpes and some of your comments let me know that we could all use a refresher course on this STI.

Genital herpes is highly contagious, and is passed on through sexual contact. It's caused by a strain of herpes simplex virus (HSV), which enters your body through small cuts in your skin or mucous membranes, and then causes outbreaks of painful sores on your privates.

You should know that a person can pass herpes on to someone else even if they have no visible sores. Although there is no cure for genital herpes, the outbreaks can be controlled with medication, so a person with herpes can still be in a relationship and have sex (with protection, of course), without passing it on to his or her partner.

Want to learn more about how this STI is tested and treated? Then


  • Small, painful blisters or open sores. After they ooze, they'll scab and then heal within one to three weeks.
  • For women, sores may appear in the vagina, on the outside genital area, cervix, anus, or rear end. For men, sores may appear on the penis, scrotum, rear end, anus, thighs, or inside the urethra.
  • Along with an outbreak of sores, a person may have flu-like symptoms including headache, muscle aches, and fever.
  • Many people have no symptoms at all, or they'll have one bad outbreak of sores and then never experience another. Others can experience outbreaks up to 40 years after they first contract herpes.
How do you test for it?
  • A blood test can detect a herpes infection.
  • If you have present sores, your doctor can take a fluid or tissue sample and test that, too.
  • Herpes will not cause death, but it can increase your risk of contracting other STIs such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, or HIV.
  • A pregnant woman with sores can pass genital herpes on to her baby during delivery, which could cause brain damage, blindness, or death to the newborn. In this case, a C-section is usually performed.
  • There is no cure, but oral, antiviral medications taken including Zovirax, Famvir, and Valtrex can help heal sores faster and prevent recurrent outbreaks. If taken every day, these meds may also help reduce your risk of passing it on to anyone else.
  • If you have herpes, wait until all sores are healed before resuming sexual activity.
  • Always use a condom to prevent passing it on to your partner, since this virus can be spread even when no symptoms of herpes are present.


tabitha26 tabitha26 9 years
People rarely mention "skin to skin contact." Didn't know you could contract an STI from touching someone's thigh!
Janine22 Janine22 9 years
Even if you are not having an outbreak, there is still a chance of passing it on to your partner, if you are having asymptomatic shedding on your skin surface (there is no really way of telling if you are or not). So unprotected sex is never safe. You can also easily contract it, even if you are using condoms, you get it just from skin to skin contact. Also, like many other STD's, women are more likely to contract it from a man than the other way around.
vinlf vinlf 9 years
Although it is very possible to spread herpes to your partner, people still have unprotected sex even though they know they have it. They are very careful and don't have sex if they feel as though they are about to have an outbreak. Therefore, people have children, even though they have the herpes virus. If a woman is pregnant the doctor makes sure that she did not have any active lesions when the child was conceived and they will do a c section if she has active lesions when she goes into labor. Oral herpes can be passed through oral sex, so if you have cold sores, abstain from it until it is completely healed.
girlgreen girlgreen 9 years
how do you have kids without passing it to your partner?
happiness80 happiness80 9 years
BUT you did not actually touch on the "oral" herpes....which I believe was the subject of the topic last week!
Marci Marci 9 years
And let us not forget to mention that there are millions of people out there who are carriers of Herpes and don't even know they have it AND are spreading it.
petite42 petite42 9 years
A condom alone is not enough to prevent infection, because the entire boxer-short area can pass along infection. You can wear a condom and boxer shorts to reduce risk even further.
Beaner Beaner 9 years
Yeah, I think it's always a good reminder to learn about this stuff. We forget that STIs can show no symptoms, but that doesn't mean you cant catch something from someone just because the "look" or "seem" clean or healthy.
bellaressa bellaressa 9 years
So glad you did this, I was a little disturb this week with some comments that were posted.
Martini-Rossi Martini-Rossi 9 years
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