Genital herpes 


Genital herpes: Marian's story

Marian contracted herpes from her boyfriend. She talks about the symptoms, how it can be treated, and the issue of discussing herpes with your partner.

Media last reviewed: 16/03/2013

Next review due: 16/03/2015

What happens at an STI clinic

What to expect at an STI clinic, including tests, treatment and the questions you may be asked

Genital herpes is a common infection caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). It causes painful blisters on the genitals and the surrounding areas.

As genital herpes can be passed to others through intimate sexual contact, it's often referred to as a sexually transmitted infection (STI).

HSV can affect any mucous membrane (moist lining), such as those found in the mouth (cold sores).

Genital herpes is a chronic (long-term) condition. The virus remains in your body and can become active again. The average rate of recurrence is four to five times in the first two years after being infected. However, over time, it tends to becomes active less frequently and each outbreak becomes less severe.

Read more about the symptoms of genital herpes.

The herpes simplex virus (HSV)

There are two types of herpes simplex virus (HSV), type 1 and type 2. Both types are highly contagious and can be passed easily from one person to another by direct contact.

Genital herpes is usually transmitted by having sex (vaginal, anal or oral) with an infected person. Even if someone with genital herpes doesn't have any symptoms, it's possible for them to pass the condition on to a sexual partner.

At least eight out of 10 people who carry the virus are unaware they have been infected because there are often few or no initial symptoms. However, certain triggers can activate the virus, causing an outbreak of genital herpes.

Read more about the causes of genital herpes.

Who is affected?

Genital herpes is a common condition, especially in people from 20 to 24 years old.

In 2013, 32,279 people attended a sexual health clinic in England with an attack of genital herpes for the first time.

Read more about how genital herpes is diagnosed.

Treating genital herpes

Although there's no cure for genital herpes, the symptoms can usually be controlled using antiviral medicines.

However, it's important to prevent the spread of genital herpes by avoiding sex until symptoms have cleared up and continuing to use a condom afterwards.

Read more about how genital herpes is treated.


Genital herpes can cause problems during pregnancy. These complications can be more serious depending on whether you already have genital herpes, or develop it for the first time while pregnant.

Read more about complications of genital herpes.

Page last reviewed: 22/08/2014

Next review due: 22/08/2016


How helpful is this page?

Average rating

Based on 293 ratings

All ratings

Add your rating


The 12 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

MasterT said on 27 October 2014

Hi, I went to the doc's 7 days ago with an itchy anus, which I thought was piles. After examination doctor said that he noticed a small area of "skin erosion" and thought it was probably herpes (I'd had brief sexual contact with a man, his penis/my anus, six weeks previous to this) Doc prescribed a massive dose of Aciclovir (800mg, 5 times a day, for 7 days), which I have now taken. I developed small sores around my anus within 2 days of seeing doc, and these are still present...and my anus is still itching almost as badly as it was a week ago!
So does this mean that I've probably not actually got herpes? Or are there Aciclovir resistant strains of herpes?
N.B..can't get an appointment to see doc again for 5 days, and swab test results aren't back yet.

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

Yummymummy001 said on 15 April 2012

A few years ago, I got with a lad, and a month or two into our relationship he suddenly told me he has herpes, he must of been having an outbreak. So obviously I was concerned. I read up on it, and it seemed standard to not sleep together during an outbreak. What I would like to know is, would he pass on the virus even if he wasn't having an outbreak?
The reason I want to know this is because I have been seeing someone for the past few months, but it hasn't been serious, was more as and when. I don't know if he has been sleeping with other people though. This last week I developed an unusual sensation down below and on looking had a few circular marks and they were like white head ulcerish type things. I presume this is herpes. It was uncomfortable but not deadly painful and there were only 2 or 3 sores from what I could see.
Now, another question, if this person I have been seeing has contracted the herpes from someone else and passed it onto me, how long after sleeping with them would the herpes come out? I know that stress and fatigue can bring it out on its own, and I have been under alot of stress and not sleeping. But if anyone can help I would really appreciate it. TY

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

User641626 said on 04 February 2012

I caught genital herpes from a boyfriend who never had any symptoms. I have had it for 8 years now., and it has never affected my life. I have told boyfriends who I trusted about it and I have never had a bad reaction, it has never affected any of my relationships. People make such a fuss over what is really a minor skin irritation with no long term effects on health. The stigma attached to this virus by ignorant people is ridiculous. Most people have herpes in one form or another. I would advise people to get on with their lives and stop worrying about this condition.

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

2012_Anonymous said on 06 December 2011

One of my ex-sexual partners told me that he has herpes, back in Jan 2011. I have also seen the red blisters on his penis, back in Jan 2011. I have been tested and got the all clear.

I'm no longer in contact with him, but the last time I spoke to him, Sep 2011, he's now trying to say that he doesn't have 'herpes'. He's saying he's clean and the red blisters, on the head of his penis were caused by poor hygine (lying in his dirt / filth for days on end, not getting washed and not washing properly). Apperently his doctor told him that. Can this be true or is it more likely to be a lie?

I don't believe that the red blisters were caused by poor hygine because wouldn't that have just casued a smell, a rash, spots (acne) and irretated skin? But I want to make sure though, incase i could be wrong.

The concern i have, is if he really does have herpes and the red blisters were not caused by poor hygine... Then he's telling people he's clean, when he isn't, which means he's willing to pass herpes onto people.

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

HerpesFish said on 17 October 2011

According to statistics of HerpesFish,com, 16 percent of Americans have HSV-2 infections. The vast majority — between 75 percent and 90 percent – don’t know they are infected because they don’t get, or don’t notice, herpes sores on their genitals. So, we should not judge a person by herpes because you may have it but do not know.

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

Jamie_Rocks said on 27 August 2011

My new partner has genital herpes. This is the first time I've come across an STI so have little knowledge or experience really. I know we have to be safe and use protection but I have other queries.

I presume I can catch herpes from oral sex. Would I just catch it on my lips or would it be present in my genitals also?

Several months ago a cold sore developed on my top lip. I had not had sex for several months although I had kissed people I'd met on a date. Could I also have herpes and would this only be present around my mouth?

Sorry if I sound a little niaive, like I said I have had little experience with STIs.

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

stub said on 18 August 2011

Hi louise claire.I have just found out i hve herpes and wld love to know how to get rid of them.Also does anyone else know what i can do to help with the pain as it is very severe.

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

juke1959 said on 03 August 2011

Hi Louise, Could you please pass the details onto myself as well pls. Thanks

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

juke1959 said on 03 August 2011

Hi Louise, Could you please pass the details onto myself as well pls. Thanks

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

Verity312 said on 20 July 2011

Hi Louise, I'd be really grateful if you could pass along the details of the herbs you took? Thank you!

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

liz1234 said on 18 July 2011

Hi louise I would be totally grateful if you could pass on the details of what you took thank you

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

ellagrace said on 09 July 2011

Hello Louise Claire, can you tell me please what herbs were recommended to you? thank you

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)

Symptoms to look out for, where to go for help and how to protect yourself. Plus real-life stories from people with infections

Symptom checker

If you have a health problem, our symptom checker can help you manage it or find out where to go for help

Find and choose services for Genital herpes