Genital herpes can be passed from one person to another during sexual contact. Anyone who is sexually active can get the virus and pass it on.
Herpes simplex is most likely to be passed on just before, during or straight after an outbreak.
Genital herpes can be passed on:
- from one person to another during vaginal or anal sex, or by sharing sex toys with someone who has herpes
- by direct genital contact – you don’t need to have penetrative sex (vaginal or anal)
- by transferring the infection on fingers from someone else to your genitals
- by skin to skin contact with the affected area during sex (including vaginal, anal and oral sex when there are no visible sores or blisters). If the virus is active on the skin outside of the area protected by a condom or dam (a latex or soft plastic square)
- if you receive oral sex (going down, giving head) from someone who has a cold sore or is just about to get one
- if a person with an active herpes sore on the hand or finger touches a partner’s vagina, genitals or anal area
- if a cold sore touches your genitals
If you are pregnant it is possible to pass the virus to the baby if you are having your first outbreak at the time of giving birth.
If you already have one type of herpes simplex virus it is still possible for you to get the other type although you may not notice symptoms.
You cannot get genital herpes from hugging, sharing baths or towels, from clothing, from swimming pools, toilet seats or from sharing cups, plates or cutlery