What are the Different Methods of Genital Herpes Transmission?

Erin J. Hill
Erin J. Hill
One form of genital herpes infects the mouth and can be spread through kissing or oral sex.
One form of genital herpes infects the mouth and can be spread through kissing or oral sex.

Genital herpes transmission always comes as the result of physical contact with an infected person. This usually occurs during sexual activities, since the delicate mucus membranes around the genitals are most vulnerable to herpes infection. It can also be spread through oral sex or kissing, since one form of the virus is found in the mouth and may cause cold sores. On occasion, although extremely rare, herpes may be spread through sitting on toilet seats with infected fluid on them.

Herpes can be spread through oral sex.
Herpes can be spread through oral sex.

The most common genital herpes transmission method is through sexual intercourse, either vaginal or anal. Transmission is most common when the infected partner is having an outbreak, but the virus can be spread at any time. Many people with herpes do not know they have it, so spreading it to a partner is generally by accident. This can be prevented by using protective barriers, such as latex condoms, during sex every time. Testing is also a good idea for both partners, unless they have not been sexually active with any other person.

Oral sex can also lead to the transmission of genital herpes, because herpes from the mouth can be spread to the genital regions and vice versa. This is a less common way to pass the virus along, and it too generally happens during an outbreak. Condoms are the best preventative method for oral to genital herpes transmission.

Very rarely, other methods of genital herpes transmission may take place. For instance, touching the genitals of sexual partner and then touching one’s own body can spread the virus, even without intercourse. To prevent this, it is important to wash one’s hands after touching another person, including diaper changes and sexual contact. In public restrooms, seat covers or sanitizer may offer some protection.

The spreading of herpes is less likely when there are no lesions present, but this is not always the case. There are some prescription medications which lessen the number of outbreaks and may prevent the spreading of herpes, but barrier methods such as latex condoms are still recommended. Those who know they have herpes should be up front with partners to allow them to make informed decisions about their sexual health.

In some cases, herpes can be spread from a mother to her child during the birth process. This is rare in mothers who have no herpes-related sores at the time of delivery, but can be very serious or fatal if the virus is spread to the newborn. Women who have a current outbreak may be advised to have a Cesarean section to prevent spreading the disease. Those with no visible symptoms may be allowed to give birth vaginally, and the baby will be closely monitored for many days after birth for signs of an infection.

Discussion Comments


@SarahGen-- I'm not a doctor and I urge you to discuss this with your physician for the most accurate answer.

It used to be thought that genital herpes can only be transmitted during an outbreak. However, recent studies have shown that it is possible to transmit the virus at other times. It is known that the body removes the virus through skin periodically. There are no visible signs and symptoms of this activity, so it is not possible to know when it is occurring. It is thought that herpes can be transmitted at these times.

Doctors are now recommending to avoid sexual activity during outbreaks and to use protection at all other times. It's also a good idea to use anti-viral medications to reduce the chances of breakouts and transmission.

Like I said though, I'm not a doctor and this is a serious issue. So please ask a doctor about this, don't take just anyone's word.


I was told that genital herpes can only be transmitted only when there is an outbreak. Can the virus really spread at any time?

If so,are those infected with genital herpes supposed to avoid sexual relations for the rest of their life?!


I used to think that genital herpes can only be transmitted through sex. But I've learned that although it is rare, genital herpes can be transmitted through oral sex.

It's kind of confusing because there are two types of herpes viruses. Herpes simplex type 1 is the common cold sore virus and it mostly affects the lips. Herpes simplex type 2 is genital herpes and mostly affects the genitals. But there are those rare cases where herpes simplex type 2 may spread from the genitals of one partner to the mouth of another during oral sex. As far as I know, it's also possible (but extremely rare), for herpes type 1 to pass from the lips of one partner to the genitals of the other partner.

So the only sure way to know what type of herpes one has, especially if oral sex has taken place, is to get tested. Doctors take a swap of the blister and have it tested in the lab which reveals the type of herpes virus.

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    • One form of genital herpes infects the mouth and can be spread through kissing or oral sex.
      By: uwimages
      One form of genital herpes infects the mouth and can be spread through kissing or oral sex.
    • Herpes can be spread through oral sex.
      By: Imagery Majestic
      Herpes can be spread through oral sex.