Go to Content Go to Navigation Go to Navigation Go to Site Search Homepage

Genital herpes is spread by having vaginal, anal, or oral sex with someone who has the virus. Using condoms can help lower the risk of giving or getting herpes.

Want to get tested for herpes?

Find a Health Center

How to prevent herpes

Genital herpes is spread from sexual skin-to-skin contact with someone who has it — including vaginal, anal, and oral sex. So the best way to avoid herpes and other STDs is to not have any contact with another person’s mouth or genitals.

But most people have sex at some point in their lives, so knowing how to have safer sex is important. Using protection like condoms and dental dams when you have sex helps to lower your risk of getting an STD.

Herpes can live on areas of your body that aren’t protected by condoms (like the scrotum, butt cheeks, upper thighs, and labia), so condoms won’t always protect you from herpes. But they do lower your chances of getting herpes.

Don’t have sex with anyone during a herpes outbreak, because that’s when it spreads most easily. But herpes can also spread when there are no sores or symptoms, so it’s important to use condoms and dental dams, even if everything looks and feels A-OK.

How can I make sure I don’t give anyone herpes?

If you find out that you have herpes, try not to freak out. There are a few ways that you can stop it from spreading to your partners and other parts of your body.

  • Always use condoms and dental dams during oral, anal, and vaginal sex.

  • Talk with your doctor about taking herpes medication every day, which can lower your chances of spreading herpes.

  • Don’t have sex during a herpes outbreak, even with a condom. There may be sores on places the condom doesn’t cover.

  • Learn how to tell when an outbreak is coming, and stop having sex right when you notice these signs. You may feel a burning, itching, or tingling feeling that lets you know you’re about to get sores.

  • Don’t have sex until your sores are totally gone, and the scabs heal and fall off.

  • Don’t touch your herpes sores, because you can spread the infection to other parts of your body or other people. If you touch a sore, wash your hands with soap and water right after.

  • Don’t wet contact lenses with spit — this might spread your oral herpes to your eye.

  • If you have a cold sore on your mouth, don't kiss anyone — especially babies, children, or pregnant women.

  • Always tell your sexual partners that you have herpes before you have sex, so you can work together to prevent it from spreading. Telling someone you have an STD can be hard, but herpes is super common and doesn’t lead to serious health problems. So try not to be too embarrassed or stressed out about it.

People who have herpes are twice as likely to get HIV as people who don’t. And people who have herpes and HIV have a much bigger chance of passing HIV to their partners. So it’s really important to use condoms to help protect yourself and your partner.

More questions from patients:

How can I prevent spreading herpes to my child?

If you have herpes, it’s possible to pass it to your baby during childbirth, so it’s common to test pregnant people for herpes, especially if you have symptoms. If you already had herpes before getting pregnant and don’t have an outbreak during childbirth, it’s not very likely that you’ll spread herpes to your baby. If you get herpes while you’re pregnant, especially close to your delivery, you’re more likely to pass herpes to your baby. So if you think you may have become infected during your pregnancy, it’s important to tell your nurse or doctor so they can test you and give you antiviral medicine to help prevent your baby from getting herpes. If you have signs of an outbreak when you’re giving birth, your doctor or nurse may recommend that you get a c-section to avoid giving herpes to your baby.

If your baby is born with herpes it can be very serious and can even cause death. Herpes symptoms in newborns include high fever, seizures, and being extremely tired. Symptoms can start anywhere from 5-9 days after getting exposed during birth. If any of these symptoms show up in your newborn, let your nurse or doctor know right away. 

Herpes can’t be passed to your baby through breast milk unless you have sores. If you have sores on your breast, don’t breastfeed or give your baby expressed milk from that breast until your sores have healed. Make sure any herpes sores that your baby could come into contact with on other parts of your body (like your mouth) are covered when you hold your baby or while breastfeeding. Wash your hands with soap and water before and after feeding your baby. You can also prevent spreading herpes to your child by making sure you don’t kiss them while you have sores on your mouth.

Was this page helpful?
You’re the best! Thanks for your feedback.
Thanks for your feedback.

This website uses cookies

Planned Parenthood cares about your data privacy. We and our third-party vendors use cookies and other tools to collect, store, monitor, and analyze information about your interaction with our site to improve performance, analyze your use of our sites and assist in our marketing efforts. You may opt out of the use of these cookies and other tools at any time by visiting Cookie Settings. By clicking “Allow All Cookies” you consent to our collection and use of such data, and our Terms of Use. For more information, see our Privacy Notice.

Cookie Settings

Planned Parenthood cares about your data privacy. We and our third-party vendors, use cookies, pixels, and other tracking technologies to collect, store, monitor, and process certain information about you when you access and use our services, read our emails, or otherwise engage with us. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences, or your device. We use that information to make the site work, analyze performance and traffic on our website, to provide a more personalized web experience, and assist in our marketing efforts. We also share information with our social media, advertising, and analytics partners. You can change your default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of required cookies when utilizing our site; this includes necessary cookies that help our site to function (such as remembering your cookie preference settings). For more information, please see our Privacy Notice.



We use online advertising to promote our mission and help constituents find our services. Marketing pixels help us measure the success of our campaigns.



We use qualitative data, including session replay, to learn about your user experience and improve our products and services.



We use web analytics to help us understand user engagement with our website, trends, and overall reach of our products.