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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.

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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 the most easily. But herpes is usually passed 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.