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It is possible to develop genital herpes with or without the risk factors listed below. However, the more risk factors you have, the greater your likelihood of becoming infected with genital herpes. If you have a number of risk factors, ask your doctor what you can do to reduce your risk.

The virus can spread from direct person-to-person contact. Any sexual or non-sexual contact involving the mouth, genitals, or anus can increase the risk of the virus being transmitted.

  • Having a partner who is infected with genital herpes.
  • Having unprotected vaginal, anal, or oral sex.
  • Having multiple sexual partners.
  • Becoming sexually active at a young age.
  • If your partner has a cold sore and performs oral sex, you can get genital herpes.

Women are more easily infected with genital herpes than men.

Socioeconomic Factors

Many new infections occur in adolescents and young adults. Herpes simplex type 1 virus, which causes cold sores, is becoming a more common cause of genital herpes in young adults.

Health Factors
  • Having HIV and other conditions that affect the immune system
  • Having a history of other sexually transmitted disease
  • Having a mother with genital herpes increases a newborn's risk of getting the virus


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Seroprevalence of herpes simplex virus type 2 among persons aged 14-49 years—United States, 2005-2008. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep . 2010;59(15):456-459.

Genital herpes—CDC fact sheet. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: . Updated February 11, 2013. Accessed February 25, 2013.

Herpes genitalis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: . Updated September 4, 2012. Accessed February 25, 2013.

Roberts C. Genital herpes in young adults: changing sexual behaviours, epidemiology and management. Herpes . 2005;12(1):10-13.

Workowski KA, Berman S, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sexually Transmitted Diseases Treatment Guidelines, 2010. MMWR . 2010;59(No. RR-12):1-110.

6/14/2012 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance : Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Neonatal herpes simplex virus infection following Jewish ritual circumcisions that included direct orogenital suction—New York City, 2000-2011. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep . 2012;61:405-409.

Last reviewed May 2014 by David Horn, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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