Genital Herpes 101: Definition, Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Genital Herpes

What is genital herpes?

Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by a virus called the herpes simplex virus (HSV). HSV is a latent virus, meaning it can lie dormant in your body after initial infection and cause several recurring outbreaks––or flare ups––after its first outbreak. You can contract genital herpes through oral, vaginal, or anal sex.


Genital herpes may be hard to spot, as many infected individuals are often asymptomatic or experience mild symptoms that can be mistaken for other conditions. 

Most symptomatic people will notice red bumps, white blisters, or ulcers at the site of infection. Ulcers can cause pain and discomfort, especially if they break up or bleed. In women, ulcers can appear on different parts of the body, including the vulva, vagina, buttocks, anus, and thighs. Men will usually develop ulcers on the penis or scrotum.

Additionally, genital herpes can cause symptoms such as:

  • Blisters on the mouth or lips
  • Pain or discomfort when urinating
  • Fever and headache
  • Joint pain

It’s important to remember that genital herpes can spread even if one has no visible lesions or symptoms.

Recurring outbreaks

Unlike many other STIs, genital herpes causes recurring outbreaks. Most people experience more severe symptoms during the first outbreak; afterwards, symptoms often subside and return as recurring flare-ups. Having another viral or bacterial infection, menstrual periods, and stress can trigger outbreaks.

In general, genital herpes causes the most flare-ups in the first year after infection and decreases over time. Medications can help ease your symptoms as well as shorten the length and frequency of recurring outbreaks.

How to prevent genital herpes

Genital herpes spreads through sexual contact. An infected person can transmit the disease even if they have no visible lesions or other symptoms. Because it is often asymptomatic, many people go months without knowing they have been infected. Therefore, it is important that you get tested frequently for STIs, particularly if you have multiple sexual partners or have a new sexual partner. You should also encourage your partner(s) to get tested as well. In addition, make sure to take precautions such as using barrier methods during sex and openly communicate with your partner about your needs. 


Early diagnosis and treatment is crucial to ensure your symptoms do not progress and to limit transmission. If you think you may have genital herpes, you should reach out to a healthcare professional as soon as possible. You can book a teleconsultation with an Ease physician at any time––we offer judgment-free, discreet care and treatment for your sexual health. You can also consider booking an STI test with us and get checked for herpes. Our STI tests can be taken in the comfort of your home or you can walk into one of our partner clinics.

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