Expert Answers Factual Answers to Your Sexual Health Questions

Anonymous on November 10, 2011

I’m confused about how you get herpes. Can you help?

How do you get herpes? Is it passed in semen?

answered by Lisa Oldson, MD on November 10, 2011

That’s a great question because different STDs can be transmitted in different ways. Unlike many other STDs that can be passed through body fluids, herpes is transmitted by skin-to-skin contact.

You can get genital herpes through genital-to-genital or mouth-to-genital contact from an infected person…but it is not passed in semen.

For example, if your partner has active genital herpes sores, and those sores touch the skin around your genitals, you’re at high risk for catching the virus, too. You don’t need to have intercourse to transmit or catch genital herpes.

Keep in mind that if your partner no longer has herpes sores or has never had symptoms, there is still some risk. Why? Herpes sores don’t need to be present to transmit the disease. Skin cells infected with herpes can shed the virus even when signs of infection aren’t present.

And most people who have a genital herpes infection have never noticed any visible signs of infection and don’t know they’re infected. In fact, researchers estimate that of the more than 50 million people in the United States with genital herpes, as few as 10% may be aware of their infection.

Getting tested is the only way to be sure of your own and your partner’s herpes status. To help you get tested, we offer the Herpes Simplex Virus Type-Specific HSV-1/2 IgG blood test (or HSV 1/2 IgG). This blood test can identify whether you or your partner has a herpes infection so that you can make more informed decisions about safer sex practices and about herpes treatment, if needed.

Do you have more questions about how herpes can be transmitted or how to prevent herpes? Please look through our Expert Guide to Herpes 1 + 2 for more.

Related info:

Lisa Oldson, MD

Dr. Oldson is Medical Director of the Analyte Physicians Group. She is on staff at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, as well as Clinical Instructor at the Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University. Her areas of expertise include STDs (with a particular clinical emphasis on herpes), women's health, preventive medicine, diabetes, obesity and weight management, and mood and anxiety disorders. Dr. Oldson was educated at Rush Medical College and completed her residency at Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center in Chicago, IL.

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