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Risk Factors for Genital Herpes

  • Cynthia M. Johnson, MA
Publication Type:

Condition InDepth

Risk Factors for Genital Herpes

A risk factor is something that raises your chances of getting a health problem.

Genital herpes is more common in women than in men. But the infection spreads from men to women more easily. The risk is highest among teens and young adults who are more likely to take risks with sex.

The biggest risk is the number of sex partners in a person’s lifetime. Other things that may raise your risk are:

  • Sex with a person who has it
  • Many or frequent changes in sex partners
  • Not using a condom or using it the wrong way
  • Prior sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
  • HIV infection or other health problems that make it hard for the body to fight infections
  • Sex at an early age

Genital herpes can't be seen. You can't tell if someone has it. Since most people do not know they are infected, it can spread from person to person without their knowledge.


  • 2015 Sexually transmitted diseases treatment guidelines. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/std/tg2015/default.htm. Updated January 25, 2017. Accessed August 10, 2018.
  • Bradley H, Markowitz LE, Gibson T, McQuillan GM. Seroprevalence of herpes simplex virus types 1 and 2—United States, 1999-2010. J Infect Dis. 2014;209(3):325-333.
  • Genital herpes. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114875/Genital-herpes . Updated February 19, 2018. Accessed August 10, 2018.
  • Genital herpes. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/infectious-diseases/herpesviruses/genital-herpes. Updated February 2018. Accessed August 10, 2018.
  • Genital herpes—CDC fact sheet (detailed). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/std/herpes/stdfact-herpes-detailed.htm. Updated February 9, 2017. Accessed August 10, 2018.
  • Groves MJ. Genital herpes: a review. Am Fam Physician. 2016;93(11):928-934.
  • 6/14/2012 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T116271/Neonatal-herpes : 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.


  • Beverly Siegal, MD, FACOG
Last Updated:

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.