Genital Herpes

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Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are ones that pass from one person to another through sexual contact. This can be from vaginal, anal, or oral sex, and from genital-to-genital contact. STIs are also called sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

Sexual Concerns

Signs & Symptoms

For Females and Males

Human Papillomavirus (HPV)

•  Painful sores and/or blisters on the genital area, anus, thighs, and/or buttocks.

•  Itching, irritation, and tingling can occur 1 to 2 days before the outbreak of the blisters.

•  Outbreaks may be triggered by stress, other illnesses, or vigorous sexual intercourse.

After a few days, the blisters break open and leave painful, shallow ulcers. These can last from 5 days to 3 weeks.


With outbreaks, especially the first one, there may be flu-like symptoms (swollen glands, fever, body aches). Outbreaks that follow are usually milder and shorter. Once infected, the virus lives in nerve cells. New outbreaks can occur even without contact.


•  Herpes simplex virus (HSV-1 or HSV-2). HSV-2 is the common cause. HSV-1 most often affects the oral area as cold sores.

•  The virus is spread by direct skin-to-skin contact from the site of infection to the contact site. It can be spread when no symptoms are noticed. Oral sex can spread herpes from the mouth to the genital area and from the genital area to the mouth.


•  There is no cure. Antiviral medicines can help prevent and shorten outbreaks. During delivery, an infant may need protection from infection if the mother has active herpes.

•  Self-care measures.

Questions to Ask


American Social Health Association (ASHA)


CDC National STD Hotline

800.CDC.INFO (232.4636)

Self-Care / Prevention

Safer Sex To Help Prevent STIs

•  The only sure way to avoid STIs is not having sex. This includes intercourse, oral sex, anal sex, and genital-to-genital contact. Caressing, hugging, dry kissing, and masturbation are no risk or extremely low-risk practices. So is limiting your sexual contact to one person your entire life. This is if your partner does not have an STI and has sex only with you.

•  Latex and polyurethane condoms can help reduce the risk of spreading HIV and other STIs (i.e., chlamydia, gonorrhea, and trichomoniasis). To do this, they must be used the right way for every sex act. They do not get rid of the risk entirely. Barriers made of natural membranes, such as from lamb, do not give good protection against STIs.

•  Females and males should use latex or polyurethane condoms every time they have genital-to-genital contact and/or oral sex. Use polyurethane condoms if either partner is allergic to latex. You don’t need condoms to prevent STIs if you have sex only with one partner and neither of you has an STI.

•  For oral-vaginal sex and oral-anal sex, use latex dams (“doilies”). These are latex squares.

•  Latex condoms with spermicides, such as nonoxynol-9 (N–9) are no better than other lubricated condoms for preventing HIV/STIs. Spermicides with N–9 do not prevent chlamydia, cervical gonorrhea, or HIV. on’t use spermicides alone to prevent HIV/STIs. Using spermicides with N–9 often has been linked with genital lesions which may increase the risk of spreading HIV. Also, N–9 may increase the risk of spreading HIV during anal intercourse.

•  Use water-based lubricants, such as K-Y Brand Jelly. Don’t use oil-based or “petroleum” ones, such as Vaseline. They can damage latex barriers.

•  To lower your risk for HPV, use latex or polyurethane condoms. These work best at covering areas of the body that HPV is most likely to affect. A diaphragm does not prevent the spread of HPV.

•  Don’t have sex while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. You are less likely to use “safer sex” measures.

•  Limit sexual partners. Sexual contact with many persons increases the risk for STIs, especially if no protection is used.

•  Discuss a new partner’s sexual history with him or her before you start having sex. Know that persons are not always honest about their sexual past.

•  Avoid sexual contact with persons whose health status and health practices are not known.

•  Follow your doctor’s advice to check for STIs.

For Genital Herpes

•  If prescribed an oral antiviral medicine, take it as advised.

•  Bathe the affected area twice a day with mild soap and water. Pat dry with a towel or use a hair dryer set on warm. Using a colloidal oatmeal soap or bath may be soothing.

•  Use a sitz bath to soak the affected area. You can buy a sitz bath basin from a medical supply or drug store.

•  Apply ice packs on the affected genital area for 5 to 10 minutes to relieve itching and swelling.

•  Wear loose-fitting pants or skirts. Don’t wear pantyhose. Wear cotton (not nylon) underwear.

•  If pain is made worse when you urinate, squirt tepid water near the urinary opening while you pass urine. Or, urinate while using a sitz bath.

•  Take a mild pain reliever as directed.

•  Ask your doctor about using a local anesthetic ointment, such as lidocaine, during the most painful part of an outbreak.

•  Wash your hands if you touch the blisters or sores. Don’t touch your eyes during an outbreak. Doing this could spread the virus to your eyes.

•  To help avoid spreading the virus to others, use latex barriers during sex and skin-to-skin contact.

This website is not meant to substitute for expert medical advice or treatment. Follow your doctor’s or health care provider’s advice if it differs from what is given in this guide.


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