Genital herpes can be passed from one person to another during sexual contact. Anyone who is sexually active can get the virus. Both men and women can have genital herpes, and pass it on.
The Herpes simplex virus is most likely to be passed on just before, during or straight after an outbreak.
Genital herpes can be passed on:
From one person to another during vaginal or anal sex, or by sharing sex toys.
By skin to skin contact during sex. It can be passed on by close genital contact – you don’t need to have penetrative sex (vaginal or anal) to pass it on.
By skin to skin contact during sex if the virus is active on the skin outside the area protected by a condom or latex square.
If you receive oral sex from someone who has a cold sore or is just about to get one.
If a person with herpes on the hand or finger touches a partner's vagina, genitals or anal area.
It is possible for a pregnant woman to pass the virus to her baby if she is having an outbreak at the time of giving birth (see below, What happens if I have genital herpes when I’m pregnant?).
If you already have one type of Herpes simplex virus it is still possible for you to get the other type although you may not notice symptoms.
You cannot get genital herpes from hugging, sharing baths or towels, from swimming pools, toilet seats or from sharing cups, plates or cutlery.