How Do You Get Herpes? Myths and Facts

Herpes, as we know it, comes in two forms: genital herpes and oral herpes. These conditions are usually caused by one of two viruses: HSV-1 or HSV-2.

There are many myths and stigmas associated with herpes, which is unfortunate since most people have some form of the condition. (Learn More)

Herpes is commonly spread through sexual contact. Pregnant people can pass on genital herpes to their babies. Oral herpes is frequently accidentally spread to young children via routine, nonsexual contact.(Learn More)

In the U.S., roughly 48 percent of people who are 14 to 49 years old have HSV-1, and about 12 percent have HSV-2.(Learn More)

Herpes is able to spread so widely because it stems from incurable viruses. It is often misunderstood, and many people who spread it do not even realize they have it. (Learn More)

Basic interactions, such as having a conversation with someone with herpes, will not spread the virus. Sexual contact, touching open sores, or sharing objects that have touched sores are generally how it is spread.(Learn More)

There is no cure for herpes, and there likely will not be in the near future. At the same time, there are treatments and lifestyle changes that can manage symptoms.

When seeking help for herpes, consult a licensed doctor. (Learn More)

What Is Herpes?

While there are many herpesviruses, such as shingles, what we commonly call herpes is an infection caused by two specific herpesviruses: human simplex virus (HSV) type-1 and type-2. HSV-1 usually causes oral herpes, and HSV-2 usually causes genital herpes.

Unfortunately, the public has many misconceptions about these infections and the viruses that cause them. These myths can be quite damaging, leading to those with herpes feeling ostracized and embarrassed, the unwitting spread of the viruses, and more.

myths vs facts

Myth #1: You Can Only Get Herpes if You Are Sexually Active

Herpes is often associated with sexual promiscuity, specifically in a negative context. Admittedly, both oral and especially genital herpes is spread via sexual contact. At the same time, this is not the full picture. Assuming someone is promiscuous simply because they have herpes is jumping to conclusions, even ignoring the fact that there are healthy ways to be sexually active with multiple partners.

Pregnant people can spread genital herpes to their children. Through either a lack of education or being asymptomatic (discussed below), they may not have even known the risk of spreading herpes.

HSV-1 is frequently contracted in early childhood from completely nonsexual activities with parents who have the virus.

In essence, it is a bad idea to assume someone who has herpes has been engaging in risky sexual activity. It is also noteworthy that many potential partners, upon being informed their partner has herpes, will still willfully engage in sex with them (thus spreading it through informed, monogamous sex).

It is always recommended that you practice safe sex, though there is the potential to spread herpes even if condoms are used. Use of condoms does reduce the spread of herpes, however.

You should avoid sexual contact during outbreaks.

Myth #2: Herpes Is Rare

Up to 80 percent of the world’s population has herpes. In the U.S., roughly 48 percent of people 14 to 49 years old have HSV-1, and about 12 percent have HSV-2.

The virus is easily spread, and incurable. As people get older, the odds they have herpes increase, which makes sense for any virus that is incurable and easily spread.

As people become more informed, practice good hygiene, and engage in safe sex, the spread of herpes can be reduced. While herpes is not often extremely detrimental to quality of life, it can be for some people.

Despite how common it is, always inform a partner once you are aware you have herpes. Understand how it is spread and never misrepresent that information.

Myth #3: Herpes Is Always Obvious

Herpes symptoms come in outbreaks. People will develop sores on their genital or rectal area, buttocks, or thighs if they have genital herpes. They’ll develop sores or blisters on their gums, lips, mouth, and throat during outbreaks of oral herpes. The symptoms then recede.

While many will also have minor symptoms outside of outbreaks, a person who does not show symptoms of herpes presently may still struggle with them on occasion. These outbreaks tend to be most severe the first time and most frequent during the first year of infection. They then become less frequent and less severe with time.

Some people who have herpes are asymptomatic, meaning they show no symptoms despite being able to spread the virus. This is a big reason why the virus is so widespread.

Others might have extremely mild symptoms, never suspecting they have a problem even if someone familiar with the condition could recognize it.

Myth #4: Basic Interactions Can Spread Herpes

Herpes is not spread through everyday interactions. Things like shaking hands and holding a conversation have virtually no chance of spreading the virus.

If you want to avoid catching herpes from someone or spreading it, do not have sex. Even protected sex can potentially spread herpes.

Do not touch the cuts or sores of someone who has herpes. Herpes can be spread through things like affected razors, towels, dishes, and other shared items. If there is even a marginal chance your blood or a sore was exposed to these items, you should not share them. If living in a shared household, you may wish to mark items that are yours so there is no accidental exposure.

Myth #5: There Is a Cure for Herpes

Any website or person claiming to have a cure for herpes is making fraudulent claims. There is no cure.

There is no conspiracy to suppress a cure for herpes nor would there be a benefit to doing so. Any official medical organization would applaud a cure for such a virus if its claims were legitimate.

While the thought of an incurable virus may be extremely disheartening for some, there are ways to reduce your symptoms with lifestyle changes and some medications. Talk to a doctor about your options if you struggle with herpes symptoms.


Genital Herpes. (November 2, 2018). MedlinePlus.

Herpes Simplex. (November 2, 2018). MedlinePlus.

Herpes – Oral. (May 8, 2019). MedlinePlus.

Herpes Myths vs. Facts. The New Zealand Herpes Foundation.

The Truth About Polyamory. (April 19, 2013). Psychology Today.

Here’s How Many Americans Now Have Herpes. (February 7, 2018). Live Science.

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