Genital herpes infection is a sexually transmitted disease caused by the herpes simplex virus types 1 and 2. Herpes infections are common. One study found that over 45 million people in the United States have had a genital herpes infection.
The virus is released from the skin of the infected person and transmitted through sexual contact. While the virus is more likely to be transmitted during an active outbreak (when you can see the presence of genital sores), it can also be transmitted between outbreaks (when there are no visible sores). Studies have shown that patients without active lesions can still shed the virus on 3 to 6 percent of days. In addition, one study looking at the rate of transmission found that in 70 percent of patients, transmission of genital herpes was linked to sexual contact during periods of asymptomatic viral shedding (when there were no visible sores).
You can do several things to decrease your risk of acquiring herpes. First and foremost, abstaining from sexual activity is the best protection against contracting genital herpes. However, if you are sexually active, condoms do decrease the risk of transmission. Remember, any direct contact between mucous membranes (i.e., the kind of contact that occurs during oral, vaginal or anal sex) can lead to viral transmission. Also, if your current partner has genital herpes, they may want to consider suppressive therapy, which has been shown to decrease the rate of viral shedding and thus helps to reduce the likelihood of transmission.
Note that using a condom decreases transmission, but ONLY by about 50%.
Herpes can be transmitted with oral to oral, genital to oral, or gential to genital contact.
Some folks get outbreaks on the buttocks and assume their genitalia is clear, but this is a myth. If you have a lesion on the buttocks, covering it up with a band-aid and then having unprotected sex exposes your partner to herpes.
You can even get herpes from a toilet seat. So get into the habit of putting TP down on public toilet seats, or just hovering. (This is why so many women get herpes on the buttocks.)