Herpes Transmission Rates – Why One Partner Might Not Get It

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Many couples in which one partner has genital herpes have a healthy sex life. If they are cautious, they might never transmit it to the uninfected partner. Avoiding sex during and near an outbreak, condom use, and taking antivirals drastically reduce transmission rates. In fact, it’s possible to get transmission rates down to 1%. These herpes transmission rates show female-to-male and male-to-female contagiousness in different conditions.

Herpes transmission rates in couples suggest it's possible for one partner not to catch genital herpes from their partner during sex. The list considers sex by simply avoiding sex during outbreaks, using condoms, and using both condoms and antivirals. The transmission rate can get as low as 1% from female to male or 2% from male to female in a year of regular sex.

Herpes Transmission Rates with Valtrex

Suppressive therapy is the use of prescription Valtrex on a daily basis whether an outbreak is present or not. Whereas Valtrex is commonly used to stop an outbreak, it can also be used daily to prevent outbreaks from occurring to begin with. This daily use of Valtrex also reduces the proclivity of the virus to “shed”, i.e. be contagious as often. Its use appears in studies to reduce the viral shedding periods by 50%.

Men vs. Women’s Transmission Rates and Contagiousness

Because of the nature of male and female genitalia, it is easier for herpes to be transmitted to a woman by a man than vice-versa. This is because female genitals have more exposed soft tissue. This also accounts for why approximately 1 out of 4 American women have herpes, whereas 1 out of 5 American men does.

Herpes Transmission Rates Breakdown

  • The likelihood of passing genital herpes to a partner is highest during an outbreak (times when a sore is present).
  • When a person is not experiencing an outbreak, there is a 4-10% chance of transmitting it. (Depending on gender)

According to studies done by Valtrex, these are the rates of transmission per year of regular sex:

  • If partners avoid sex during outbreaks: 4% chance transmission from female to male; 8% male to female
  • If partners also use condoms or antiviral medication: 2% female to male; 4% per year male to female
  • If partners also use condoms and antiviral medications: 1% female to male; 2% male to female

Limitations of the Data

Keep in mind that more research is needed. For one, the above study focus on couples who have been together a while. The data for brand new couples could differ. Plus, the Valtrex study above look at HSV-2 specifically. Of course, many cases of genital herpes these days are tied to HSV-1. And finally, there is no data available about same-sex couples. Keep these limitations in mind when looking at the data.


These herpes transmission rates should be encouraging for couples who wish to have a healthy sex life without passing the virus from one partner to the uninfected partner. When staying informed and weighing the risks and precautions, genital herpes does not have to be a barrier to intimacy. There are many couples who have been together for years, yet the partner with genital herpes never passed it to their partner.

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