Herpes in Women: Easier to Get, Harder to Spot?

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About one in four women in the United States has herpes, and yet about 80% of those who do don’t know it. Herpes symptoms can vary in women, not to mention that there are concerns specific to HSV-positive women like pregnancy and breastfeeding. Read on for the specific signs, symptoms, and treatment outlooks of herpes in women.

Herpes More Common in Women

genital herpes in womenSlightly more women have herpes than men. Where it’s one in four women, it’s one in five who are positive. That’s just because of the nature of female genitalia: plenty of soft tissue is exposed for skin contact, which is presumably more receptive to any virus or STD. (Order fast, private STD testing online here.)

Symptoms of Herpes in Women

Outbreaks and other symptoms of herpes in women usually appear within two days to two weeks after exposure to the virus. However, this isn’t always the case. Many women have carried the virus for years without knowing it, probably because some cases don’t have symptoms or only have very mild symptoms. Nonetheless, the virus can still be spread by women who have mild or no symptoms.

In women who do have herpes symptoms, outbreaks can be obvious or hidden. Blisters or lesions usually appear on or around the labia, inner thighs, or buttocks — but can sometimes show up internally on the cervix! This can make it difficult for a woman to realize she is even having an outbreak if she isn’t aware of her condition yet.

Milder symptoms of herpes outbreak can include fatigue, headaches, muscle tenderness, fever and chills.

Herpes Transmission Rates

Herpes transmission rates actually vary depending on the sex of those participating. Herpes is very contagious, but can be managed. Transmission rates can be significantly lowered with Valtrex (or Valocyclovir or Acyclovir) and condom use, and by always avoiding sex during outbreaks.

  • 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

Herpes and Pregnancy

A lot of women with herpes wonder if they can still have children, and if the children will be healthy. Happily, you absolutely can have kids, and they aren’t likely to get the virus as long as you let your doctor know everything so all the right precautions can be taken. Women with herpes have babies all the time. As long as you are not having a herpes outbreak when you go into labor, the baby should not get infected. To prevent an outbreak if a doctor thinks it’s likely, they will sometimes prescribe Valtrex for the last trimester or so to make sure. If you are having an outbreak for some reason during labor, or there is a reason to be concerned, your doctor will perform a C-section. This way, the virus won’t transmit to the baby. (Read more about having kids when you have herpes, or about Valtrex and pregnancy.)


For many people, the worst part of having herpes is the label. Other than that, herpes can be highly manageable and doesn’t have to rule your life at all! There are prescription medications, natural home remedies and holistic treatments, and a healthy lifestyle.

Women with herpes can also still have a happy love and sex life! If any women with herpes are looking for love, there are dating sites for people with HSV, or ways of letting someone know you have it.

If you think you could have herpes (or any STD), consult with your doctor. A trusted doctor can test a herpes sore or do a blood test to determine whether you have HSV-1 or HSV-2, and advise you on your options. Or you can order fast, private STD testing online here.