Genital herpes is caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). The virus is very contagious and spreads from one person to another through skin-to-skin contact, such as during vaginal, anal, or oral sex.
Whenever HSV is present on the surface of your skin, it can be passed onto a partner. The virus passes easily through the moist skin which lines your genitals, mouth, and anus. In some cases, you may also be infected by coming into contact with other parts of the body that can be affected by herpes simplex, such as the eyes and skin.
However, genital herpes usually cannot be passed on via objects, such as towels, cutlery or cups, because the virus dies very quickly when it is away from your skin.
Once you have been infected with HSV, it can be ‘reactivated’ every so often to cause a new bout of genital herpes. This is known as recurrence.
Why does genital herpes recur?
After you have been exposed to HSV, the virus stays within the nerves of your skin, even when you do not have any symptoms of genital herpes. Most of the time the virus is dormant (inactive), but it may become active again from time to time.
No one actually knows why HSV is reactivated. Most likely the following ‘triggers’ are responsible for the symptoms of genital herpes recurring: friction in your genital area, such as during sexual intercourse, may bring on a recurrence. Other possible triggers include:
- being ‘run down’, or ill,
- drinking excess amounts of alcohol, and
- exposure of your genital area to strong sunlight.