Genital herpes is caused by HSV (Herpes Simplex Virus). There are two types of herpes simplex viruses: HSV-1 and HSV-2. HSV-1 generally prefers the area around the mouth (also referred to as “cold sores” or “fever blisters”) and HSV-2 generally prefers the genitals (also referred to as genital herpes). These two virus types belong to the much larger herpes virus family, which includes other viruses such as chicken pox and Mononucleosis.
After the first herpes outbreak (which tends to be the most extreme as the body hasn’t developed antibodies to fight it yet), the herpes virus goes into latency (also known as herpes dormancy) in the spinal ganglia where it stays until it is roused from its sleep for the next herpes outbreak (which may never happen). Get to know your body and how it feels when outbreaks are coming on (also known as herpes prodrome symptoms).
Whether or not an outbreak is active, your partner can still get herpes. How can this be? Herpes doesn’t need to be visible on the skin in order to be passed. Depending on the type of herpes and the location on the body, the herpes virus silently sheds from the original infection site in a process called viral shedding. You can’t know for sure when shedding is happening due to lack of visible herpes symptoms (hence the asymptomatic part). Suppressive therapy can help lessen the chance of passing herpes to a partner by around 50%).