Since there is no herpes cure, it does stay in your body for life. But for most of the time it’s not active (especially after you build up more immunity to it after the first 6-12 months). On average, people have 2-4 herpes outbreaks per year (see more herpes statistics and herpes facts). Some may never have a visible herpes outbreak. This is due to herpes dormancy. Think of herpes as a bear who hibernates until rustled from its slumber to head outdoors again (see herpes triggers). Sometimes this metaphorical bear is restless, while other times it sleeps long and hard. (Keep in mind that even when it lies dormant, you can still spread herpes via herpes viral shedding.)
Some people can have HSV for months or even years without experiencing a herpes outbreak, while others experience an outbreak almost immediately after acquiring HSV. Keeping your mind and body healthy contributes to keeping herpes at bay. You can also consider taking herpes medication if you want more control over your outbreaks and/or want to keep your herpes-free partner safe (see reasons to take medication). The Mayo Clinic notes that it’s possible for someone who experiences an initial herpes outbreak to go up to 40 years before they have another.