Herpes infection — either HSV 1 or HSV 2 — happens when the virus enters the body. It gains access through a vulnerable part of the skin, such as the mouth or the genital area (via a small cut, abrasion or mucous membrane). Because mucous membranes are more vulnerable than the tough barrier of regular skin, women are twice as likely to get herpes than men (a vagina has more mucous membrane than a penis).
Once inside the body, herpes travels to the nerve ganglia (located at the top of the spine for oral herpes infections or the bottom for genital herpes infections), where it “sleeps” (also see herpes dormancy) until something triggers herpes into action. (Centers for Disease Control statistics indicate that up to 80% of people infected with herpes don’t even know they have it because they experience such mild symptoms of herpes, or sometimes none.)