Transmitting the Herpes Virus
Herpes is spread by direct skin-to-skin or mucous membrane contact. Genital herpes is passed through sexual contact, including penile-vaginal intercourse, anal intercourse, oral-genital sex, and other sexual body-to-body contact.
Most cases are acquired through vaginal or anal intercourse with a person who has a genital HSV-2 infection. Some cases are acquired through oral sex; this is probably the main way that people get genital herpes due to HSV-1.
You can get genital herpes by having sex with someone who has open sores (a genital herpes outbreak) and when someone has no sores. However, herpes is most contagious when a person has open sores. People with herpes should not have sexual activity when sores or other herpes symptoms are present.
While sexual intercourse and oral sex are the main ways that genital herpes is transmitted, the virus can also be passed from mother to child during delivery (see Genital Herpes and Pregnancy); Herpes is not transmitted by sitting on contaminated toilet seats, by hot tubs or swimming pools, or through other kinds of non-intimate contact.
Spreading herpes from one part of your body to another (autoinoculation) is possible but unusual. To be safe, wash your hands with soap if you touch a herpes sore.