Does Genital Herpes Hurt? What to Expect

Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted infection (STI). Outbreaks of herpes sores can be painful, but most people with genital herpes experience no symptoms or only mild symptoms. Many people won't know they have the infection and won't have pain. Others may experience discomfort or symptoms like itching.

Learn more about the symptoms of genital herpes, what it feels like, how to manage it and what to expect.

Person feeling pain of genital herpes

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Genital Herpes Symptoms

Most people with genital herpes either have no symptoms or mild symptoms. Even mild symptoms may go unnoticed. For this reason, many people may be unaware they have herpes.

If symptoms occur, they may include one or a cluster of blister-like sores in the genital area, which may be painful. This is referred to as having an outbreak. Sometimes, these sores may be mistaken for other conditions like ingrown hairs or pimples.

Along with sores, it is also possible to experience flu-like symptoms. These may include:

  • Muscle pain
  • Headache
  • Swollen lymph nodes, in particular in the groin area
  • Fatigue
  • Fever

What Does Genital Herpes Feel Like?

Many people will never notice they have genital herpes and won't feel any symptoms.

Before sores from genital herpes appear on the skin, a person with genital herpes may experience symptoms of a burning sensation or tingling in the area where a sore will soon appear. There may also be an itchy feeling or a feeling of discomfort in the genital area.

Before sores develop, there may also be a tingling or burning feeling when urinating. If a blister from genital herpes bursts, this may leave behind sores that can be painful.

Managing Genital Herpes

There is no cure for genital herpes, but options are available for managing the condition.

Medications can shorten the duration of herpes outbreaks and also make them less likely to occur. Daily herpes medication can also reduce the chances of an infection being passed on to a sexual partner.

If sores from herpes become uncomfortable, steps can be taken to manage any discomfort. These include:

  • Wearing clothes that are loose and soft to touch
  • Using an ice pack on sores that cause discomfort
  • Keeping the genital area dry
  • Having a warm bath
  • Using a pain reliever like aspirin, Tylenol (acetaminophen), or Advil (ibuprofen)

It is important not to touch sores from herpes or the fluids from the sores. Doing this can cause the infection to be transmitted to other parts of the body. If your hands come into contact with a sore or fluids, wash them immediately to avoid transmitting the infection.

Genital herpes outbreaks can occur again and again. The exact trigger for an outbreak of herpes is unknown and can be due to a variety of factors. These include:

  • Stress
  • Surgery
  • Sex
  • Menstruation
  • Other infections

Complications of Genital Herpes

Genital herpes has the potential to cause complications. Acquiring genital herpes also raises the risk of getting HIV. The risk is two to three times higher in people with genital herpes. Those with both genital herpes and HIV are more likely to transmit HIV to other people.

In those who are immunocompromised (have a weakened immune system), herpes can come back more often and also cause more severe symptoms. Though rare, possible complications may include:

  • Brain infection
  • Spread of infection to other systems of the body
  • Eye infection

If an infant is exposed to the herpes virus during delivery, they may acquire neonatal herpes. This occurs in 10 in every 100,000 births globally. It is serious and can be life-threatening.

What to Expect

Herpes is common. Genital herpes can be acquired by anyone who has had sex. You may be concerned about how it can affect your intimate relationships or fear possible stigma, Know that many people have happy lives and relationships even with herpes.

If you receive a diagnosis of genital herpes, it is important to follow your healthcare provider's advice regarding treatment. Reaching out to a trusted friend or even a support group may also help if you are struggling.

It is also important you tell anyone you have recently had or intend to have sex with about your diagnosis.

If you have herpes and are pregnant, this can lead to complications for you and the fetus. You can also transmit the herpes infection to your baby. During pregnancy, it is important to be upfront with your healthcare provider about your herpes status.

Regardless of whether or not you receive treatment, outbreaks from genital herpes often get shorter and milder as time passes.


Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted infection. Many people with the infection may not notice it due to having mild or no symptoms. Some people may experience itching or a burning sensation before sores develop. The sores may be painful.

Other symptoms, including flu-like symptoms, may accompany genital herpes. There is no cure for genital herpes, but the condition can be managed with medication, and outbreaks will decrease with time.

A Word From Verywell

It can be uncomfortable or embarrassing to deal with a sexually transmitted infection. But it is important to remember genital herpes is common. If you are experiencing symptoms that may indicate herpes, or believe you may have been exposed to the virus, consider reaching out to a healthcare provider.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Does herpes hurt to touch?

    Not everyone with herpes will notice symptoms. Sores may go unnoticed, but the blisters may also burst, and these sores can be painful.

  • Are genital herpes always painful?

    Genital herpes can be painful but isn't always. Many people don't even know they have herpes. The large majority of people will have either no symptoms or mild symptoms. They may even mistake herpes sores for ingrown hairs or pimples.

  • How long do herpes sores last?

    The first outbreak of herpes sores usually occurs between two days to three weeks after transmission. When sores appear, they will often scab over and heal within two to six weeks.

  • Are genital herpes sores itchy?

    Not everyone with herpes sores will feel itchy. Some people may not even notice them. However, some people may experience symptoms before herpes sores appear, including an itchy or burning feeling in the area where a sore will soon develop.

6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Genital herpes – CDC fact sheet.

  2. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Genital herpes: signs and symptoms.

  3. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Genital herpes.

  4. Planned Parenthood. How do I get treatment for herpes?
  5. World Health Organization. Herpes simplex virus.

  6. Planned Parenthood. Living with herpes.