Does Genital Herpes Cause Discharge?

Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted infection (STI). Not everyone with genital herpes will have symptoms. Some people may get sores and flu-like symptoms if they have genital herpes. In people with a vagina, genital herpes can also cause an unusual discharge.

Learn more about genital herpes discharge, other symptoms of genital herpes, outbreak triggers, when to see a healthcare provider, and treatment options.

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Genital Herpes Discharge

Genital herpes does not cause symptoms in everyone with the infection. Some people with a vagina may develop symptoms, including discharge.

Vaginal Genital Herpes Discharge

Many people with genital herpes do not have symptoms or have symptoms that are barely noticeable. Some people who have genital herpes may get an unusual vaginal discharge.

Vaginal discharge can be healthy and normal. It serves an important function in cleaning the vagina and helping prevent infections from entering the body.

A healthy vaginal discharge can be:

  • Elastic-like in texture
  • Sticky
  • Thin
  • Thick
  • Gooey in texture
  • White
  • Off-white
  • Clear

Vaginal discharge can also be a sign of a health problem, like an STI. Vaginal discharge may not be normal if it:

  • Smells bad
  • Changes odor
  • Changes color
  • Is green
  • Is grayish
  • Resembles pus
  • Looks foamy
  • Looks like cottage cheese

Genital herpes may cause an unusual vaginal discharge that's smelly.

Genital Herpes Discharge From the Penis

Discharge from the penis is unlikely if a person has genital herpes. Other STIs, such as gonorrhea and chlamydia, can cause penile discharge. For example, with gonorrhea, penile discharge can be thick and yellow, In chlamydia, discharge from the penis can be milky in color.

Other Genital Herpes Symptoms

People of any sex can have genital herpes and have no symptoms. Sometimes, symptoms develop but are so mild they go unnoticed. They can also be easily mistaken for other conditions.

In people of any sex, symptoms of genital herpes can include:

  • Itching in the genitals
  • Pain in the genital area
  • Sores and blisters
  • Difficulty urinating
  • Burning sensation when urinating
  • Swollen or sore glands in the pelvis, under the arms, and in the throat
  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Feeling unwell
  • Flu-like symptoms

Sores from genital herpes may appear on the:

  • Vulva
  • Vagina
  • Cervix
  • Scrotum
  • Penis
  • Anus
  • Thigh
  • Buttocks

What Can Trigger Outbreaks?

There is no cure for genital herpes. Some people find that their symptoms come back. Once a person gets the virus, it stays in their body. Repeated outbreaks are usually milder than the first outbreak of genital herpes.

There are a number of things that can trigger a genital herpes outbreak, including:

  • Having a weakened immune system (for example, when receiving chemotherapy)
  • Menstruation
  • Stress
  • Being generally unwell
  • Having surgery on the genital area
  • Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light (e.g., from the sun or tanning beds)
  • Alcohol
  • Smoking
  • Friction in the genital area from sex or tight clothing

When to See a Healthcare Provider

If you have symptoms that could be from genital herpes or another STI, it's important to see a healthcare provider. The only way to confirm if you have genital herpes is through a physical examination and testing. This can be done by a healthcare provider at a number of locations including:

  • A provider's office
  • A Planned Parenthood health facility
  • A community health clinic
  • Your local health department

A test for herpes may not come up in conversation or as part of a regular check-up. For this reason, it is important to be upfront and honest with your healthcare provider about any symptoms you have.

If you see a provider, they may recommend testing for herpes. You can be tested for genital herpes through:

  • A physical exam to look for sores, rashes, or signs of genital herpes
  • A swab test (a sample of fluid is taken from any sores and sent for testing)
  • A blood test to look for herpes antibodies (however, this is only recommended if symptoms are present)


There is no cure for genital herpes. Some treatment options are available to manage symptoms and reduce the frequency of outbreaks.

Antiviral medications can help shorten an outbreak of herpes and prevent future outbreaks. Taken daily, they may also help reduce the risk of transmitting the herpes virus to a sexual partner.

There are some ways to manage genital herpes symptoms, such as:

  • Wrapping an ice pack and applying it to sore areas
  • Applying vaseline to reduce pain when urinating
  • Keeping areas with sores clean
  • Using plain water or salt water to wash blisters
  • Washing your hands before applying any creams, ointments, or gels to the affected area
  • Pouring water on the genital area while urinating to ease pain
  • Having a warm bath
  • Keeping the genitals dry
  • Wearing loose clothing that is soft
  • Taking pain relievers, if needed

What to Do If You Have an Outbreak

If you are experiencing a genital herpes outbreak, call your healthcare provider for advice. If they prescribe medication like antivirals, it is important to follow the directions carefully.

Take pain relieving medication if you need to and use other strategies to manage your symptoms (for example, avoid wearing synthetic or nylon underwear—cotton underwear is best). You should also avoid sex during symptomatic outbreaks.


Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) that can cause a variety of symptoms, but some people do not have symptoms. You may develop sores, flu-like symptoms, and vaginal discharge. A discharge from the penis is unlikely if you have genital herpes, but can occur with other STIs.

Outbreaks of genital herpes can be triggered by stress, illness, smoking, or alcohol, among other things. There is no cure for genital herpes, but treatment is available to help you manage the condition and avoid spreading it to others.

A Word From Verywell

If you have symptoms you think could be from genital herpes or another STI, talk to your healthcare provider. They can do tests to find out for sure what is causing your symptoms and make sure you get the right treatment.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How long does herpes discharge last for?

    Symptoms from the first outbreak of herpes may last from two to four weeks. If herpes symptoms come back, they are often shorter than the first outbreak.

  • What other conditions cause discharge?

    Vaginal discharge can be normal and healthy. When it's not normal, it can be a sign of health conditions like:

    • STIs
    • Bacterial infections
    • Yeast infections

    A discharge from the penis can also indicate a problem. A discharge that is yellow or green can be caused by STIs or inflammation of the urethra (urethritis).

  • What are the early symptoms of genital herpes?

    Not everyone with genital herpes will have symptoms. Some people may experience early symptoms like a tingling or burning sensation in the area where herpes sores will soon appear.

13 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.
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  2. Office On Women's Health. Genital Herpes.

  3. Nemours Teens Health. Vaginal Discharge: What's Normal, What's Not.

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