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Can herpes cause infertility?

Medically reviewed on March 15, 2022 by Jordan Stachel, M.S., RDN, CPT. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.


Getting diagnosed with a sexually transmitted disease (STD) can cause distress and raise a lot of questions. If you have herpes, you might wonder how it could impact fertility and the ability to carry out a healthy pregnancy.

So can herpes cause infertility? Contrary to popular belief, herpes doesn’t harm fertility in the same way that certain other STDs can [1]. However, a herpes diagnosis may still impact the process of getting pregnant and giving birth.

Below, we’ll discuss what you need to know about herpes and infertility (as well as at-home STD tests and fertility tests that can help). We’ll also review a few ways to avoid spreading herpes to your baby during childbirth.

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What is herpes?

Herpes is a common STD caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). Herpes spreads through skin-to-skin contact of the mouth, genital area, and anus. It can remain asymptomatic or cause itchy outbreaks of blisters, ulcers, or cold sores.

Around 15% of sexually active adults have genital herpes. Oral herpes virus is even more common, impacting over 50% of American adults [2].

While there’s no cure for herpes, managing this virus is possible with the right medications and safe sex practices.

Does herpes affect fertility?

While herpes isn’t as damaging to fertility as other sexually transmitted infections, it can still have an impact on the ability to get pregnant.

Herpes and female fertility

Herpes can impact female fertility only in an indirect way: a herpes infection may reduce your ability to get pregnant by making it more difficult to have unprotected sex. During an active herpes outbreak, having unprotected sex is not recommended, as the virus could spread. Fortunately, people with herpes can resume having unprotected sex after the outbreak has passed.

Herpes and male fertility

If you’re assigned male at birth, herpes may reduce your fertility by lowering your sperm count. In fact, one study found that men with herpes are more likely to have low sperm counts [3].

However, although herpes may reduce fertility in this way, it won’t necessarily cause infertility.

How does herpes impact pregnancy?

If you contract herpes while pregnant, or if you have herpes before you get pregnant, the diagnosis may impact the steps you take on your pregnancy journey.

A herpes diagnosis can affect pregnancy differently depending on when the virus is contracted:

  • Before pregnancy – If you contract herpes before getting pregnant, there’s a very low risk of transmitting the virus to the baby [4]. This is because herpes antibodies can be passed onto a baby through the placenta. Even so, a healthcare provider may recommend taking antiviral medications during pregnancy to prevent an untimely outbreak on the due date [5].
  • During pregnancy – If you contract herpes during pregnancy, there’s a greater risk of passing the virus to the baby. This is because the mother won’t have any pre-existing antibodies to pass on. There’s also a greater chance of an active outbreak near the birth canal on the due date. If this occurs, you may need to have a C-section to keep your baby away from any blisters or sores during the birthing process [6].

The good news is that neonatal herpes is rare. According to one study, approximately 1 in 3200 deliveries results in neonatal herpes [4].

Whether herpes is contracted before or after becoming pregnant, you should let your healthcare provider know about the diagnosis. They can help monitor and manage the infection throughout pregnancy to help ensure the health of you and your baby.

How to have a safe pregnancy

As you can see, herpes poses minimal risk to fertility, especially for those assigned female at birth. This means you can still give birth to a healthy baby even if you have this common STD.

If you’re unsure whether you have herpes, you may want to get tested before pregnancy. This way, you can pursue your pregnancy and childbirth in the safest way possible.

Even if you’re not actively trying to conceive, regular STD testing is a valuable way to stay informed about your sexual health and minimize the risk of STI transmission to sexual partners.

Test for STDs and check in on fertility with help from Everlywell

Checking for common STDs (including herpes simplex virus type 2, or HSV-2) is easy with the Everlywell at-home STD Test for females or at-home STD Test for males.

If you’re struggling to become pregnant and/or suspect an issue with your fertility, an at-home fertility test from Everlywell can provide helpful insight. Our Women’s Fertility Test measures 5 key hormones involved in female fertility, including:

  • Estradiol
  • Luteinizing hormone
  • Follicle-stimulating hormone
  • Thyroid-stimulating hormone
  • Testosterone

By measuring and understanding these hormone levels, you can gain insight into fertility and reproductive health and discuss a path forward with your healthcare provider for fertility treatment if appropriate.

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References

1. Pellati D, Mylonakis I, Bertoloni G, Fiore C, Andrisani A, Ambrosini G, Armanini D. Genital tract infections and infertility. Eur J Obstet Gynecol Reprod Biol. 2008 Sep;140(1):3-11. PMID: 18456385.

2. Whitley R, Baines J. Clinical management of herpes simplex virus infections: past, present, and future. F1000Res. 2018;7:F1000 Faculty Rev-1726. Published 2018 Oct 31.

3. Monavari SH, Vaziri MS, Khalili M, et al. Asymptomatic seminal infection of herpes simplex virus: impact on male infertility. J Biomed Res. 2013;27(1):56-61.

4. James SH, Sheffield JS, Kimberlin DW. Mother-to-Child Transmission of Herpes Simplex Virus. J Pediatric Infect Dis Soc. 2014;3 Suppl 1(Suppl 1):S19-S23.

5. Genital herpes in pregnancy. InformedHealth.org [Internet]. URL. Accessed March 15, 2022.

6. Stankiewicz Karita HC, Moss NJ, Laschansky E, et al. Invasive Obstetric Procedures and Cesarean Sections in Women With Known Herpes Simplex Virus Status During Pregnancy. Open Forum Infect Dis. 2017;4(4):ofx248. Published 2017 Nov 6.

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