Symptoms of genital herpes are similar in men and women. Once exposed to the virus, there is an incubation period that generally lasts three to seven days before a lesion develops. During this time, there are no symptoms and the virus cannot be transmitted to others. An outbreak usually begins within two weeks of initial infection and manifests as an itching or tingling sensation followed by redness of the skin. Finally, a blister forms. The blisters and subsequent ulcers that form when the blisters break are usually very painful to touch and may last from seven days to two weeks. The infection is definitely contagious from the time of itching to the time of complete healing of the ulcer, usually within two to four weeks. However, as noted above, infected individuals can also transmit the virus to their sex partners in the absence of a recognized outbreak.

Specific signs and symptoms of herpes in women include tiny, fluid-filled blisters (vesicles) on the vulva and vaginal opening. When the vesicles rupture, painful ulcers are the result. In a majority of patients, inflammation of the cervix is involved (cervicitis). Cervicitis may be the only sign of genital herpes in some women. Women with genital herpes may have pain on urination along with infection and inflammation of the urethra (urethritis).