For some reason, the notion that you can contract genital herpes from a toilet seat has been floating around for quite some time. Misguided sex ed teachers, high school locker room talk, and the invention of social media have certainly not helped to clear up this misconception in the slightest. So we figured we’d take the time to hopefully put this possible urban legend to rest once and for all: can you catch herpes from a toilet seat?
The answer is…yes. Well, technically yes. But you probably won’t. It’s unlikely, anyway. Still possible, sure. But not probable. But…wait. How about we just start at the beginning.
The herpes virus is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases worldwide. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), world-wide levels of herpes involve more than 3.7 billion adults (younger than age 50) who carry the HSV-1 virus and another 417 million who carry HSV-2 in their bodies. Both oral herpes and genital herpes are highly contagious and passed almost exclusively through skin-to-skin contact with an active or open sore.
Contact can certainly include sexual activity but can also be something as innocent as a peck on the cheek or forehead. Keep in mind that babies are extremely susceptible to the herpes virus. As adorable as they may be, it’s incredibly important to not kiss babies on the lips, head, cheek, hand, or anywhere else if you are living with the virus. Parents of little ones ought to be extra vigilant on this front as well to keep their babies safe. In fact, many adults who live with oral herpes contracted it during their infant or toddler years from infected adults who were not as careful.
However–and this is important–as easy as it is to transfer the herpes virus from one person to another, it’s important to note that the virus can only stay active while attached to a human host. When separated from the body, the virus can’t survive more than about ten seconds. After that time has passed, the virus is no longer a threat to anyone with whom it comes in contact.
Now let’s apply that to the initial urban legend of whether or not you can contract herpes by way of a toilet seat. To “catch” herpes from a toilet seat, conditions would need to be basically laboratory-level ideal. An infected person would have to use the facilities and make sure that the seat came in direct contact with an open sore. They would presumably then leave the bathroom or stall and allow an uninfected person to walk in, drop trou and make sure their skin touched the precise viral area of the toilet seat. All of this would have to happen in the course of about ten seconds.
I suppose such a unique scenario would not be completely outside the realm of universal possibility, but it’s safe to say that it would be highly highly HIGHLY unlikely. While public restrooms may not be among the most hygienic of places you’ll ever encounter, the idea that you might accidentally contract HSV-2 is basically a myth. The risk of catching herpes by way of a toilet seat–or anything other than direct skin to skin contact for that matter is not worth constantly worrying about. For more information, see our blog on herpes and sharing drinks. Bottom line: Is it possible to get herpes from a toilet seat? Sure. Will it ever realistically happen? Probably not.
Now you know about the toilet seat. If you think you might have either oral or genital herpes, read more information on our website here. Testing and treatments for herpes are available to identify and control symptoms.