The prevalence of herpes genitalis (genital herpes) has increased markedly over the past three decades. The most common cause is infection with the herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2), but it can also occur as a result of HSV-1 infection. Herpes genitalis can cause substantial psychosexual as well as physical morbidity and, in immunocompromised individuals, such as those who are HIV-positive, HSV infection can result in severe disease with progressive and extensive lesions. The natural history of herpes genitalis and the pathways of infection are now well known; however, the factors associated with reactivation have yet to be fully defined. A number of management approaches with antiviral medications are commonly used, including episodic and suppressive treatments. For episodic therapy, the duration of both lesions and symptoms, as well as the proportion of aborted episodes, are the most important measures of efficacy. For suppressive therapy, the time to first recurrence and frequency of recurrences over time are the most important clinical measures of antiviral benefit. Regarding the duration of episodic regimens, comparisons of 1-, 2- and 3-day antiviral courses with standard 5-day regimens show similar benefits on healing and relief of symptoms, with the obvious improvement in convenience, economy and compliance. In HIV-positive patients, antiherpes therapy has proved effective in speeding healing of lesions and reducing subclinical shedding, and can be used to treat genital HSV-2 infections in this group. Suppressive antiviral therapy has been shown to decrease the risk of HSV transmission in heterosexual couples. New approaches to the prevention of HSV infection, including vaccines and topical microbicides, are under investigation.