Yes, you can contract oral herpes, aka cold sores, from kissing, but developing genital herpes this way is less likely.
Oral herpes (HSV-1) is usually transmitted by kissing, and genital herpes (HSV-2) is most often spread through vaginal, anal, or oral sex. Both HSV-1 and HSV-2 can cause genital herpes, but genital herpes is most commonly caused by HSV-2.
There’s no need to swear off kissing forever on account of herpes, though. Read on for everything you need to know about herpes from kissing and other contact.
Oral herpes is mainly transmitted by skin-to-skin contact with someone who carries the virus. You can get it from contact with cold sores, saliva, or the surfaces in and around the mouth.
Fun fact: Around 90 percent of American adults are exposed to HSV-1 by the age of 50. Most contract it during childhood, usually from a kiss from a relative or friend.
Nope. Full-on tongue action, a peck on the cheek, and every other kind of kiss in between can spread herpes.
There isn’t any research showing that one type of kiss is riskier than another when it comes to oral herpes risk. That said, there’s evidence that the risk of some sexually transmitted infections (STIs) goes up with open-mouthed kissing.
Remember that kissing isn’t restricted to the face either — making oral-to-genital contact can transmit HSV, too.
The risk of transmission is higher when there are visible sores or blisters, but you or your partner can still contract herpes — oral or genital — if symptoms aren’t present.
Once you contract herpes simplex, it’s in the body for life.
Not everyone experiences an outbreak, but everyone with the virus experiences periods of asymptomatic shedding. This is why herpes can be spread even when there are no visible symptoms.
It’s impossible to predict when shedding will occur or how contagious you or your partner’s condition will be. Everyone is different.
You shouldn’t, especially during an outbreak.
That said, HSV can’t live very long off of the skin, so the risk of contracting it from inanimate objects is very low.
Still, the best way to minimize your risk is to use your own lipstick, fork, or whatever else.
For starters, avoid direct skin-to-skin contact during an outbreak.
This includes kissing and oral sex, since herpes can be spread through oral action, including rimming.
Avoid sharing objects that make contact with saliva, like drinks, utensils, straws, lipsticks, and — not that anyone would — toothbrushes.
Using barrier protection, such as condoms and dental dams during sexual activity can also help reduce your risk.
Skin-to-skin contact and contact with the saliva of a person who has oral herpes carries the
HSV-1 is transmitted through skin-to-skin contact and contact with sores and saliva.
HSV-2 is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) that’s typically spread through skin-to-skin contact during sex.
We can’t stress it enough that by “sex” we mean any kind of sexual contact, such as kissing, touching, oral, and vaginal and anal penetration.
You’re more likely to contact HSV-1 through oral sex and HSV-2 through penetrative vaginal or anal sex.
Penetration using a sex toy can also cause genital herpes, which is why experts usually advise against sharing toys.
Actually, yes. According to the
You probably won’t know you’ve contracted herpes until you have an outbreak, which is the case for most people who have it.
HSV-1 can be asymptomatic or cause very mild symptoms that can be easy to miss.
An outbreak can cause cold sores or blisters in and around your mouth. Some people notice tingling, burning, or itching in the area before sores appear.
If you contract genital herpes caused by HSV-1, you may develop one or more sores or blisters in your genital or anal area.
Genital herpes caused by HSV-2 can also be asymptomatic or cause mild symptoms that you may not notice. If you do develop symptoms, the first outbreak is often more severe than subsequent outbreaks.
You may experience:
- one or more genital or anal sores or blisters
- body aches
- pain when peeing
- swollen lymph nodes
- mild tingling or shooting pain in the hips, buttocks, and legs before sores appear
You should see a doctor or other healthcare provider if you suspect you’ve contracted herpes.
A healthcare provider can usually diagnose herpes with a physical exam and one or more of the following tests:
- a viral culture, which involves scraping off a sample of the sore for examination in a lab
- a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test, which compares a sample of your blood and from a sore to determine which type of HSV you have
- a blood test to check for HSV antibodies from a past herpes infection
No, there’s no cure for HSV, but try not to let that get you down. You can still have an awesome sex life with herpes!
Treatments are available to help manage symptoms of HSV-1 and HSV-2 and help prevent or shorten the duration of outbreaks.
On average, people with herpes experience four outbreaks a year. For many, each outbreak gets easier with less pain and shorter recovery time.
Prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medications, home remedies, and lifestyle changes are used to treat the symptoms of HSV. The type of HSV you have will determine which treatments you should use.
The goal of treatment is to prevent or shorten the duration of breakouts and reduce the risk of transmission.
Antiviral medications, such as valacyclovir (Valtrex) and acyclovir (Zovirax), help reduce the severity and frequency of oral and genital herpes symptoms.
Your provider may prescribe a daily suppressive medication if you experience severe or frequent outbreaks.
OTC pain medication can help relieve pain from oral and genital herpes, and there are several topical OTC treatments available for cold sores.
Here are some other things you can do to help ease symptoms:
- Soak in a sitz bath if you have painful genital sores.
- Apply a cold compress to a painful cold sore.
- Minimize outbreak triggers, including stress and too much sun.
- Boost your immune system with a healthy diet and regular exercise to help prevent outbreaks.
You can contract or transmit herpes and other STIs from kissing, but this doesn’t mean that you should blow off lip action all together and miss out on all the fun.
Avoiding skin-to-skin contact when you or your partner is experiencing an active outbreak will go a long way. Barrier protection can also help.
Adrienne Santos-Longhurst is a freelance writer and author who has written extensively on all things health and lifestyle for more than a decade. When she’s not holed-up in her writing shed researching an article or off interviewing health professionals, she can be found frolicking around her beach town with husband and dogs in tow or splashing about the lake trying to master the stand-up paddle board.