Just a few moments of passion can leave a lasting mark — and not just on your emotions. Hickeys, or love bites as some may call them, are small bruises left behind during foreplay. While these marks can be embarrassing, or even traumatic, they are physically harmless. In other words, they do not cause cancer.

Hickeys are simply bruises that form when someone sucks or lightly bites on the surface of another person’s skin. Typically, hickeys are given on delicate areas of your skin, like on your neck, during foreplay or as a way of marking a love interest.

In medical terms, a hickey may be called:

These are all types of dark spots of bruising that form from a small injury. The color forms as tiny blood vessels called capillaries burst. With a hickey, this is caused by the force of a bite or sucking motion.

Hickeys and blood thinners

One important thing to note is that people taking blood thinners, such as aspirin or other anticoagulants, for certain medical conditions can bruise more easily, and experience larger hickeys that last longer.

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There are a number of rumors and false warnings created to deter people from giving hickeys. Mostly, this comes from embarrassment or a desire to curb this kind of behavior. While some people enjoy hickeys, others may find then insulting, disrespectful, and even painful.

Even though hickeys are harmless, rumors of health problems caused by these love bites may stem from real concerns. Bruising and dark spots on your body — sometimes called erythema nodosum — can be a symptom of a number of systemic diseases, including:

Even though these conditions may share symptoms with hickeys, hickeys only develop after a specific action. They would have to develop on their own — idiopathically — and with other symptoms to be a serious health concern.

When a hickey isn’t just a hickey

There has been at least one occurrence of a serious complication from a hickey — but it is extremely rare.

  • A 2010 case report showed that a 44-year-old woman in New Zealand developed a blood clot over a hickey. The blot clot is believed to have caused a stroke that left her paralyzed on one side of her body.
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Consent is a vital part of any romantic or sexual relationship. It’s important to discuss your expectations, limits, and preferences with your partner. If there is something happening in your relationship that you are uncomfortable with, talk with your partner.

There is no quick way to get rid of a hickey. There are things you can do to try and reduce inflammation and redness or discoloration, but most hickeys won’t fade for 1 or 2 weeks.

Some strategies to help speed healing may include:

  • cold compress for the first few days
  • warm compress after the third day
  • massage
  • topical ointments and vitamins

Hickeys can be embarrassing and even uncomfortable, but all-in-all, they are usually harmless. They will not cause cancer or other serious conditions. There have been cases of blood clotting problems related to hickeys, but these cases are extremely rare.

If you receive a hickey and you are uncomfortable with it, talk with your partner about not letting it happen again. If you’ve experienced sexual violence or abuse, you can get help through local organizations or the national Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).