Kissing can be one of the most exciting parts of a relationship. But you may also feel wary of kissing if you’re with someone for the first time.
The best way to avoid getting an STD from kissing is to have a direct, transparent conversation about it with your partner. This can be intimidating, but setting boundaries early can help you avoid infection.
Let’s dive right into the most common STDs that can be spread by kissing. We’ll also talk about STDs that are less likely to be transmitted by mouth but can still be passed orally.
Herpes simplex virus can take two different forms.
Also called oral herpes, HSV-1 can easily be spread through kissing. It’s also common: 67 percent of people under 50 have the virus in their body.
The most notable symptom is a small white or red blister in your mouth or on your genitals. It may ooze or bleed during an outbreak. Touching or kissing someone with an active cold sore can spread the viral infection to you. The virus can also be spread when no symptoms are present.
HSV-1 can be spread by sharing saliva or items like utensils that have touched the mouth of those with the virus. But HSV-1 can also affect your genitals and be spread through oral, genital, or anal sex.
Also called genital herpes, this is an HSV infection that’s more commonly spread through sexual contact — oral, genital, or anal — with an infected sore than through kissing. But mouth-to-mouth transmission is still possible. HSV-2 symptoms are basically the same as those of HSV-1.
Neither HSV-1 nor HSV-2 can be fully cured. You likely won’t experience many symptoms or complications unless you have a compromised immune system. For active infections, your doctor may recommend antiviral medications such as acyclovir (Zovirax) or valacyclovir (Valtrex).
Cytomegalovirus (CMV) is a viral infection that can be spread through kissing someone whose saliva is infected. It’s also spread through:
- breast milk
It’s considered an STD because it’s often spread through oral, anal, and genital sexual contact, too.
Symptoms of CMV include:
CMV isn’t curable but someone with CMV may never have symptoms. Like herpes, CMV can cause symptoms if you have a compromised immune system. Your doctor may recommend similar treatments to HSV.
Syphilis, a bacterial infection, isn’t typically transmitted by kissing. It’s more commonly spread through oral, anal, or genital sex. But syphilis can cause sores in your mouth that can transmit the bacteria to someone else.
Deep or French kissing, where you and your partner touch your tongues together while you kiss, can also increase your risk of infection. That’s because you expose yourself to more potentially infected tissue in your partner’s mouth.
Syphilis can become severe or fatal if it’s left untreated. Severe symptoms can include:
- sore throat
- lymph node swelling
- losing hair
- body aches
- feeling exhausted
- abnormal spots, pimples, or warts
- vision loss
- heart conditions
- mental health conditions, such as neurosyphilis
- brain damage
- memory loss
Early treatment of syphilis with antibiotics, such as penicillin, is usually successful in destroying infectious bacteria. Get treatment as soon as possible if you think you have syphilis to prevent any long-term complications.
Here’s a quick reference guide to some common STDs that can’t be spread through kissing:
- Chlamydia. This bacterial STD is only spread through unprotected oral, anal, or genital sex with someone who has the infection. You can’t be exposed to the bacteria through saliva.
- Gonorrhea. This is another bacterial STD only spread through unprotected sex, not saliva from kissing.
- Hepatitis. This is a liver condition typically caused by a virus that can be spread through sexual contact or exposure to the blood of someone with the infection, but not through kissing.
- Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). This is a bacterial infection spread through unprotected sex. The bacteria can cause PID when introduced into the vagina, but not the mouth.
- Trichomoniasis. This bacterial infection is only spread through unprotected genital sex, not through kissing or even oral or anal sex.
- HIV: This is a viral infection that’s not spread through kissing. Saliva can’t carry this virus. But HIV can be spread through:
- vaginal fluid
- anal fluid
- breast milk
STDs can be a tricky, uncomfortable subject to talk about. Here are some tips for having a mature, productive discussion with your partner:
- Set your expectations up front. If you want your partner, whether new or longtime, to wear protection, tell them and be firm about it. It’s your body, and your partner has no right to tell you how to have sex.
- Be direct, open, and honest. If you’re uncomfortable with having sex without first getting tested or wearing protection, be clear about this and set the boundaries before you engage in any sexual activity. If you have an STD, let them know before having sex so you can take precautions.
- Wear protection. A good rule of thumb with any partner is to wear protection if you’re not planning to get pregnant. Condoms, dental dams, and other protective barriers not only have a high chance of preventing pregnancy but also shield you against almost all STDs.
- Above all, be understanding. Don’t get mad at your partner — or yourself — if you find out that either of you has an STD. Not all of them are spread through sex alone, so don’t immediately assume that they’ve cheated on you or kept a secret from you. Some people don’t find out they have STDs until years later because of a lack of symptoms, so it’s important to take your partner at their word.
Most STDs can’t be spread through kissing, so you don’t need to be worried if you kissed someone new. Though there are some STDs that can spread this way, so it’s important to be aware of this before you kiss someone, so you can take proper precautions.
Communication is key: Discuss these things with your partner before you engage in any kind of sexual activity, and don’t be afraid to get tested or ask your partner to get tested in order to be certain that neither of you can spread an STD. Open discussion like this can take away some of the anxiety and uncertainty around sex and make the experience even more fulfilling.
And if you’re concerned you might have an STD, see your healthcare provider right away before you have sex or engage in any related activity.