Is it possible?
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.
How does kissing transmit HSV?
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.
Does the type of kiss matter?
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.
Does it matter if you or your partner have an active outbreak?
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.
What about sharing drinks, eating utensils, and other items?
You shouldn’t, especially during an outbreak.
You can contract herpes from sharing any objects that have made contact with the saliva of a person who carries the virus.
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.
Is there anything you can do to reduce your risk of oral transmission?
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.
Avoid sharing objects that make contact with saliva, like drinks, utensils, straws, lipsticks, and — not that anyone would — toothbrushes.
How is HSV usually transmitted?
Skin-to-skin contact and contact with the saliva of a person who has oral herpes carries the highest risk of transmission.
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.
Are you more likely to contract HSV through oral or penetrative sex?
You’re more likely to contact HSV-1 through oral sex and HSV-2 through penetrative vaginal or anal sex.
Does HSV increase your risk for other conditions?
Actually, yes. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), contracting HSV-2 triples your risk of contracting HIV.
Anywhere from 60 to 90 percent of people living with HIV also have HSV-2.
What happens if you do contract HSV? How will you know?
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
How is it diagnosed?
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
Is it curable?
No, there’s no cure for HSV, but there are ways to deal with the realities of being infected 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.
How is it treated?
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.
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.
The bottom line
You can contract or transmit herpes and other STIs from kissing and sexual contact including skin-to-skin contact around the genital area.
Avoiding skin-to-skin contact when you or your partner is experiencing an active outbreak will go a long way. Barrier protection can also partially reduce, but not eliminate, the risk.
The best option would be for you and your intended partner to get tested for sexually transmitted diseases including HSV-1 and HSV-2 BEFORE deciding whether or not to engage in intimate behavior!
And remember, delaying intimate behavior until marriage and being faithful in marriage is the best way to reduce your risk for sexually transmitted infections.
Drawn from article, “Can You Get Herpes from Kissing? And 14 Other Things to Know,” posted at https://www.healthline.com/health/living-with-herpes#safe-intimacy.