Um, Can You Really Get An STD From Kissing?

by | Jun 8, 2024 | Sexual Health

We’re willing to bet you’ve asked yourself a ton of questions about kissing… when you were 13. Now, though, aside from hoping their beard’s not too scratchy or they don’t have a cold, you’re not too worried about smooches. Right? Well… per experts, it turns out you could get an STD from kissing. Read it and weep – then protect yourself with knowledge and these tips.

Can you get an STD from kissing?

Alas, you actually can. A peck on the mouth (or a full-blown, let-me-shove-my-tongue-down-your-throat make-out session) can actually transmit a couple of different types of STDs [insert cringing emoji here]: herpes simplex virus (HSV) 1 and 2 and syphilis, says Dr Teena Chopra, corporate medical director of infection prevention and hospital epidemiology at Detroit Medical Center and Wayne State University.

Talk about a mood killer. Luckily, you don’t have to swear off kissing forever—buuut, it’s a good idea to just be aware of what can be spread through spit-swapping. Here’s what you need to know about the two STDs you can get through kissing.

What to know about getting herpes from kissing:

Herpes simplex virus (HSV 1 and 2) infections are one of the most common STDs and, once contracted, they last a lifetime, according to the American National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID).

“Once a person has been infected, the virus can remain dormant (latent) for years before periodically reactivating to cause recurrent disease,” the website notes. Which is why it’s also important to note: people who don’t know they have herpes can still spread herpes, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Whereas HSV-1 is responsible for oral herpes, HSV-2 is what causes genital herpes. However, oral herpes can be spread from the mouth to the genitals as a result of oral sex (when herpes is active), which is how some cases of genital herpes are caused by HSV-1, according to the CDC. And, yes, the reverse is also true: Genital herpes can be passed from one person’s genitals to another person’s mouth, causing oral herpes. Talk about a vicious cycle.

READ MORE: This Is EXACTLY What Men Think… During Sex

How to navigate herpes with your partner

If you’re concerned about herpes (and you know your partner has it), ask them to be diligent about symptoms that signal an outbreak is coming (you’re more likely to contract the virus during a herpes flare). Burning, itching, and/or tingling feelings are all signs that sores are about to appear. Also, medications are available that can decrease how long symptoms last, as well as decrease their severity. But, sadly, there’s no cure (yet!).

You might also want to encourage your partner to be upfront by assuring them that herpes is nothing to be embarrassed about. In fact, it’s ridiculously common. Per the World Health Organisation (WHO), “An estimated 491 million people aged 15–49 (13%) worldwide have HSV-2 infection.” In South Africa, that number is even higher: studies have found that 40 to 70% of sexually active people have an HSV-2 infection.

Another prevention method: If your partner has herpes, then they can chat with their doctor about taking medication that can lower their chances of spreading the virus.

READ MORE: Your June 2024 Sex Horoscope Is Here And It’s Time To Add A Date Night To Your Calendar

So, what about getting syphilis from kissing?

Syphilis occurs in four stages, according to the CDC, with different signs and symptoms associated with each stage.

Primary syphilis will be evident because a person will generally have sores. These will typically be around the genitals and/or mouth, called chancres, per the CDC. These sores are round and painless, per the WHO and heal in a few days.

Secondary syphilis includes a skin rash, swollen lymph nodes and fever. Symptoms will go away without treatment, per the WHO.

Sneakily, there are no signs or symptoms during the third or latent stage of the STD. Unfortunately, this can be deadly and can progress to the fourth and final stage if left untreated.

The fourth stage of syphilis, however, known as tertiary syphilis, can be linked to severe medical problems. Left untreated, syphilis can affect the heart, brain, and other organs of the body, according to the CDC.

The infection can be passed by direct contact with a sore during the first three stages. It can be passed on via vaginal, anal, or oral sex—and, yes, even through kissing. Importantly, syphilis is treatable and curable.

READ MORE: At-Home Test Kits: From Ovulation To STDs, Here’s How To Get Results At Home

How to navigate syphilis with your partner

Chopra says the only way to avoid syphilis is to avoid sex or kissing completely. But uh, since that’s not totally practical, there are ways to reduce your risk.

Straight-up asking new partners whether or not they have an STD, as awkward as this is, is a good idea. It’s also ok to ask new partners to get tested. And if you see a sore, it’s totally ok – and advisable – to avoid kissing, says Dr Amesh A. Adalja, an infectious diseases physician.

And while you’re at it, make sure to get yourself tested too. Doctors won’t typically test you for herpes unless you’re showing symptoms like sores, but you can still get tested for syphilis whether you’re showing signs or not.

The bottom line: Ask questions before getting hot and heavy. If you know your partner has herpes or syphilis, cool it on the kissing until active oral sores are treated or healed.

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