With herpes being one of the most common sexually transmitted infections, can it be transmitted via kissing?
Can You Get Herpes From Kissing?

According to the World Health Organization, 3.7 billion people under 50 have oral herpes. Surprisingly, most people with oral herpes don't even know it, whether that be because they do not show symptoms or notice them.

That raises the question: can you get herpes from kissing?

In short, the answer is yes, but don't start raising your alarm bells just yet! Understanding how herpes spreads is the first step towards protecting yourself and your partner.

Keep reading, as in this article, we'll answer all your burning questions about oral herpes so that you can stay proactive, safe, and informed about the potential risks associated with kissing.

In this article:

Note: Read the whole article or scroll down to the KEY TAKEAWAYS section at the end of this article for a short summary.


  • Yes, herpes can spread from person to person by sharing a kiss.
  • Oral herpes spreads through skin-to-skin contact and through transferring saliva or bodily fluids.
  • Yes, even though you may not have cold sores, oral herpes is dormant but can still be contagious during this time.

Can You Get Herpes From Kissing

Yes, it's possible to get herpes from kissing.

The act of kissing can be a passionate and intimate way to express affection towards a partner, fling, or friend with benefits. Unfortunately, it can also pose a risk of contracting herpes.

Oral herpes, more formally known as HSV-1, is a type of virus that causes cold sores to form around the mouth, lips, throat, gums, or on the face.

When these symptoms show up, it's known as an "outbreak" and is the most contagious stage of the virus. It is when it's more likely to spread through skin-to-skin contact — or in this case, kissing.

However, it's important to note that herpes can also spread without visible virus symptoms.

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How Do I Know If Someone Has Herpes

During an outbreak, the herpes virus becomes active.

It replicates within the skin cells, causing uncomfortable and sometimes painful symptoms. It is typically when the infection is at the "most contagious" stage.

According to Obstetrics and Gynecology specialist Dr. Thais Aliabadi, herpes symptoms can appear anywhere from 2 to 10 days after the initial infection and can last up to 3 weeks.

Common symptoms include:

  • Blisters or sores (small fluid-filled bumps that typically develop in clusters)
  • Itching, tingling, and/or pain
  • Redness
  • Swollen glands
  • Nausea
  • Fatigue
  • Fever or chills
  • Achy or sore muscles

Menstruation, hormonal changes, sun exposure, stress, and fever can trigger symptoms.

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What Are the Two Most Common Types of Herpes Viruses

There are as many as eight different types of herpes viruses that infect humans. That being said, only two of them are more familiar to us.

The two most common types include:

1. Herpes Simplex Virus Type 1 (HSV-1):

This virus is associated with oral herpes, typically expressed as cold sores or blisters around the mouth, lips, throat, gums, or on face.

2. Herpes Simplex Virus Type 2 (HSV-2):

This virus is associated with genital herpes, causing sores or blisters in the genital area such as the vulva, vagina, cervix, anus, penis, scrotum, rear end, or inner thighs.

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How Is Herpes Spread Through Kissing

Transmission of the herpes virus occurs through direct contacts, such as skin-to-skin contact, and by transferring saliva or bodily fluids.

Since kissing involves a combination of direct and skin-to-skin contact along with the transfer of saliva, it makes for the ideal environment for viral transmission.

According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, it is also possible for oral herpes to cause genital herpes and vice versa. Both are more likely to spread through kissing and oral sex.

Is There a Type of Kissing More Likely to Spread Oral Herpes

The deeper, longer, more passionate forms of kissing are more likely to spread the virus

For example, French kissing or deep kissing both involve prolonged lip locking and more saliva swapping.

Though the risk of spreading oral herpes through closed-mouth kissing is lower compared to French or deep kissing, it is still possible for the virus to be passed on through skin-to-skin contact (i.e. lips to lips only).

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Is It Possible to Transmit Herpes to Someone Without Having an Active Outbreak

Yes, it is possible to transmit oral herpes without having an active outbreak.

After an outbreak, the herpes virus retreats back into the nerve cells, where it temporarily "shuts off" or becomes inactive. While many of the symptoms of the outbreak disappear, the virus can reactivate in the future and create another outbreak.

While there are no visible symptoms when the virus is dormant, it can still be contagious and spread from person to person when kissing.

Can Herpes Be Spread Through Sharing Lip Balm or Lipstick

Yes, since herpes spreads through mouth-to-mouth contact, it can be transmitted simply by sharing your lip balm or lipstick.

As mentioned earlier, it is much more contagious during an active outbreak while a person is currently symptomatic.

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How Can I Reduce the Risk of Transmitting Oral Herpes

It's possible to minimize the risk of spreading oral herpes by avoiding contact with the lips, mouth, or skin of anyone experiencing an active oral herpes outbreak.

Other helpful ways to lower your risk of transmitting oral herpes include:

  • Avoiding kissing or sharing personal items that require skin-to-skin contact (i.e. cups, cutlery, towels, etc.) while you or your partner has an active cold sore outbreak
  • Washing your hands regularly, especially after touching a cold sore
  • Using sunscreen-containing lip balms or creams on the cold sore to protect from sun exposure
  • Communicating with your partner about symptoms, flair-ups, or outbreaks
  • Using clean and sanitized sex toys and dental dams during intercourse and oral sex
  • Speaking to your healthcare provider about antiviral medications to minimize outbreak frequency and severity (i.e. Valtrex or Zovirax)
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  • Oral herpes is a common virus affecting 3.7 billion people under the age of 50 — most people with herpes may not even be aware of it!
  • The reason that oral herpes can be spread through kissing has to do with the direct skin-to-skin contact and transfer of saliva
  • Understanding how herpes spreads and taking preventative measures can help reduce your risk of transmitting or contracting the virus altogether
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Medical Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to give medical advice or substitute for the medical advice of a physician.

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