Imagine this… You’re planning to get intimate with your partner when you suddenly spot a cold sore around your mouth. Cold sores are small contagious blisters spread through the herpes simplex virus (HSV).
Cold sores are usually caused by HSV-1 and can be passed from person to person through kissing or oral sex. You can even transmit cold sores by sharing cups, utensils, and sharing lip balm or lipstick. Giving your partner a cold sore through sexual contact could lead to genital herpes, usually caused by the herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2).
What’s the difference between HSV-1 and HSV-2?
Cold sores and genital herpes are very similar and are caused by the same herpes virus family. However, although HSV-1 and HSV-2 are similar viruses, they’re not the same. Cold sores are usually caused by HSV-1, and genital herpes is generally caused by HSV-2 but can also be spread through HSV-1.
However, we can’t necessarily say that all cold sores are HSV-1 or that all genital herpes is HSV-2. Both types of the herpes virus can cause cold sores and herpes. In fact, many people have developed genital herpes after contracting HSV-1. Fortunately, those people are less likely to have a recurring outbreak than those who contracted HSV-2.
How do you know if you have a cold sore?
Cold sores, also called oral herpes or fever blisters, are painful, fluid-filled blisters on or near the lips, nose, or chin. They typically have the following features:
- Small blisters over reddened skin
- Painful blisters that tingle, burn, or itch
- Ooze, scab over and resolve over 2–6 weeks
- Fever, swollen lymph nodes, and feeling ill may precede your first outbreak of cold sores
Cold sores typically start with a tingling, itching, or burning sensation around your mouth a day or two before a blister appears. This is followed by a small bump that turns into a fluid-filled blister. The blister then breaks and leaks fluid. A scab later forms over the sore, and it eventually heals. It is best to take antiviral medication before bumps appear to decrease or even stop your symptoms.
Can you have oral sex with a cold sore?
The virus that causes cold sores is most contagious when the sores are oozing fluid but can still be contagious even when they are scabbed over. When the virus that causes cold sores is present on your skin, it can be spread to other people even if you don’t have any visible sores.
There is a misconception that there is less risk of transmitting STI through oral sex. Although the risk is higher through vaginal and anal penetration, people forget to use protection during oral and transmit HSV from cold sores.
Can you get cold sores after giving oral?
Many people wonder why “I got a cold sore after giving oral.” Cold sores can spread if a mouth infected with HSV-1 or HSV-2 comes into contact with your genitals or if infected genitals contact your mouth. Therefore, if your partner has HSV, you can develop a cold sore after giving a BJ or cunnilingus. It is most contagious during an outbreak but can still spread without blisters.
How long after a cold sore can you have oral sex?
Once you develop the virus, it stays in your body, and you may experience regular flare-ups. You can still spread the virus after the cold sore heals, but the risk is thought to be low. However, you should wait 2-6 weeks for the cold sore to heal before you can have sex. You should also avoid kissing anyone if you have active cold sores. As well as avoid sharing cups, utensils, or towels with someone who has cold sores.
How to prevent transmission
To reduce the risk of HSV transmission, you should use a condom or dental dam every time you have sex when you have cold sores. You can also prevent spreading HSV by:
- Avoiding close contact with people who have cold sores
- Avoiding sharing utensils, towels, or other items with someone who has a cold sore
- Avoiding touching your own lips if you have a cold sore
- Using a lip balm or cream that contains an antiviral medication
If you have cold sores, your doctor may prescribe you an antiviral medication. These drugs work by interfering with the ability of the virus to replicate, which can help speed up the healing process and reduce the severity and duration of symptoms. You can also treat cold sores by:
- Applying a lip balm or cream that contains an antiviral medication
- Applying a cold, damp cloth to the sore
- Taking over-the-counter pain medication
This blog post is for educational purposes only and does not constitute medical or other professional advice. Your specific circumstances should be discussed with a healthcare provider. All statements of opinion represent the writers' judgement at the time of publication and are subject to change. Phoenix and its affiliates provide no express or implied endorsements of third parties or their advice, opinions, information, products, or services.