Should I Tell My Date About Cold Sores?

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Dating with oral herpes is a tough topic for many people. It's hard to tell a new sexual partner that you have been diagnosed with an STD. You debate as to what you need to disclose and what you can safely avoid talking about. But oral herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) is communicable and you have the potential to give your partner oral herpes or genital herpes through contact with your mouth, even when sores are not present.

This is something most people want to know they are exposing themselves to in a new relationship.

You may not think cold sores are important to discuss. Most people with oral herpes have been infected since childhood and don't think of it as an STD. However, there are very good reasons to talk to a date, or potential sexual partner, about any infectious disease you might expose them to. Oral herpes is no exception. According to the CDC, an increasing number of genital herpes infections are caused by HSV-1.

What Are Cold Sores?

Cold sores are usually caused by HSV-1. This is a type of a herpes virus that can also cause genital herpes. Cold sores can also be caused by HSV-2, the virus usually referred to as the genital herpes virus. However, oral infections with HSV-2 are far less common than are genital infections with HSV-1. A person with cold sores is far more likely to give their partner genital sores than vice versa.

Why Is It Important to Tell Your Date You Get Cold Sores?

Herpes viruses are extremely contagious. It's not just the risk of spreading cold sores during kissing. If you have an oral herpes infection, you can give your partner a genital herpes infection by going down on them. Whether your partner is male or female, cold sores can easily be transmitted during unprotected oral sex.

Some people will be reluctant to engage in a sexual relationship with someone with oral or genital herpes. However, that reluctance is far from universal. It may be difficult to talk about these issues before having sex. Still, you're far more likely to be able to build a lasting relationship based on the truth. People are willing to take risks for love. They're also less likely to blame a partner for giving them herpes if they went into the relationship with open eyes. HSV-1 dating is much easier when everyone involved is aware of the risks. 

Sample Script for Telling Your Partner You Have Cold Sores

"I really like you, but before we go any further, I wanted to tell you that I get cold sores."

"So?"

"Well, because they're contagious and caused by a herpes virus, I think it's important to let someone who I'm interested in dating know that I get cold sores before I kiss them or sleep with them."

"Cold sores are herpes?"

"Yes."

"Really?"

"Yes."

"Huh. I had no idea. My ex used to get cold sores. What does that mean for me?"

"Well, the herpes virus can be transmitted during kissing and also during oral sex. I always practice safe oral sex, but that's not perfect."

"Huh. We never had safe oral sex. Does that mean I have herpes?"

"Not necessarily. The virus isn't transmitted every time you have sex. But it might make you feel better to get tested and find out."

"There's a test for herpes?"

"Yeah. A blood test. It can tell whether you have ever been infected, even if you don't have symptoms, Not every doctor is willing to give it,  but you can usually find someone if you try"

"I had no idea."

"I can see there's a lot we have to talk about before we have sex."

"But that means you want to?"

"Yeah. Do you?"

"Yeah. I do."

For People Who Have Been Infected With Herpes During Oral Sex

If you are someone who was infected with genital herpes during oral sex, it's a good idea to talk to your partner about what happened. Think about educating them, rather than engaging in partner blame. It's unlikely that they were trying to intentionally give you an STD.

Unfortunately, a lot of people with cold sores are unaware of the risk of transmitting herpes during oral sex. Fortunately, this risk can be greatly reduced by using appropriate barriers or suppressive therapy.

Sources:

Chi CC, Wang SH, Delamere FM, Wojnarowska F, Peters MC, Kanjirath PP. Interventions for prevention of herpes simplex labialis (cold sores on the lips). Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2015 Aug 7;(8): CD010095. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD010095.pub2.

Genital Herpes—CDC Fact Sheet (Detailed). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/std/herpes/stdfact-herpes-detailed.htm.

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