Should I Tell My Date About Cold Sores?

Couple having discussion on sofa, side view
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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. In fact, it's so hard that many people spend a lot of time thinking about what they have to disclose to their partners -- and what they can safely avoid talking about. That's why many people spend so much time questioning whether they need to tell their partners they have HSV-1.

For many people, cold sores aren't something that it's important to discuss. The rationale for not bringing up cold sores in advance is usually either that the sores are something that a person has had since childhood -- making them not an STD -- or that cold sores are extremely common. However, there are very good reasons to talk to a date, or potential sexual partner, about any infectious disease you might expose them to. Cold sores, more accurately described as oral herpes, are no exception. Most people want to know when they're dating someone with cold sores. If nothing else, it may encourage them to disclose their own. 

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?

Telling your partner that you have cold sores is important. 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."


"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?"




"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.


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

Gupta R, Wald A. Genital herpes: antiviral therapy for symptom relief and prevention of transmission. Expert Opin Pharmacother. 2006 Apr;7(6):665-75. Review. Erratum in: Expert Opin Pharmacother. 2006 Jun;7(9):1243.

Wald A. Genital HSV-1 infections. Sex Transm Infect. 2006 Jun;82(3):189-90.

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