When it comes to cold sores and oral sex, so much can ‘potentially’ go wrong…

Perhaps you have a cold sore and want to avoid infecting your boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, wife or long-term partner? Perhaps you’re unsure about whether HSV-1 can become HSV-2, or how to avoid getting the herpes simplex virus yourself?

We aim to answer the most common queries in simple question-and-answer (Q&A) format. Let’s explore the topic closely so that you can avoid the most obvious risks, or find out what can be done after the event.

Expand the table of contents (below) to find the right Q&A section:

When Is Giving Oral Safe? How Long Should I Wait?

  • Important: If you carry HSV-1 and have an active cold sore, you should not have oral sex until the healing period has concluded. Waiting until your lip is clean and clear is the safest course of action.

The best approach to take is to remove oral sex from the equation. If you have had a cold sore in the past, you probably know the basic dos and dont’s. No kissing, no sharing of drinks, no sharing chapsticks, etc. The same rules apply to oral sex.

The transmission of HSV-1 from mouth to genitals is currently the fastest cause of genital lesions. This is likely due to nothing more than impatience. Learning to chill at the right times can be your best plan of defense.

Listed below are some vital things to consider and understand.

  • Respect yourself and respect your partner. Regardless of age, it never hurts to use some common sense. Cold sores take a few weeks to heal. You can certainly wait that long to give oral sex. Especially when the consequences could be problematic for your partner.
  • Transferring HSV-1 to the genital region is becoming more of an issue than ever before. The best mindset is to treat oral sex like mouth-to-mouth kissing. If you are not sure if it is okay to kiss, then you should not attempt oral sex.
  • How long should you wait? Until you are free of the symptoms. If you are in the midst of a cold sore outbreak, let it run its course. Your partner will certainly thank you. Once again, let personal responsibility be your guide.

I Have a Cold Sore and Gave My Boyfriend Oral Sex 

This action is highly problematic. While your boyfriend is not guaranteed to get an outbreak, the odds are unfortunately not in his favor. Let’s take a closer look and explain why…

HSV-1 enters the body through cracks in the mouth and lip region. That’s likely how you contracted the virus and became a carrier. The exchanging of your saliva and cold sore blister fluids is how you can transmit the virus.

Oral sex, for all its detail, is quite basic. It involves the transfer of bodily fluids. As it relates to cold sores, it involves the transfer of saliva to the genital region. If you are in the midst of an active outbreak, there is a good chance HSV-1 has now been transferred to your partner.

In summary…

  • Active cold sores and oral sex do not mix. The risk of transmission is through the roof. While that is an unfortunate truth, especially for a young person, it is indeed a truth.
  • If you have an active sore, any sexual contact can spread HSV-1. As noted earlier, oral sex is just an extended form of basic kissing in this regard. The person, the boyfriend, in this case, is at risk for developing cold sores on his genitals.

When Are Cold Sores Most Contagious?

Cold sores are most contagious during the eruption stage. While not medically defined, the eruption stage is when cold sore blisters pop. The fluid inside the blister is ground zero regarding transmission.

As it relates to the topic of oral sex, an oozing blister can put both participants in danger. The individual with the sore can damage the infected area, thus prolonging the healing process. Regarding the recipient, the odds of transmission are extreme if not guaranteed.

Cold sores are contagious from the initial lip tingle until the advanced scab stage. This means that HSV-1 can be transmitted a full 24-48 hours before a visible blister appears. Understanding this bit of information is paramount.

While wanting to know the “most contagious” stage is a valid question, there is no safe zone. If you have cold sore symptoms, you can transmit HSV-1 through the act of oral sex.

Here are some important takeaways and safety tips.

  • The eruption stage is the most contagious stage of a cold sore. However, cold sores are contagious from the initial symptoms.
  • An oozing blister can cause issues for you and your partner. Oral sex can trigger an active blister and delay healing. Engaging in oral sex, especially when at the peak of being contagious, will likely transmit HSV-1 to your partner.
  • There is no “safer than” scenario. If you have an active cold sore, you should avoid oral sex. Finding yourself on the outside of the “most contagious stage” means very little in the big picture. There is no such thing as a non-contagious active cold sore.

Are Cold Sores Contagious when Scabbed?

Yes and no. While the medical community will tell you that fully scabbed sores are no longer contagious, there is a caveat. It only takes one small trigger to peel the scab. Once peeled the sore is fully contagious once again. Active and exposed. This is obviously bad news for the sufferer and well as his or her partner.

For the problematic reasons noted above, it is better to be safe than sorry. Although engaging in oral sex while having a cold sore might be harmless for you, it might not be harmless for another person. While luck is certainly not a medical term, a good amount of luck does enter this equation. This particular ground is about as subjective as it gets.

If you are a female giving oral sex to a man, lip contact and rubbing is critical. This is not a good combination if the giver has a cold sore scab. Just the friction alone could tear the scab. This action could expose the man to HSV-1. Additionally, the scab removal now creates a new issue for the female in question. Prolonged healing with the potential for infection.

Noted below are a few things to consider when it comes to the subject of closed scabs and oral sex.

  • Medically speaking, a fully closed scab is not contagious. However, think about oral sex and the lip region. The physical action required for this type of sex is the definition of a cold sore trigger. If simply picking at a scab is bad, oral sex is much worse.
  • If you can see the sore, in blister or scab form, you need to assume it is not safe for sex. Why take a gamble when you are on the cusp of complete healing? The scab stage is the final stage. Waiting 3-4 more days could be the difference.
  • Oral sex will be more rewarding when your lip is healed. If the ability to not only have oral sex but to enjoy it is the goal, then wait. Oral sex, while sporting a scab, is not erotic. That alone should be enough of a turn off to abstain until healed.

Can Oral Sex Trigger Cold Sores?

Potentially. Based on this particular question the implication is that no cold sore or blister symptoms are present. That understanding alone is very important.

Can oral sex serve as a trigger? The answer is likely found in lip sensitivity, oral technique(s), and general performance aggression.

Removing sex from the equation for a moment, think about general cold sore triggers. Some are indirect, but some are direct. Actual manipulation of your lip? Now, would you willingly take your fingers, for example, and rub them hard over your lips? Essentially inviting manipulation or a break in the skin? Would you deem that action a potential trigger? Obviously…

While oral sex can act as a trigger, this is a very subjective question. Our advice would be to use caution. Simply knowing that it is a trigger could impact your technique and general actions.

  • Oral sex can serve as a trigger. Acting in the same way as citrus fruit on the lips, extreme weather changes, physical manipulation, etc.
  • If you are concerned about prompting an outbreak, then adjust your technique. This will keep your lips sealed as much as possible. Avoiding breaks in the skin is critical.

How Long Does It Take for a Cold Sore to Heal? 

From the initial symptom through scab healing, a cold sore can take 14-30 days to heal on average. This window is typically determined by the severity of the outbreak. Although manipulation of the area, as well as treatment methods, can play a role as well. The former is negative, and the latter is positive.

If you are sexually active and simply want the sore gone and gone fast, treatment is the key. Thanks to an assortment of various creams, ointments, and patches, healing time from cold sores can be reduced. Many of the most prominent remedies are noted and documented on this site.

As it relates to the topic of manipulation, do everything in you can to be responsible. If you have suffered a cold sore in the past, you are likely familiar with cold sore triggers. It is important to do everything positive to steer clear of these pitfalls.

It is also worth noting that oral sex itself, while highly unwise during a cold sore outbreak, can halt natural healing. The act of oral sex can serve as a cold sore trigger.

So much of cold sore healing is the personal approach. If you are proactive and cautious, then you could be on the better end of the healing scale.

  • Cold sores take roughly two weeks to one month to heal. While this is an average, this time frame can be decreased or increased depending on certain factors.
  • Treatment can be a salvation. Many FDA approved OTC medications can reduce healing time by as much as 10 days or more, such as the Virulite Cold Sore Device. This is obviously important if you are eager to resume sexual activity safely.
  • Avoid negligence. While some cold sores can take longer to heal, being responsible is a positive. If you want your sore to heal, and then pick at it every hour, you are defeating your cause. Manipulating your cold sore will only set you back. This manipulation can also lead to a potentially nasty infection.

Face about cold sores and sexual intimacy

Can HSV-1 Become HSV-2?

No. While HSV-1 and HSV-2 can potentially impact the same areas of the body, and there is no change in the virus itself.

Let’s take a closer look.

HSV-1 typically enters the body through a crack in the lip or mouth region. Once entered, the virus will lay dormant in that same region until triggered. This is why HSV-1 sores develop on the lips and mouth more than any other region of the body. It is estimated that 50-80 percent of the general population has HSV-1.

HSV-2, on the other hand, behaves differently. Once this particular virus type enters the body, it travels to the spinal nerves. This nerve cluster is located in and around the genital region. Those infected with HSV-2 will have the virus lay dormant in the same nerve region until activated. Roughly 16 percent of the population carry HSV-2.

As you can see, HSV-1 and HSV-2 can never truly overlap or change in virus type. While it is certainly possible to transmit HSV-1 to the genital region, the virus type is still HSV-1.

Additionally, if you have a specific type of HSV, the odds of contracting the other type are small. While not impossible by any stretch, chances are limited. This is due to antibodies forming a shield around the virus. If you have had HSV-1 for many years, your likelihood of acquiring HSV-2 is far less.

Here are some valuable takeaways:

  • HSV-1 can never become HSV-2 and vice versa.
  • The HSV-2 virus attaches to nerve clusters near the bottom of the spine and genital region. HSV-1 does not.
  • HSV-1 can be transmitted to your partner through oral sex, but the virus type is the same. Herpes on your genitals, initially transmitted from mouth to genital contact, is still HSV-1.

Can You Get HSV-2 on the Lips? 

Potentially, although the odds are very small. To understand why this is the case, it is important to dissect HSV-2.

As briefly noted in the prior section, HSV-2 enters the body and travels to the spinal nerves. The virus then becomes activated during various penetration sex acts. Just a small tear within any mucous membrane can transmit HSV-2.

For those very reasons, this is why it is quite rare to get HSV-2 on the lips or mouth. Having said that, transmission of this fashion is possible.

How can it happen?

HSV-2 can enter the body through breaks in the mouth, similar to HSV-1. In this situation, HSV-2 would enter the body and attach to nerves near the ear, rather than the lower spine. This is the signature of this rare occurrence.

As it relates to oral sex, this type of transmission would likely occur from giving oral to an HSV-2 infected partner. The virus would then enter the mouth and attach to nerves near the ear rather than the spine. Once triggered, HSV-2 sores would likely appear on the lips or even the esophagus. This ailment is known as herpes esophagitis.

  • You can get HSV-2 on the lips although it is quite rare.
  • HSV-1 and HSV-2, by and large, reside in different nerve channels in the body. The unlikely residence of HSV-2 in the ear region rather than lower spine is the rarity. This would set in motion the potential for oral HSV-2.

Can You Get HSV-1 or HSV-2 from Giving Oral to Someone Who Is Infected?

This is essentially a two-fold question with potentially different answers. While “infected” can be a broad term, knowing the symptoms is more important. Is your partner having sensory or visual flare-ups? Can you see a cold sore? The answers to these questions are critical.

Can you get HSV by giving oral to an infected partner? Not likely.

Can you get HSV by giving oral to a symptomatic partner? Yes.

Let’s examine…

Although contracting HSV-1 from giving oral sex is more likely, HSV-2 transmission is not impossible. Understanding the basics of HSV is how we will once again tackle this general question.

If someone has active HSV (regardless of type) on their genitals, this is a serious matter. Would you place your mouth on knowingly infected genitals? Highly problematic to say the least. Not to mention gross, let’s just be honest.

Cuts and tears in the membranes of the lips and mouth can infect the giver in this scenario. Just the slightest opening can transmit the virus.

Understanding that HSV-1 and HSV-2 are genetically similar is important. On the surface, the only real difference is the aforementioned nerve chain dormancy location. HSV-1 typically lives near the ear while HSV-2 resides in a section of nerves in the lower spine.

As it relates to this particular question, understanding the terminology is important. Oral contact with symptomatic genitals will likely result in transmission. Performing oral on an infected individual is okay as long as the virus is dormant.

  • There is a major difference between an infected partner and a symptomatic partner. Oral sex should never be performed on a symptomatic partner.
  • If transmission does occur, HSV-1 will likely be the type. Although, HSV-2 can occur in rare cases.

Can HSV-1 become HSV-2?

Do Cold Sores Mean You Have an STD?

No. At least not by default. As noted above, language and terminology are important. If you have a cold sore, you have HSV-1. Medically speaking, HSV-1 is not classified as an STD. That label falls under HSV-2

While you can get HSV-1 on your genitals through being infected by your partner, that infection is not viewed as an STD. Most of this reasoning goes back to the aforementioned nerve channels.

In truth, most people leave out the word “herpes” altogether when speaking about HSV-1. This is especially true in casual conversation about the subject. More times than not, “cold sores” describe HSV-1 while “genital herpes” describe HSV-2. However, those descriptions can be muddied at times as we have well-documented.

To summarize…

  • The proof is in the HSV type. While location can give you some hints, knowing the actual type is proof of an STD. HSV-1 is not an STD by definition. HSV-2 is the hallmark of an STD.
  • Most people do not refer to blisters on their genitals as cold sores. This is once again an example of language and terminology. If you have a cold sore, you are likely referring to your mouth or lip. In this scenario, there are overwhelming odds that your blister is HSV-1.

Cold Sores and Oral Sex – The Importance of Safety

While the material is quite detailed and extensive, we hope it helped you. By providing facts rather than fear it is our goal not only to get you healthy but perhaps make you a touch wiser.

Although there is nothing wrong with having an active sex life, find out the pitfalls. If you or your partner have a cold sore, the objective is to avoid a bigger issue. It is that simple.

Is patience the key to a great sex life? When the topic is cold sores and oral sex the answer is yes. So many of the questions asked above can be resolved by simply waiting. Your best line of defense in many cases is simply learning how to put on the brakes.

Learn to spot the signs and treat cold sores immediately