Yes, it is possible to get genital herpes through oral sex.
What is genital herpes and how is it spread?
Genital herpes is caused by the herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV 2). More recent studies have shown that type 1 (HSV 1) could also be causing genital herpes.
Transmission of the virus is possible via vaginal, anal and oral sex. Carriers do not have to be suffering an outbreak at the time of transmission. They are infective all of the time.
HSV 1 is mostly transmitted through contact with the mouth. Saliva and open sores can contain the virus. It can be spread by kissing someone who is a carrier, sharing a toothbrush or cutlery, and sexual contact.
Because it is so easily spread, HSV 1 is incredibly common. Around half of the world’s population is estimated to be carriers. Herpes type 2 is less common but still affects a considerable percentage of the global population. An estimated 417 million people worldwide are carriers of HSV 2.
The risk of HSV 2 transmission from a male patient to an uninfected female partner is higher than female to male transmission. The risk of contracting genital herpes increases with the number of sexual partners and frequency of sex.
How to tell if someone has herpes?
It’s not always obvious whether someone has genital herpes or not. Some people may have no symptoms and therefore may not even know that they are carriers of HSV 1 or HSV 2.
When someone has a genital herpes outbreak, they will usually present with sores and blisters around the genital or anal region. These can be painful and uncomfortable. In some patients, symptoms are also accompanied by fever, aches, and headaches. Sores around the mouth are incredibly common and most often caused by HSV 1.
The symptoms of genital herpes in women do not markedly differ compared to those in men.
If you know that you have herpes, you must tell your sexual partner and take necessary precautions to avoid spreading herpes.
When is genital herpes contagious?
If a person has genital herpes the virus can always be transmitted, but carriers are much more contagious at times of an active breakout.
It’s important to avoid sexual intercourse if you notice sores and blisters around your genitalia. Always use a condom during intercourse. If you have ulcers around the mouth avoid kissing or sharing cutlery with others. You can take medications to reduce the severity of the breakout.
How to protect yourself from herpes?
Protecting yourself against a herpes infection is incredibly difficult because many people don’t show any symptoms. You may be a carrier yourself but never experience a single outbreak. Whilst avoiding all sexual contact (including kissing) is not an option for most people, there are several things you could do to minimize your risk of contracting genital herpes.
- Always use a condom during sex.
- Do not share cutlery, toothbrushes or towels with others.
- Avoid kissing a person with cold sores.
Some studies have shown that antiviral drugs such as valaciclovir can lower the risk of transmission when taken daily. But antivirals are not a replacement for practicing safe sex.
Condoms have also been shown to protect women from HSV 2 more effectively than men. That’s because in women viral shedding is localized to areas such as the vulva and those surrounding the rectum and anus. So male genitalia may still come in contact with these areas. Use a dental dam during oral sex if you’re concerned.
Should I be worried about getting genital herpes from oral sex?
Because HSV may lie dormant in many people there is no way of knowing whether a sexual partner has genital herpes or not. You could get a blood test to determine if one of you has herpes, but for most people, it’s unlikely going to make a big difference to their sexual behaviors.
Unless you’re prepared to remain abstinent from sex for the rest of your life, you shouldn’t worry about genital herpes.
If you know you have HSV, you must tell your partner. It’s important that people have the freedom to choose whether herpes is a big deal for them or not.
People who are experiencing breakouts should avoid sexual contact until they’re sores and lesions have calmed down and they are no longer highly infective.
- World Health Organization: WHO. (2017, January 31). Herpes simplex virus. Retrieved November 1, 2019, from Bit.ly website: https://bit.ly/328lu1I
- UpToDate. (2019). Retrieved October 31, 2019, from Uptodate.com website: https://www.uptodate.com/contents/genital-herpes-beyond-the-basics
- Mertz, G. J. (1992). Risk Factors for the Sexual Transmission of Genital Herpes. Annals of Internal Medicine, 116(3), 197. https://doi.org/10.7326/0003-4819-116-3-197
- COREY, L. (1983). Genital Herpes Simplex Virus Infections: Clinical Manifestations, Course, and Complications. Annals of Internal Medicine, 98(6), 958. https://doi.org/10.7326/0003-4819-98-6-958
- Barton S. E. (2005). Reducing the transmission of genital herpes. BMJ (Clinical research ed.), 330(7484), 157–158. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.330.7484.157
- Condoms Reduce Women’s Risk of Herpes Infection, But Do Not Protect Men. (2005, September 8). Retrieved October 31, 2019, from Guttmacher Institute website: https://www.guttmacher.org/journals/ipsrh/2001/12/condoms-reduce-womens-risk-herpes-infection-do-not-protect-men