Although rare, but kissing can actually spread certain STDs. While herpes, HPV, syphilis top the list, even HIV can be passed on if both partners have bleeding gums or open sores. Some other common STDs like chlamydia and gonorrhea can't be transmitted through kissing, though. To lower your risk, your best bet is to choose your partner wisely and to play it safe!
If you’re sexually active, practicing safe sex is always the way to go. After all, the risk of catching a sexually transmitted disease (STD) should always be on your radar. Bacteria, yeast, parasites, and viruses can all cause STDs that are usually passed on through sexual contact.1 And while you might feel you’ve been careful, did you know that innocent kissing can also spread STDs?
Don’t panic just yet, though! According to the Washington State Department of Health, it’s still rare to get most STDs by kissing.2 But even if the chances are slim, it never hurts to be cautious. So here’s the lowdown on STDs that you need to watch out for while kissing.
STDs That Can Be Spread By Kissing
First up is herpes, an STD caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). There’s a good chance you’re familiar with HSV type 1 or oral herpes. This kind usually causes those pesky cold sores on the lips. HSV type 2 is genital herpes, which shows up as painful blisters on your buttocks, genitals, or anal area. However, (to complicate things further!) both oral and genital herpes can be caused by HSV type 1 or 2.3
Since herpes sores contain virus-filled fluids, HSV can spread through direct contact. You can also get infected by someone who doesn’t have visible sores because the virus can be released through the skin.4 Usually, cold sores are spread through kissing while genital herpes is spread through vaginal, oral, or anal sex.5
While there isn’t a cure for herpes, antiviral medicines can alleviate symptoms and shorten outbreaks.
Syphilis is caused by a bacterial infection. In the early stages, it can show up as a painless (but extremely contagious) sore on your genitals or around your mouth. This might last for about 6 weeks. Afterward, you might have secondary symptoms that could last a few weeks. These include a flu-like illness, rash, or hair loss. And after that? You might not get any symptoms for years, but serious issues like paralysis, blindness, and heart conditions may crop up much later.
Like herpes, syphilis is spread through direct contact. Sores usually develop on the vagina, anus, external genitals, or in the rectum – but they can also be found on the lips or in the mouth. Typically, this STD is spread through vaginal, oral, or anal sex. But you might be surprised to know that it can also be passed through kissing. Pregnant women can even pass it on to their babies.6 7
Syphilis treatment calls for antibiotics. As with most conditions, early detection is key to preventing this STD from worsening over time.8
The human papillomavirus (HPV) is pretty common. Often, it causes moist, soft, pink or flesh-colored pink bumps called genital warts. In women, they’re found on the cervix, in the vagina, or around the anus. Men may develop these on the penis.9 More than 100 types of HPV exist, but most don’t cause serious harm. However, about 30 types can increase cancer risk. High-risk HPV can lead to cancers of the anus, cervix, vagina, and vulva in women. In men, cancers of the penis and anus can develop.10
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, HPV is the most common STD out there. In fact, it’s so common that most sexually active people get it at some point in their life.11 It spreads through skin-to-skin contact like vaginal, oral, or anal sex with someone who is infected.12 13 HPV that infects the genitals can also infect the throat and mouth (oral HPV). Here, it can cause warts or lead to cancers of the head or neck. Oral HPV has been found to be transmitted through oral sex and open-mouthed kissing, though the connection isn’t fully established yet.14
So, what about treatment? Cryotherapy (freezing of warts) and creams are used to treat genital warts.15 Meanwhile, the HPV vaccine can offer protection from cancers caused by this virus.
Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is responsible for AIDS. This powerful virus attacks the immune system and is transmitted through blood, vaginal fluids, semen, and breast milk.16 It can’t be passed through saliva and you can’t get it through closed-mouth kissing. Yet, there have been rare cases of HIV transmission from open-mouth kissing where both partners had open sores or bleeding gums.17
STDs That Are Not Spread By Kissing
The National Health Service, UK, points out that common STDs like chlamydia and gonorrhea can’t be transmitted through kissing. Instead, these diseases are usually passed on through unprotected vaginal, oral, or anal sex. The risky move of sharing sex toys can also do the trick. Lastly, an expectant mother can pass these STDs on to her baby.18 19
How Can You Protect Yourself From STDs?
The thought of STDs can be stressful. But instead of worrying, play it safe with these tips. It’s the best way to lower your chances of catching an STD.
- Your partner’s oral health will affect you. So choose wisely and be wary, especially if deep kissing is a regular thing between the two of you!
- Stay in a mutually monogamous relationship with someone who doesn’t have any STDs.
- Use condoms for good protection against STDs. Keep in mind that they aren’t perfect, though.
- Never share needles, as many STDs are transmitted through blood.20
References [ + ]
|1.||↑||Sexually Transmitted Diseases. National Institutes of Health.|
|2, 20.||↑||Frequently Asked Questions. Washington State Department of Health.|
|3.||↑||Herpes Simplex. National Institutes of Health.|
|4, 5.||↑||Genital Herpes – CDC Fact Sheet. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.|
|6.||↑||Syphilis. The Center for Young Women’s Health.|
|7.||↑||Syphilis – CDC Fact Sheet (Detailed). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.|
|8, 15.||↑||Sexually transmitted infections (STIs). National Health Service.|
|9.||↑||Genital Warts. National Institutes of Health.|
|10.||↑||HPV. National Institutes of Health.|
|11.||↑||What is HPV?. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.|
|12.||↑||What is HPV?. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.|
|13.||↑||Genital warts. National Health Service.|
|14.||↑||HPV and Oropharyngeal Cancer – Fact Sheet. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.|
|16.||↑||HIV/AIDS. National Institutes of Health.|
|17.||↑||Kissing?. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.|
|18.||↑||Is chlamydia only caught through sexual contact?. National Health Service.|
|19.||↑||Gonorrhoea. National Health Service.|