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Can You Get Genital Herpes From a Cold Sore?

Can you get genital herpes from a cold sore?
Lucy*

Yes — it is definitely possible to contract genital herpes from oral sex.

Genital herpes is caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). There are two types of herpes viruses — HSV-1 and HSV-2. Genital herpes is usually caused by HSV-2; oral herpes (cold sores) is usually caused by HSV-1.

However, genital herpes can occasionally also be caused by HSV-1. Someone with HSV-1 can transmit the virus through oral contact with another person's genitals, anus, or mouth, even if they don't have sores that are visible at the time.

Other than abstinence (not having sex) the best way to help prevent herpes is to use a condom during any type of sex (oral, vaginal, or anal). Girls should have their partners use a dental dam every time they receive oral sex to help protect against STDs. And if either partner has a sore, it’s best to not have sex until the sore has cleared up.

Reviewed by: Larissa Hirsch, MD
Date reviewed: February 2011

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