Dear Dr. Vanessa: Should I Ask About Herpes Before a Kiss

kissphoto by peasap

Every few weeks, Dr. Vanessa Cullins, a board-certified obstetrician/ gynecologist and vice president for medical affairs at Planned Parenthood® Federation of America, will be answering your questions here. To ask her your own question, click here.

Dear Dr. Vanessa,

Considering the pervasiveness of oral herpes, how come you never hear about asking someone if they have it before you lock lips with them? Would that just be rude? It wouldn’t be rude if you were asking about genital herpes before you had intercourse with someone.

Tongue Tied

Dear TT,

You’re right.  Oral herpes is extremely common.  Up to 80 percent of teens and adults have it.  And many of them are unaware that they have it because they have never had a typical “cold sore” or “fever blister” on the mouth or lips — or they may not have had one in years.

Most people with oral herpes get it during childhood from their parents, relatives, or friends.  Brief, direct contact — like being kissed good bye — is all that is needed to pass the infection.  So, if you’re worried about getting cold sores, it would make just as much sense to ask your grandmother if she’s had them before kissing her as asking your girlfriend or boyfriend.

The simplest answer to your question is that while it can’t hurt to ask about oral herpes before kissing someone, there is really no need — just assume that most people already have it.  And, of course, do not to kiss anyone with obvious cold sores.  That’s about all you can do.

Genital herpes is also common, but less common than oral herpes — about 25 percent of teens and adults have genital herpes.  You can certainly ask about genital herpes and other infections before having sex with a partner.  But just be aware that, like oral herpes, many people don’t even know that they have genital herpes.  And some people who know they have it will lie.

So, it’s best to use condoms with all new partners and partners with whom you don’t plan on having a lasting relationship.  Condoms can also be helpful to couples when only one partner has been diagnosed with genital herpes.  Condoms do not offer perfect protection against herpes, but they do reduce the risk.

Also, don’t let someone with cold sores give you oral sex because oral herpes can get spread to the genitals.  Genital herpes can also be spread to the mouth during oral sex.

Even though there is no cure for herpes, medications can lower the number and severity of outbreaks.  The good news is that even though herpes can be painful and bothersome, it is not the end of the world.

Planned Parenthood

Vanessa Cullins, MD, MPH, MBA, is a board-certified obstetrician/gynecologist and vice president for medical affairs at Planned Parenthood® Federation of America.


  1. what you wrote about it being rude, or you might as well ask your grandmother before kissing her is about the worst analogy anyone could offer. Unless you plan on letting your grandmother perform oral sex on you. And what people want to know….since kissing someone with oral herpes (that you currently have been tested for and dont have) means that you could contract it whether they have a sore or not, and if you dont address it before you contract it, youre in for a lifetime of oral sores that you can spread to someones genitals, which is not what I would wish on anyone. so, telling people NOT to ask about oral herpes, but make sure they dont perform oral sex on you if they have it…makes no sense. you NEED to ask before you kiss them (if youre sure you dont have it) if you want to risk dealing with it the rest of your life, long after theyre gone.

  2. @Johnny I love your response.
    Seriously though I think after asking you shouldn’t worry, they won’t want to kiss you after you seriously kill the moment.

  3. Ask about herpes before you kiss someone? Are you serious?

    Here’s a better question for you: “where can I get therapy for my raging Howard Hughes germ phobia? I can’t hook up because every time I’m about to I start asking about herpes!”

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