If I give my boyfriend oral sex when I have cold sores, could he catch genital herpes?
Recurrent cold sores on the outside of your lips, nose or chin are almost always caused by herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1). If you give your partner oral sex, you can transfer this virus from your mouth to his genitals. He would then have genital herpes caused by HSV-1. Giving him oral sex when you have a cold sore present is very risky, indeed...and I would strongly advise against it.
Does using a condom reduce the risk of herpes transmission during oral sex? Yes, if your boyfriend wears a condom when you give him oral sex, there’s a lower risk of spreading the virus. However, herpes can be spread through skin-to-skin contact...so if your mouth touches a part of his penis that isn't covered by a condom, he could still get genital herpes from you.
In fact, even if you don’t have a cold sore at the particular moment of performing oral sex on your boyfriend, there is still a chance that you could transmit the virus from your mouth to his penis. This happens through a process called asymptomatic viral shedding.
What if your boyfriend already has cold sores? If he has cold sores, or even if he just tests positive for HSV-1 with an IgG antibody test, then he’s already infected. As long as you’re both infected with the same type of herpes, his risk of contracting genital herpes from you through oral sex is lower.
So, if you haven’t already, I would encourage both of you to get tested for HSV-1 and HSV-2 to know your status for sure, and to get treatment if necessary. Also, our Expert Guide to Herpes 1 + 2 has more information about herpes symptoms, prevention, testing and treatment.
Hopefully this information has been helpful to you, and I wish you both good health.
Warren is a Nurse Practitioner and owner of Westover Heights Clinic in Oregon. She is a renown expert and author in the field of genital herpes research, diagnosis and treatment. Warren was educated at Oregon Health and Sciences University and the University of Portland.