Are Cold Sores a Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD)?

The herpes virus carries a stigma. While various labels are crucial for basic understanding, not every type of herpes is an STD. Most individuals who carry HSV acquired the virus through non-sexual acts.

The definition is determined by the action. If you currently have herpes and the viral transfer took place during sexual activity, then you have a sexually transmitted disease. While this is nothing to be alarmed about, the definition applies based on the action.

No matter how HSV entered your body, there is no medical cure for the virus. From innocent kissing to oral sex, there is no escaping the fact that the virus is with you forever. But,  over-the-counter (OTC) treatments and prescription medications can be used to reduce the symptoms.

What’s the Difference Between HSV-1 and HSV-2?

The difference between HSV-1 and HSV-2 primarily involves the area of the body that’s affected. But, even the position can blur the lines at times.

In general terms, HSV-1 is oral herpes. Blisters that form on the lips and mouth are the most common type of herpes. These are referred to as cold sores or fever blisters. Typically these sores are born from non-sexual transmission of the herpes simplex virus (HSV-1).

Although HSV-1 can cause genital herpes, in most cases blisters on the genitals are caused by HSV-2. Blisters that develop on the genitals, rectum and various locations below the waist are often attributed to HSV-2. Viral transfer primarily takes place during sexual activity.

To summarize…

  • HSV-1 is oral herpes, and HSV-2 is genital herpes. However, HSV-1 can also appear on the genitals.
  • HSV-1, blisters located on the lips and mouth, is the most common type of herpes. More times than not the viral transfer of HSV-1 (to the mouth) occurs from a non-sexual activity. This is one reason why HSV-1 is more common.
  • HSV-2 is genital herpes. Any blisters that form below the waist (in the genital region) tend to be type 2. Because the vast majority of genital herpes are transferred during sexual activity, HSV-2 is classified as a sexually transmitted disease.

Do Cold Sores Mean You Have an STD?

If you have acquired the herpes simplex virus due to sexual activity, you have an STD. That is the most simplistic explanation.

While both HSV-1 and HSV-2 can be transmitted via saliva, the way you acquired the virus defines the STD aspect.

If you have a cold sore on your lip, you likely do not have an STD. If the viral transfer did not take place during a sexual act, you have HSV-1.

It is critical to realize that HSV-1 and HSV-2 will reside in your body forever. Whether your cold sore is from oral sex or kissing someone on the mouth, the virus has no cure. This is why avoiding known viral triggers, such as stress and illness, is critical.

While the majority of cold sores (lip and mouth) are not STDs, that does not mean you should let your guard down. It is always good to be proactive. You can limit the chances of future cold sore outbreaks if you stay on top of your condition.

To recap…

  • HSV-1 due to sexual activity is an STD. However, HSV-1 that has been acquired through kissing, for example, is not an STD.
  • Because the herpes simplex virus has no cure, you should always be proactive and not get too caught up in labels. STD or not, you still need to be proactive. That means understanding cold sore triggers and having a “go to” OTC remedy in case of recurrent infection.

Can You Give Your Partner the Herpes Virus During Oral Sex?

You can give your partner HSV through the act of oral sex. HSV on the mouth that is transferred to the genitals results in the transmission of HSV-1. In this case, HSV-1 would be classified as an STD because viral transfer took place during a sexual act.

If you have HSV-1 and your partner is free of the virus, you can spread it to either their mouth or genitals. Transfer to the buttocks and legs is also possible. Activity such as this can explain why some individuals have cold sores near their mouth and their genitals. All of which are classified as HSV-1 and could have taken place during the same sexual encounter.

In recent years, the medical community has noticed a spike in genital herpes caused by HSV-1. Individuals are either giving their partner oral sex while an active blister is present or during the tingle stage before the appearance of a visual sore.

To summarize…

  • You can give your partner the herpes virus during oral sex. By definition, cold sore blisters on the mouth and lips that are virally transferred to the genitals is an HSV-1 STD.
  • If your partner does not have HSV, it is entirely possible to give them both HSV-1 to the mouth and genital area during the same sexual encounter. Common mouth-to-mouth kissing in addition to oral sex would be the transfer activities responsible.
  • Roughly 40% of all cases of genital herpes are caused by HSV-1 transfer.
  • HSV-2 transfer to the mouth is rare. Although giving your partner HSV-1 during oral sex is common, the likelihood of an infected partner transferring HSV-2 to your lips during oral intimacy is low.

Are Cold Sores and Genital Herpes the Same Thing?

Blisters caused by the herpes virus have many names. Most of those names are given as a result of their location. Sores on the mouth are often called cold sores or fever blisters. Sores on the genitals are called genital herpes. However, the blisters (more or less) look the same.

Because location plays such a huge role, the terminology is introduced as a way of avoiding confusion. While HSV-1, for example, can be found on both the mouth and genitals, each location is given a unique name.

  • Anything below the waist (genitals, buttocks, etc.) is classified as genital herpes regardless of the herpes simplex type.
  • Blisters on the mouth, lips, face, etc. are classified as cold sores or fever blisters.

When are Cold Sores No Longer Contagious?

The final stage of the cold sore cycle is the healing stage. This stage is defined by the scab falling away and being replaced by a fresh and tender skin. It is only at this point that cold sores are no longer contagious.

Contrary to popular belief, the scab stage is not the end of the journey. Just because your fever blister is covered with a scab does not mean the virus has been shielded from others. You can still transfer the virus during the scab stage. You can also make things worse if your scab comes off prematurely. Until the area returns to how it looked before the blister formed, you are not out of the woods.

To recap…

  • The healing stage (new skin) is the final stage of the cold sore cycle. It is only when this stage arrives that you are free of active HSV-1.
  • Cold sores are deemed contagious from the first symptom through complete healing. The scab stage is not a protectant stage against viral transfer. You are still contagious during the scab stage.

Are cold sores a Sexually Transmitted Disease?

How to Avoid Spreading the Herpes Virus

Listed below are some of the most things you can do to avoid viral spreading:

  • No kissing
  • No oral sex
  • Don’t share your drinks
  • No sharing of utensils
  • No sharing of cigarettes
  • Avoid touching your sore. Wash hands ASAP if you do touch the lesion.
  • Change your toothbrush. Get a new one once the blister has formed and after healing.

While many people acquire HSV-1 at a young age, individuals over the age of 18 often fall victim to the virus. The basic rule is that HSV-1 affects people above the waist and HSV-2 affects people below the waist. They are different strains of the same virus. Most of the time, they are transferred from person-to-person in different ways.