Why You Should Tell Your Partner If You Have HSV-1

Oral herpes poses a risk beyond cold sores

Herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1)—the virus mainly responsible for cold sores—is easily passed through kissing and oral sex. If you have or are recovering from a cold sore and have such contact with a partner, they can also get a cold sore.

Though less common, HSV-1 can also cause genital herpes. Having genital herpes increases the risk of getting other sexually transmitted infections (STIs), such as HIV.

Telling a partner you have HSV-1 is important for their health and your own, especially if you or they have other partners.

The article explains what cold sores are, the risk of transmission to a partner, and how long it takes before you are in the clear. It also offers strategies for discussing a cold sore with your partner and what to do if you get herpes through oral sex.

Couple facing each other on a couch
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Should I Worry About HSV-1?

Cold sores typically aren't anything to worry about and can be easily treated. But that doesn't mean HSV-1 is harmless.

Cold sores usually appear as a single watery blister on the lip or mouth, or several blisters that consolidate into one. They can be painful and may take up to 14 days before active healing begins.

But HSV-1 never goes away. If you develop another cold sore, the virus can spread more easily. This can occur through saliva and direct contact.

Cold sores affect roughly 3 of every 1,000 people each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Of these, 33% will experience subsequent attacks triggered by stress, fever, and other causes.

Why You Need to Tell Your Partner If You Have a Cold Sore

Herpes viruses are extremely contagious. And it's not just the risk of spreading a cold sore that you should be worried about.

This is because herpes can spread from the mouth to the genitals or from the genitals to the mouth. Skin-to-skin contact is all that is needed.

Having an open sore also increases your risk of an STI by providing the virus or bacteria a direct route into the body. Herpes can actually promote HIV infection by attracting the immune cells the HIV virus targets and infects.

To this end, it is just as important to discuss both of your sexual histories and not just herpes. As awkward as this may seem, it allows you both to explore whether it's time to get STI testing from your healthcare provider or local health clinic.

How to Tell Your Partner You Have a Cold Sore

It may be difficult to talk about these issues before sex. Still, you're far more likely to be able to build a lasting relationship based on the truth.

People are willing to take risks for love. They're also less likely to blame a partner for giving them herpes if they went into the relationship with open eyes. Here's a sample script that may help:

You: "I really like you, but before we go any further, I wanted to tell you that I may have a cold sore."

Partner: "So?"

You: "Well, because they're contagious and caused by a herpes virus, I think it's important to let someone who I'm interested in dating to know that I get cold sores before I kiss them or sleep with them."

Partner: "Cold sores are herpes?"

You: "Yes."

Partner: "I had no idea. My ex used to get cold sores a lot. What does that mean for me?"

You: "Well, the herpes virus can be transmitted during kissing and also during oral sex. I always practice safe oral sex, but even that's not perfect."

Partner: "We never used condoms for oral sex. Does that mean I have herpes?"

You: "Not necessarily. The virus isn't transmitted every time you have sex. But it might make you feel better to get tested and find out."

Partner: "There's a test for herpes?"

You: "Yeah. It's a blood test. It can tell whether you have ever been infected even if you don't have symptoms. What do you think about that?"

From that point forward, allow your partner to make their own decision without stress or coercion. There doesn't have to be an immediate answer. The one thing you can control is your sexual decisions, including how you choose to protect yourself.

If You Got Herpes Through Oral Sex

If you are someone who acquired genital herpes during oral sex, it's a good idea to talk to your partner about what happened. Think about educating them, rather than engaging in blame.

It's unlikely that they were trying to intentionally transmit an STI. Unfortunately, a lot of people with cold sores are unaware of the risk of transmitting herpes during oral sex.

Fortunately, this risk can be greatly reduced by using appropriate barriers or suppressive treatments.


Cold sores are usually caused by HSV-1, a common strain of the herpes virus that's highly contagious.

Having a cold sore can also lead to genital herpes during oral sex and an open sore may offer an entry point for other STIs.

It's important to have an honest conversation with a partner related to any cold sores so that you can take steps to protect and/or support each other.

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Prevalence of herpes simplex virus type 1 and type 2 in persons aged 14–49: United States, 2015–2016.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Genital herpes - CDC fact sheet (detailed).

  3. Cleveland Clinic. Cold sores.

By Elizabeth Boskey, PhD
Elizabeth Boskey, PhD, MPH, CHES, is a social worker, adjunct lecturer, and expert writer in the field of sexually transmitted diseases.