Should I Tell My Date I Have Cold Sores?

Oral herpes poses a risk beyond cold sores

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Dating with a cold sore can embarrassing. But embarrassment shouldn't stop you from telling a sexual partner if you feel one coming on or there is one hidden behind your lip. Even if you're on the mend, cold sores are highly contagious and may do more than just transmit the infection to your partner. It may increase your risk of a sexually transmitted disease (STD).

Facts About Cold Sores

Cold sores are usually caused by herpes simplex virus-1 (HSV-1). It is the cousin of herpes simplex virus-1 (HSV-2), which is primarily associated with genital herpes.

About 65 percent of the world's population under 50 has HSV-1. 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.

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

Cold sores are typically spread by direct, non-sexual contact.

Why Is It Important to Tell Your Date

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

If you have an HSV-1 infection, you can give your partner genital herpes through oral sex. This is because HSV-1 can be spread from the mouth to the genitals as easily as HSV-2 can be passed from the genitals to the mouth. Skin-to-skin contact is all that is needed.

Having an open sore increases risk of an STD by providing the virus or bacteria a direct route into the body. With HIV, the infection can actually promote infection by providing the virus with the immune cells it preferentially 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 an STD screen from your doctor or local health clinic.

How to Tell Your Partner

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 his or her 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 Were Infected During Oral Sex

If you are someone who was infected with 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 partner blame. It's unlikely that they were trying to intentionally give you an STD.

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 therapy.

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