Does Kissing Really Spread STDs?

While kissing is less likely to spread sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) than intercourse or oral sex, it is possible to transmit infections while engaging in this intimate act (via Planned Parenthood). The herpes simplex virus (HSV) and cytomegalovirus (CMV), for example, can be spread by kissing.

The herpes simplex virus can take two forms, HSV-1 (oral herpes) and HSV-2, known as genital herpes (via Healthline). Oral herpes, which may cause cold sores, or small white or red blisters on the mouth, can be easily spread through kissing. Touching or kissing someone with an active cold sore can transmit the virus, but it can also be infectious even when no symptoms are present. HSV-1 is extremely common, affecting 67 percent of the global population under the age of 50, according to the World Health Organization. Genital herpes is more commonly spread through genital, oral, and anal sex, but it is also possible to transmit through kissing. Neither form of herpes can be fully cured, but medications are available to treat active infections.

CMV is a viral infection that can lead to symptoms of fatigue, sore throat, body aches, and fever. It's considered an STD because it is often spread through genital, oral, and anal sex. It can also be spread through kissing someone with infected saliva. There is no cure for CMV, though someone with the infection may never know they have it.

What about other STDs?

While syphilis, a bacterial STD, isn't typically transmitted by kissing, it is possible to transmit this way if it causes sores in the mouth. Deep kissing or French kissing can increase the risk of syphilis being transmitted in this manner. However, it is much more likely to be spread through oral, anal, or genital sex. Syphilis can be treated with antibiotics. The sooner the infection is treated, the better, as this can prevent long-term complications. STDs that cannot be spread through kissing include chlamydia, gonorrhea, hepatitis, trichomoniasis, pelvic inflammatory disease, and HIV.

In order to prevent STD transmission, talking to your partner is key. While conversations around STDs can be awkward and uncomfortable, it is important to be upfront with them about your concerns. Be honest and direct and have these conversations before engaging in sexual activity. If you and your partner are not trying to become pregnant, a good rule of thumb is to wear protection. In addition to having a high chance of preventing pregnancy, condoms, dental dams, and other protective barriers also protect against almost all forms of STDs when worn correctly.