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You have likely had oral herpes since childhood

  • herpes
  • oral
  • oral herpes
  • genital herpes
  • hsv-1
  • hsv-2
  • genital
  • hsv1
  • hsv2

Question:

"Hello, I’ve recently been diagnosed with HSV-1, but in the genital area. My boyfriend hasn't been tested, but we’re assuming that I got it from him, via oral sex. So, since we both have HSV-1, but in different areas, can we give it to each other in different areas as well? For example, can I spread it to his genitals? Or, can he spread it to my mouth? All of these questions should be considered under the scenario of us having unprotected sex."

- Anonymous

Response:

Thank you for your question. Despite how prevalent it is, lots of people do not have a great understanding of oral herpes (HSV-1). Hopefully, the answer to this question can serve as a guide for other people who are looking for answers online. 

First of all, unless you were tested in the recent past, there is no good reason for you to think that you recently contracted HSV-1 from your boyfriend. It's possible (likely, in fact) that you have had HSV-1 for years--possibly decades. This is true for your boyfriend as well. There is a strong chance that both you and your boyfriend have both had HSV-1 since you were young children.

Around 80% of adults in the United States have HSV-1. If you have ever had a canker sore in your mouth, that is what HSV-1 is. A lot of people carry the disease without any symptoms at all. They can still spread it to other people, though. 

If you would like to be sure that your boyfriend has HSV-1 as well, you can order a test for him. This is a blood test. No preparation is required. He can just head to a testing center at any time, get a small amount of blood drawn, and wait a day or two to receive his results in his email inbox.

A lot of our patients who test positive for HSV-1 get confused by their test result. This is because they consider themselves healthy and have never had any herpes symptoms. As stated above, though, many people carry the disease without ever showing or experiencing signs of it. Having herpes type one does not mean that you are not healthy. The virus will not shorten your life or really affect most people in any way.

There are people who have extreme cases of HSV-1 and experience a large number of outbreaks and experience them relatively often. Although no cure exists, there are treatments that can reduce the length of outbreaks and reduce their frequency.

To answer your question directly, though: yes--both of you can spread HSV-1 to each other and spread it to different parts of your bodies. If you have HSV-1 on your genitals and are concerned about your partner contracting it, you should practice the same safe sex procedures that are the norm for HSV-2 (genital herpes).

Both forms of herpes are extremely contagious. That is why almost every adult in the United States has HSV-1. If you ever share silverware or a glass with an infected person, that is an avenue for the virus to move from one person to another. So is kissing. 

The fact of the matter is, though, that you do not need to be terribly concerned about HSV-1. Most people who test positive for it experience little or no symptoms. Having HSV-1 will not ruin your life. While it is certainly better to not have HSV-1 than to have it, carrying the virus will not tremendously impact your life in a negative way.


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