You can only get a few sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) from kissing, including herpes simplex virus (HSV), cytomegalovirus and (rarely) syphilis. Most STDs only spread through unprotected sexual contact.
STDs You Can Get From Kissing
The STDs you can get from kissing someone who’s infected include HSV types 1 and 2, cytomegalovirus — a type of herpesvirus — and syphilis.
HSV-1, also known as oral herpes, is the STD that’s most easily spread through kissing. It’s extremely common, affecting more than half of the population. Many people don’t even know they have it, because they don’t have any symptoms.
The most common symptoms of HSV-1 are small, painful sores or blisters that form on the mouth or genitals during an active infection. You can get HSV-1 if you come in contact with these open sores while kissing, sharing contaminated eating utensils, or having oral, anal, or genital sex.
There’s no cure for HSV-1, so once you’re infected, you’re infected for life. Your healthcare provider, however, can prescribe medications to shorten or reduce outbreaks and lower the risk of spreading it to your sex partners.
HSV-2, also called genital herpes, spreads most commonly through oral, anal, or genital sex, but it’s still possible to get infected by kissing someone who has it. The symptoms are similar to those of HSV-1, including painful sores that develop on and around the genitals and, less frequently, the mouth.
Again, while the virus isn’t curable, it is manageable with antiviral medications.
Cytomegalovirus (CMV) is a member of the herpesvirus family that can spread if you come into contact with the saliva, blood, urine, semen, or breast milk of someone who’s infected. This includes kissing, as well as sexual contact.
Like most herpesviruses, many people don’t know they have the disease because they don’t experience obvious symptoms. Common symptoms of CMV include fever, sore throat, fatigue, and body aches, which are similar to many other conditions. CMV also isn’t curable.
Syphilis is a bacterial infection that spreads through contact with an open sore during oral, vaginal, or anal sex and, less commonly, kissing. You’re more likely to get syphilis from deep or prolonged kissing such as French kissing than a simple kiss on the mouth. Because these sores are typically painless and not easily noticeable, you or your partner might not know he or she is infected.
Syphilis occurs in four stages, each of which has different symptoms, including:
- Hair loss.
- Body aches.
- Swollen lymph nodes.
- Painless sores and rashes.
- In severe cases, heart or brain conditions.
You can treat syphilis with antibiotics. If you can get treated early, you can avoid the more serious and potentially fatal symptoms.
STDs You Can’t Get From Kissing
Most STDs don’t spread through kissing or contact with an infected person’s saliva. These include:
- Chlamydia: You can only get this treatable bacterial STD if you have unprotected oral, anal, or genital sex with someone who’s infected.
- Gonorrhea: This other treatable bacterial STD can only spread if you have unprotected oral, anal, or genital sex with an infected person.
- Hepatitis B: You can only get this liver disease if infected blood, semen, or saliva enter your body or contact your mucosal membranes. This could happen through sexual contact, sharing needles, or touching open sores, not from kissing or sharing eating utensils.
- Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV): You can get this viral infection if you come in contact with infected semen, blood, breast milk, or genital fluids, but not saliva.
- Human papillomavirus (HPV): You can get this virus by having unprotected genital, anal, or oral sex with someone who’s infected, even if they aren’t experiencing symptoms. It’s associated with genital warts and an increased risk of getting certain types of cancers.
- Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID): You can get this infection of the reproductive organs by having unprotected sex with someone who has an STD such as chlamydia or gonorrhea. Left untreated, the bacteria can spread from the vagina to the uterus, fallopian tubes, or ovaries. Infections that aren’t STDs can also cause PID.
- Trichomoniasis: You can only get this treatable parasitic infection by having unprotected genital sex or, less commonly, anal or oral sex.
How to Avoid Transmitting STDs Through Kissing
To avoid getting an STD from kissing someone with HSV-1, HSV-2, cytomegalovirus, or syphilis, don’t kiss anyone with obvious open sores. Often, however, people don’t know they’re infected, and some STDs can spread even when people aren’t experiencing symptoms.
If you do notice your partner has sores or symptoms of an STD, avoid touching those areas (and if you do, wash your hands right away) or kissing until he or she has been treated.
If you suspect you have an STD, you might also consider testing yourself using an at-home test kit so you know your STD status. This way, you can get medications to treat or suppress an infection early and take steps to prevent spreading it to your partner.
Other STD Prevention Methods
Other steps you can take to help prevent STD transmission, regardless of how they spread, include:
- Using condoms any time you have genital, anal, or oral sex.
- Getting vaccinated against HPV and hepatitis B at the recommended age.
- Getting tested so you know your STD status and seeking the appropriate treatment, if necessary.
- Being open and communicating with your partner about any STDs either of you might have.