Can You Get Genital Herpes from a Cold Sore? Exploring The Connection

Dinesh Patel
Medically reviewed by
Dr. Kaushal

Review medical content on WOW Rx Pharmacy, so that accurate drug use information is easily accessible to everybody.
Dr. Akansha is a licensed Clinical Pharmacologist. She possesses remarkable knowledge in Pharmacovigilance, prescription analysis, drug information, and drug safety services. Additionally, she is a keen learner and an educator.

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can you get genital herpes from a cold sore

Genital Herpes and cold sores are both caused by the Herpes Simplex Virus, but they typically affect different areas of the body. 

Cold sores are commonly found around the mouth and lips, while Genital Herpes is usually associated with sores or blisters in the genital and anal areas.

However, a common question arises: Can you get Genital Herpes from a cold sore? 

This article will explore the Herpes Simplex Virus and whether one can get Genital Herpes from a cold sore. 

Cross-infection between oral and genital regions

The Herpes Simplex Virus is of two types—HSV-1 and HSV-2. HSV is primarily transmitted through direct contact with an infected person’s skin or mucous membranes.

HSV-1 is often responsible for oral Herpes, causing cold sores or blisters, while HSV-2 typically leads to Genital Herpes. 

However, both Herpes viruses can infect either the oral or genital areas.

Recommended Article
To know more about Genital Herpes, read Understanding the Genital Herpes Stages.

Transmission from cold sores to genitals

couple on bedSource: Getty_images
Oral sex

When an individual with HSV-1 has a cold sore, the virus is actively shedding from the sore. 

During oral sex, this shedding virus can be passed to the genital region of a partner, leading to Genital Herpes.

According to 2018 estimates from the CDC, Genital Herpes is widespread in the United States, with approximately 572,000 new infections reported. 

It’s important to note that transmission is possible even if the person with the cold sore doesn’t display any visible symptoms at that time.

Lowering the risk of transmission

Preventing the transmission of Genital Herpes from a cold sore involves various strategies:

Abstaining from sexual contact

Complete abstinence from oral, vaginal, or anal sex is the only foolproof way to prevent Herpes transmission.

Using protection

use condomsSource: Signature_images
Use condoms

Consistent use of condoms during any sexual activity can significantly lower the risk of transmission.

Flavored condoms can also be used during oral sex on a penis for added protection.

The condom may not provide complete protection, and the virus can still be present on skin not covered by the condom.

Dental dams

Dental dams are thin, flexible barriers that are used in oral sex to lower the risk of transmitting HSV-1 from the mouth to the genitals. 

Avoiding sexual activity during outbreaks

It’s advisable to abstain from sexual contact when either partner has visible cold sores or genital sores until the lesions have completely healed.


Cold sores and Genital Herpes caused by variants of Herpes Simplex Virus affect different areas of the body.

Even though HSV-1 is known for causing cold sores around the mouth and HSV-2 is associated with Genital Herpes, both viruses can infect different areas of the body. 

Transmission from a cold sore to the genital area is possible when HSV-1 is actively shedding, especially during oral sex.

Even without visible symptoms, the virus can be passed to the genital region, leading to Genital Herpes.

Prevention strategies, including abstinence, condom use, dental dams, and avoiding sexual contact during outbreaks, can significantly reduce the risk of transmission.

Understanding the potential for cross-infection between oral and genital regions and taking appropriate precautions is crucial in minimizing the spread of the virus.

Frequently Asked Questions

How likely is a cold sore to cause Genital Herpes?

It is possible, but less common, for a cold sore (caused by HSV-1) to lead to Genital Herpes. This can happen through oral-genital contact, especially during oral sex. However, the majority of Genital Herpes cases are caused by HSV-2.

Can you get Genital Herpes from kissing?

While it’s uncommon, it is theoretically possible to contract Genital Herpes through kissing if there is direct contact with a Herpes lesion (either cold sore or genital sore) and the virus is transmitted. However, the risk is much higher during sexual activities involving the genital or oral areas.

Do cold sores mean you have an STD?

Herpes Simplex Virus causes cold sores, but having a cold sore does not necessarily mean you have a Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD). However, the Herpes Simplex Virus can be transmitted through intimate contact, including kissing and sexual activities. Genital Herpes is considered an STD.

When is it safe to kiss after a cold sore?

The HSV is most contagious during an outbreak when sores are present. It is advisable to avoid close contact, including kissing and oral sex, during an active outbreak. Once the cold sore has healed and scabbed over, the risk of transmission decreases, but it’s not eliminated.

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