Getting Genital Herpes from Oral Herpes & Vice Versa

So, you’re here to figure out if you can get genital herpes from oral herpes. The short answer is yes. 

*Cue panic sweats* 

If you don’t already know, the herpes simplex virus (HSV), commonly referred to as herpes, is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) that causes sores and other discomforts. But hey, we promise it’s not that big of a deal. By the end of this blog post, you’ll know the difference between oral and genital herpes, how you can get/avoid both, and most importantly, if you should even be that worried about it.

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Herpes Is Very Common

Did you know that 11% of the global population has herpes simplex type 2? Okay, if that blew your mind, then buckle up: About 67% of the global population has herpes simplex type 1.

Herpes type 1 and herpes type 2 can even be located both orally and genitally. You read the right. Either strain of the herpes simplex virus can live in your mouth or your privates. 

Herpes (both types and locations) is incurable and it is pretty contagious. Which is what makes it so popular! Well, popular might not be the right word, but you get the idea. The Earth is just a big ol’ herpes party at this point, and what we’re trying to say is, it’s really not that big of a deal. 

We get it, STDs are scary, but the best way to not be scared of something is to learn more about it. For starters, what is the difference between oral herpes and genital herpes?

What is the Difference Between Oral Herpes and Genital Herpes?

Let’s get one thing out of the way right now, oral herpes and genital herpes are not medical terms, they simply refer to where on the body a specific strain of the virus is located, and as we’ve already covered, HSV-1 and HSV-2 can be found in either location (both orally and genitally.)

There are three key differences between HSV-1 and HSV-2: Stigma, location, and antibodies.

1) Stigma

It’s already pretty bad by society’s standards to have oral herpes(HSV-1), but it’s oftentimes just the brunt of bad jokes, rather than something to actually be feared. 

Genital herpes (HSV-2), on the other hand, seems to be the end of the world. That’s the one that people like to categorize as really bad. Folks that are diagnosed with genital herpes often assume that their lives are over, in fact, they may as well lockdown and marry the next person that deems them lovable (if they’re so lucky). But why does society make it such a big deal?

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2) Location

Location, location, location. Literally nothing else. One is not worse than the other, more contagious than the other, or dirtier than the other. They. Are. The. Same. 

HSV-1 and HSV-2 are two different strains of the same virus. HSV-1 will usually cause oral herpes because it prefers to be located orally, and HSV-2 will usually cause genital herpes because it prefers to be located genitally. 

They actually cause the same symptoms, and though they’ve been known to prefer specific bodily regions, they aren’t restricted to those areas! Just because HSV-1 is known for causing oral herpes doesn’t mean it couldn’t also cause genital herpes and the same for HSV-2 and oral herpes. 

3) Antibodies

The biggest difference in HSV-1 and HSV-2 is simply that they cause your body to produce different antibodies, which is why we’re able to tell which strain you have based on a blood test, and without any symptoms present.

As we mentioned before, HSV-1 is much more common, accounting for about 67% of the population, but that’s because it is known to prefer the oral region (but not always). When symptoms do occur, they usually present themselves as cold sores. 

HSV-2 is known to prefer being located in the genital region, but again, this is not always the case. When symptoms do occur genitally, it will usually look like painful sores or blisters on or around the genitals.

We can not stress this enough: Both types of herpes are commonly asymptomatic, meaning they show no symptoms at all. And when symptoms appear, it can be years after the initial infection! 

How is Herpes Spread?

You’re here to figure out if you can get genital herpes from oral herpes, but you learned that those terms don’t even mean anything in this context. Next barrier we are going to break down: How do you even get herpes? 

Herpes (HSV-1 and HSV-2) is spread most commonly through:

  • Skin-to-skin contact in the affected areas
  • Infected bodily fluids
  • A herpes sore

Let’s recap. You can get HSV-1 and HSV-2 in either location: Genitally and orally. And you can get HSV-1 and HSV-2 in the exact same ways: Touching infected skin and touching infected bodily fluids. Do you know what has both skin and fluids? Both the mouth and the genitals!! So back to the original question.

Can You Get Genital Herpes From Oral Herpes?

Yes!! We’ve spelled out all of the logistics pretty clearly above, but just so that there’s no confusion we will deal with this on a case to case basis.

  • If your partner has HSV-1 on the mouth, and they go down on you, you can get HSV-1 on your genitals.
  • If your partner has HSV-2 on the mouth, and they go down on you, you can get HSV-2 on your genitals.

Can You Get Oral Herpes From Genital Herpes?

Yes! The same goes for vice versa. We can not stress how easy it actually is to get either strain of herpes in either location, even if you’re using protection.

  • If your partner has HSV-2 and it is located genitally, and you give them oral pleasure, you can recieve HSV-2 that is located orally.
  • If your partner has HSV-1 and it is located genitally, and you give them oral pleasure, you can recieve HSV-1 that is located orally.

What if You and Your Partner Already Have Genital Herpes?

Surprise, surprise, you can still get oral herpes!

Let’s just say that you are in a happy relationship (or sexual partnership) and both you and your partner have genital herpes. If you give your partner a blow job, regardless of what strain they have, you may end up with oral herpes.

  • If you have HSV-2 on your genitals, your partner can still give you HSV-1 on your mouth.
  • If you have HSV-2 on your mouth, your partner can still give you HSV-1 on your genitals.
  • If you have HSV-2 on your genitals, your partner can still give you HSV-2 on your mouth.
  • If you have HSV-2 on your mouth, your partner can still give you HSV-2 on your genitals.

What If You and Your Partner Already Have Oral Herpes?

We hope you get the idea by now: Yes, you can still get genital herpes.

Even if you already have either strain in either location, you can still receive either strain in the other location. 

  • If you have HSV-1 on your mouth, your partner can still give you HSV-2 on your genitals.
  • If you have HSV-1 on your genitals, your partner can still give you HSV-2 on your mouth.
  • If you have HSV-1 on your mouth, your partner can still give you HSV-1 on your genitals.
  • If you have HSV-1 on your genitals, your partner can still give you HSV-1 on your mouth.

Again, we’re sorry if you didn’t need this all spelled out for you, but a lot of people have a lot of questions about herpes, and we just want to give the people what they want. When that means a more informed approach to sexual health, who can be mad?

Should You Even Be That Worried?

With all of the information we’ve shared today, let’s create a fake scenario:

John Doe’s aunt kisses him on the mouth when he is a tiny baby, but she has a cold sore. Her cold sore was caused by HSV-1. John Doe lives his life and grows into a man, unaware that the herpes simplex virus type-1 is living asymptomatically within his DNA. John Doe meets a lovely lady named Jane Doe and he goes down on her. The HSV-1 is spread to Jane Doe’s genitals, and she accuses John Doe of being a cheater and she leaves him. John Doe is confused, Jane Doe is confused, and this whole situation could have been solved if they had just both read this blog post!

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While we always think that it is of the utmost importance to be aware of your sexual status, the CDC doesn’t even recommend testing for herpes unless symptoms are present. A lot of doctors will even steer you away from herpes testing unless it is absolutely necessary.

Here’s what the CDC has to say: “There is no evidence that diagnosing genital herpes with a blood test in someone without symptoms would change their sexual behavior and stop the virus from spreading. In addition, without knowing the benefits of testing, the risk of shaming and stigmatizing people outweighs the potential benefits. For these reasons, testing everyone for herpes is not recommended at this time.”

So, obviously we think it’s important that you have the freedom to make your own decisions about what you are tested for. To put it in the simplest terms:  the CDC doesn’t even think it’s that big of a deal, and neither should you!

As long as you are having open and honest conversations with your sexual partners about both of your statuses, that’s good with us! If you’re not sure how to talk to your partner about STDs, check out this blog post.

If you’ve never been tested for any of the most important STDs, receive comprehensive testing today!

Medically Reviewed by on October 18, 2019

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Author: Lauralei Like

Lauralei graduated from SHSU in 2017 with a B.A. in Mass Communication: Public Relations and Advertising. Mass Communication is the perfect term for what she loves to do: Communicate to the masses the importance of destigmatization and promoting an honest conversation surrounding sexual health. Before Lauralei joined STDcheck.com, she worked for a branding and marketing agency, but she longed to work with a company that was committed to creating a meaningful sense of community and making the world a better place; STDcheck.com turned out to be the perfect fit. Lauralei is the official STDcheck.com relationship expert and pun-master. She believes that it is her sworn duty to provide the internet with reliable, well-researched, and probably funny information when it comes to whatever she is writing about. Her writing has been featured in numerous publications, including Bustle, The Epoch Times, Romper, MedTraveler, and Healthable. When Lauralei isn’t writing, she’s playing with her pet bunnies, sewing dresses, or searching for the best new brunch spot.