#unprotected oral sex
22 July 2021

My partner and I carry the oral herpes virus, but we want to have unprotected oral sex. How could we?


I want to have unprotected oral sex with my partner, but we’ve both had cold sores before at some point in our life, therefore, we carry the oral herpes virus. I know that having oral sex during a herpes outbreak is an absolute no-no, but I was wondering, how high (or low) is the risk of giving my partner the genital herpes virus when I don’t have any oral outbreaks (or vice versa) and we have unprotected oral sex?

FYI: my partner and I are monogamous and long-term.


Hi Api!


Good question!


Scary things first :

  • There’s two types of herpes, HSV-1 is responsible for most cases of oral herpes and HSV-2 or most genital cases. However, you can still get genital HSV-1 and oral HSV-2.
  • It’s transmitted through skin-to-skin contact, saliva and genital secretions, sometimes even without penetration or ejaculation.
  • It’s considered a highly contagious infection when you have sores, during which it’s possible (though unlikely) to transmit it even while wearing a condom or a dental dam.
  • Even without a visible outbreak (symptoms can appear later or not at all) you can still transmit herpes.
  • There are currently no cures or vaccines for herpes.


So in short : yes, there is a small to moderate chance that either of you will catch or spread it via unprotected oral sex even if neither of you are not showing symptoms. The chances vary from a lot of factors, but you only need to be unlucky once.


So just to be sure, I would encourage you to be safe, for instance by wearing condoms and dentals dams and getting tested afterwards.


Now, some reassuring things :

    • About 70% of sexually active Canadians have HSV-1 and 20% HSV-2. It’s quite common, and most people don’t know they have it. It’s good that you two are aware of your status, have talked about the situation and what you would like to do.
    • You can take antiviral medication regularly which can both reduce symptoms and transmission risks. Ask your doctor!
  • Since the two of you have the same herpes type, the transmission risks to another body part are lower, as you’ve both developed the right antibodies.
  • The asymptomatic periods during which you can spread the virus without an outbreak represent about 3% of the time the first year (or 10 days), and about 1% each the following years (3-4 days).
  • Outbreaks can be uncomfortable and even painful, but they are not dangerous, should you one day get genital herpes you can get treatment and continue to live your life as you would otherwise.
  • There’s a lot of sexual positions and practices that don’t involve mouth-to-genital stimulation! Sex toys too! 


If you have more questions you could check the org Info Herpes, their website is in French but it’s still very informative. They also organize support groups by and for people living with herpes! 


Hope these few short facts will facilitate a safe and informed decision! In the end, the choice to protect yourselves for oral sex or not depends on the level of comfort of both of you.


Take care,


Maxime, peer support agent for AlterHeros

Iel/they/them, accords neutres