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We did oral and regular sex – could I have herpes on my face too?

It is surprising that people rarely catch it on the face as well as on the genitals! When you consider how often we do oral sex and ‘normal sex’ on the same night.

Cartoon woman points at her mouth
Is it a cold sore?

This is a common story/question that we get on the helpline/by email:
“I was diagnosed two months ago with genital herpes. I got it off my partner’s cold sore – yes, it is type 1 – and now I have something on my lip/in my mouth. [Described as a cut on lip, a lump in mouth, or an ulcer on tongue/gum]. Could this be facial herpes too – have I got a cold sore as well?”

The answer is No, that is not going to be a cold sore.

Why? When you get your first symptoms, they are (nearly always) as bad as they are ever going to be as you don’t have the herpes simplex antibodies yet. So that means if you have caught it in two places, you notice those two places. If you didn’t notice at that time, whatever is on your face is not a cold sore caught doing oral/normal sex on that night.

Why don’t we catch herpes on face as well as genitals when we do oral sex as well as normal sex?

I don’t know of any research about this. But we can guess that mouths/faces are designed by nature to be good at fighting off nasty things. [Such as bacteria/viruses – and parasites.] When you think that a few thousand years ago all our ancestors drank ditch water and didn’t wash their hands… Clearly mouths conquer bugs. Genitals are not designed to fight off germs as they are not such ‘open access’ portals!

Oral sex is a common way of catching genital herpes

But do remember that one of the most common ways that people get genital herpes is through oral sex. In the UK up to 60% of new cases of genital herpes are caused by oral sex.

Can I have transferred my herpes from genitals to mouth?

No, you don’t spread the herpes virus around your body once the first outbreak is over. And even then it is hard to do.  If it were easy – we would see every little kid with a cold sore spreading it to hands, eyes, genitals, etc. – and they don’t!