Can STIs be transmitted by kissing?

When it comes to sex, kissing can be a very fun part of it. Who doesn’t love a hot make-out sesh? And the good news is, on the whole, kissing is usually a low-risk activity when it comes to transmission of sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

But, there are a few sneaky STIs that can be transmitted by kissing. Let’s take a look at some of the most common STIs for guys who hook up with other guys, and which STIs can carry a risk when you’re getting your smooch on.

What STIs can be spread through kissing?

Through kissing, it is possible for STIs such as herpes, gonorrhoea and syphilis to be transmitted, usually from saliva and/or skin-to-skin contact. Though it should be emphasised that overall, it’s a low-risk activity. Most STIs are transmitted via anal or oral sex, and the exchange of anal, front hole, and penile fluids

Does this mean you have to stop kissing forever? NO WAY! While there isn’t an easy way to prevent STIs when it comes to kissing, it’s important to remember that as long as you are testing once every three months, you can stay on top of your health and get treated as necessary.

How is herpes transmitted by kissing?

Herpes is transmitted via saliva and/or skin-to-skin contact which could mean either a quick smooch or a full-on pash. (Read more about how herpes is transmitted here)

Generally speaking, someone is only contagious during a flare-up or when they are experiencing symptoms, though it is possible to transmit herpes just before an outbreak, before the onset of symptoms.

There are two types of the herpes virus:

  • The herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1), commonly known as oral herpes (this type causes cold sores)
  • The herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2), commonly known as genital herpes

It is, however, possible for HSV-2 to cause cold sores and for HSV-1 to cause herpes in the genitals. While there is no cure for herpes, you can be prescribed treatments that reduce symptoms and speed up your recovery. Want to know more? Check out the signs and symptoms of herpes in men.

Is herpes contagious all the time?

The short answer is no, BUT herpes can be contagious at any time, even when you aren’t experiencing symptoms. As this is the case and given that a large portion of adults in Australia unknowingly have herpes, it’s impractical to try and prevent transmission from partners who aren’t displaying symptoms because there is no way of knowing who does or doesn’t have it.

Instead, if you or who you’re kissing know they are experiencing a breakout or have visible symptoms, it’s a good idea to avoid kissing until the sores are healed.

Can you kiss somebody with herpes?

Absolutely! Just because someone has herpes doesn’t mean they’ll never be able to smooch again.

The stigma that can sometimes accompany herpes can make it seem like it’s a big deal, but an estimated 1 in 8 sexually active Australians have the virus. Often, people who have herpes won’t even experience symptoms – so if you’ve already been sexually active there is a chance you have come in contact with it. As with any type of sex, there is always a level of risk that you’ll need to determine if you are comfortable with or not.

How can syphilis be transmitted by kissing?

Syphilis is more commonly transmitted through oral, anal or front hole sex but it can sometimes be transmitted via kissing. This is only possible when someone has visible sores (also known as chancres) in their mouth.

Chancres are small sores, which are often painless and can go unnoticed within your mouth. If you do notice a sore, you should avoid kissing and if you are concerned you may have been exposed to syphilis, you can seek out testing with your doctor or sexual health service. You can read more about chancres and other symptoms in our article 5 signs and symptoms of syphilis.

What are the chances of getting syphilis through kissing?

If there are no visible sores, syphilis is unlikely to be transmitted this way. It’s far more likely to be transmitted through anal, front hole, or oral sex.

Can you kiss people if you have syphilis?

If you have tested positive for syphilis, it’s best to avoid sexual contact with others until you’ve been treated, allowed the time for treatment to take effect, and given the OK from your doctor. Your doctor can advise if you’re able to keep on kissing while you’re being treated — it will all depend on where your symptoms are located.

How can gonorrhoea be transmitted by kissing?

While it was previously thought that gonorrhoea could not be transmitted by kissing, recent research has established that kissing does carry some risk of transmission, in addition to other known modes of transmission: through semen, pre-cum and front hole fluids exchanged during anal and oral sex.

Dr Vincent Cornelisse, one of the authors of the study that investigated if kissing was linked to the transmission of gonorrhoea had this to say on the risk of transmission:

“We now have convincing evidence that gonorrhoea is transmitted by kissing. We’re not talking a peck on the cheek, of course, but something a bit more passionate that involves some transfer of saliva. This is new information, and some public health statements have not yet caught up with this.”

So, if you aren’t hearing about this elsewhere, don’t be alarmed. Keep up your routine testing for HIV and STIs once every three months and if you have any questions, discuss them with your doctor.

What STIs can’t be transmitted through kissing?

Of the other STIs most common in guys who have sex with guys, chlamydia, HIV and hepatitis A, B and C carry no risk of transmission by kissing.

Have more questions about STIs?

If you have any questions about STIs and are in NSW then you can call the NSW Sexual Health Infolink on 1800 451 624 to speak to a sexual health nurse.

Remember, to help protect against STIs, use condoms for oral and anal sex, dental dams for rimming, and gloves for arse play.

On PrEP? It’s important to remember that PrEP doesn’t protect you from STIs other than HIV.