This is a question brought up a lot on the Herpes Opportunity forums.
“Should I disclose that I get cold sores to potential partners before kissing them?”
Which way to go on this can be a confusing one, simply because it’s up to the individual on what feels right.
So let’s get into this question a bit deeper, shall we?
The reason this conversation is a bit hard to pin down is because when it comes to oral herpes (HSV-1) specifically, 80% of Americans 14-49 years old have it. Now that’s a VAST majority of people, isn’t it? We’re not just talking a measly barely-tipping-the-scales 51% majority or anything. So considering this statistic, who holds the responsibility of bringing up the topic? (In a perfect world, we all would be talking about every aspect of our sexual and intimate histories with each other before getting intimate at all, but that ain’t the world we live in.)
Here’s another way to think of this without herpes specifically as the topic … Here’s the scenario: Eight out of 10 people in a room are sick with the flu virus. All 10 people know before walking into the room that 80% of the people in that room are sick with the flu. Which group should be covering their mouths? The 8 people who are sick or the 2 people who aren’t? You’ll find people to argue either point. What it comes down to is this: What does your integrity tell you to do considering the circumstances? Would you feel guilty if you kissed someone without telling them you are a carrier of oral herpes (cold sores)? (Of course it goes without saying that if you're having an actual active outbreak that you don't kiss people.)
My personal opinion is we just have the conversation, regardless of whether or not herpes is on the mouth or genitals. It’s still an opportunity to have an important conversation and care about someone else’s health. Imagine if before we even kissed, a nonchalant “Hey, just FYI I get cold sores — just like 80% of everyone — and just wanted to let you know. Do you get cold sores?” Doesn’t have to be a dealbreaker-feeling conversation. No shame. No guilt. No weirdness. Just a simple conversation about herpes. No biggie. That’s the world I want to live in. Where everyone can talk openly about something simple like herpes so it can open the door to deeper conversations and deeper connection.
This leads to the obvious next question that’s asked … what about herpes and oral sex? You see, this is where this discussion gets fascinating (as far as I’m concerned). Why? Because what if someone has genital herpes of the HSV-1 variety (read about the differences between HSV-1 and HSV-2) and their partner goes down on them (after a proper herpes talk, of course), then what makes the potential of passing HSV-1 to that person’s mouth any different than passing it to their mouth if you have oral herpes and kiss them? The end result is the same: HSV-1 is passed to their mouth (recap: 80% of folks have).
This confusing double standard between no shame in oral herpes, but too much shame in genital herpes is proof positive to me that our culture has a severe sexual shaming problem. The fact that we get something through kissing doesn’t have any stigma, but if we get something through expressing ourselves sexually, that's shameful? Time to realize that sex is a natural, beautiful thing. No shame belongs in sex. So how do we shift it? With ourselves first. Accept yourself with herpes. Disclose with self-acceptance and integrity. The stigma will shift.