Herpes and Oral Sex: Women’s Risks
Receiving Oral Sex, Vaginal Intercourse Boost Chance of Herpes Infection
WebMD News Archive
Mar. 1, 2005 -- Vaginal intercourse and receiving oral sex can raise a
woman's risk of infection from herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1).
That's the type of herpes that's most commonly known to cause infections of
the mouth and lips, often called fever blisters or cold sores.
HSV-1 and another herpes virus -- herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2) --
make up genital herpes. An estimated 45 million people aged 12 or older in the
U.S. have had genital herpes, says the CDC. That's one in five teens or adults.
The number of people in the U.S. with genital herpes increased 30% from the
late 1970s to the early 1990s, says the CDC.
HSV-1 has been traditionally thought to spread "above the waist,"
while HSV-2 has a reputation for transmission through sexual behavior
"below the belt," say University of Pittsburgh researchers.
But now, they've shown that women can also catch HSV-1 through vaginal or
More Risk With Oral Sex, Vaginal Intercourse
Their new study showed that women who received oral sex were nearly nine
times as likely to become infected with HSV-1 as those who were sexually
abstinent. That was true, even if the sexually active women only had oral sex
without vaginal intercourse.
Women who had vaginal intercourse were more than six times more likely as
sexually abstinent women to get HSV-1, says the study.
Those results were found by monitoring herpes infection in 1,200 young women
in the Pittsburgh area. After an initial clinical visit, the women returned for
three follow-up appointments, scheduled four months apart. They disclosed their
sexual practices and gave blood samples, which were screened for herpes
All of the women were 18 to 30 years old. At the study's start, 38% had
HSV-1. That's a low rate, says the study, which appears in the February edition
of the journal Sexually Transmitted Diseases.
The study didn't cover whether the women's partners had herpes, and it
couldn't rule out kissing as the means of transmission.
Herpes Risk Rising for Young Adults
The rate of childhood HSV-1 infection has been falling in the U.S. and other
developed countries. That's left a "burgeoning population of young adults
who are susceptible to either oral or genital HSV-1 infection," says the
"Because oral HSV-1 infections are less frequent in childhood and
adolescence, future prevention strategies will be needed to consider increased
susceptibility for HSV-1 among young adults, and the important contribution of
HSV-1 to the growing genital herpes epidemic," says researcher Thomas
Cherpes, MD, in a news release. Cherpes works in the infectious diseases
division of the University of Pittsburgh's medical school.
HSV-2 infection doesn't help protect against HSV-1 write the researchers,
calling for a herpes vaccine that targets both types of the virus.