Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started
My Medicine

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Genital Herpes Health Center

Font Size

Oral Sex Raises Women's Genital Herpes Risk

Receiving Oral Sex, Vaginal Intercourse Boost Chance of Herpes Infection
WebMD Health News

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 oral sex.

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 viruses.

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 study.

"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.

Today on WebMD

STD Overview
BHC Healthy Sex Life
things your guy wish you knew slideshow
Sex Drive Killers 03
Genital Herpes Risks Quiz
Young couple holding hands
Hepatitis Prevent 10
Herpes Vaccine Study
Daughter Development Evaluator
HPV Vaccine Future
STD Facts Quiz
mother and daughter talking

WebMD Special Sections