[Question #6451] Can you get an STD from kissing someone?

15 months ago
The other night I was at a bar and I kissed a female who I had just met. We kissed a few times on the lips. The kissing also involved fairly brief and minimal tongue to tongue and tongue to mouth contact.

Throughout the evening, the female talked about her family history and how many people in her family struggled with drug addiction. I did not specifically ask her, but started to worry that she may use or have used illicit drugs.

I believe my thinking to be irrational but I worry that if this female does indeed use illicit drugs then she could be at greater risk for having an STD (Ex. sharing needles).

If this is in fact the case, could I be at risk for contracting an STD from kissing her?

I'm familiar with the HSV virus and how it is spread, but I'm not that worried about HSV as I am with STDs such as HIV or Hep C.
H. Hunter Handsfield, MD
H. Hunter Handsfield, MD
15 months ago
Welcome to the forum. Thanks for you confidence in our services.

Kissing is little or no risk for all STDs. Among other things, most people with STDs don't have oral infection, so no source for transmission; when oral STDs are present, typically they are not readily transmitted (even oral sex by an infected partner is low risk); and saliva inhibits or kills most if not all STD bacteria and viruses, including HIV. Also, swallowing infected fluids or blood carries little risk. HIV and hepatitis B and C viruses are not a risk from kissing. (And if you're in the US or western Europe, probably you were vaccinated against HBV -- and contrarly to popular beliefs, HCV isn't sexually transmitted at all by heterosexual contact.)

There are exceptions. Syphilis has been transmitted by kissing, but rarely; and in any case, the chance any particular sexually active woman has syphilis is micrscopically small. In my 40+ years in the STD business, I've never seen such a case. Oral herpes is a risk from kissing, but isn't considered an STD -- and rare after any single exposure. There's currently a controversy among STD scientists about gonorrhea and whether it sometimes is transmitted by kissing, but probably not; and to the extent it might be true, appears to be only among men having sex with men.

So regardless of your kissing partner's risk for STDs, you were not at risk and don't need testing for anything. Worry about STDs if and when you have real sex -- and keep those condoms handy for those events!

I hope this information is helpful. Let me know if anything isn't clear.