Can you get any diseases from kissing?

Dear Alice,

My super-paranoid parents went crazy when they caught me kissing my boyfriend. They say that you can get diseases (!) from kissing alone, even AIDS. And here I was thinking I was being safe by not having sex! Is there any real danger in kissing someone with no sores or cuts or anything like that in or around their mouth? Please help!

— Petrified Pucker

Dear Petrified Pucker,

Your question is certainly one worth exploring! Generally speaking, kissing — whether it’s a peck on the cheek or of the deep variety — is considered a safer way to show affection. That being said, it’s best to hold off on the smooching if one or more partners is feeling under the weather. Swapping spit with another person can transmit some viruses and bacteria, but the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which causes acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) is unlikely to be one of them. A good plan of action might be to avoid the kissing if you or a partner is feeling sick, has been exposed to others who aren’t feeling well, or has an open sore or cut in their mouth. Following these precautions can help you feel the love without feeling the sickness!

So, what might you be at risk for whilst snogging? It’s possible to contract or transmit a cold, the flu, mono, or the herpes virus through kissing if any partner is infected. Other serious viruses such COVID-19 and bacteria such as meningitis can also be spread through saliva. Because the amount of HIV found in saliva is minimal, you’re unlikely to get it through kissing. However, if you or a partner has open sores or cuts in the mouth, the chance of transmission for any of these infections increases because the pathogens would have an easier opening into the body. It’s also worth noting that while bacteria in your mouth help protect you against other bacteria, someone with poor oral hygiene may have an increased risk of contracting or transmitting viruses and bacteria through kissing.

As you assess your kissing risks, you might also consider the reasons why you want to kiss your boyfriend and why your parents seem to be concerned about it. Is it that they’re concerned about disease transmission or do they have another concern? This conversation could be an opportunity to have an open conversation about their concerns. You may want to share with them the research you’ve done and the precautions you plan to take to minimize the risks. Here’s to a future of safer lip locking!

Last updated Nov 06, 2020
Originally published Jun 02, 2000

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