What is Gonorrhea?

Gonorrhea is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases. Any form of sexual contact (genital, oral or anal)  can spread the disease unless safe sex practices are used. However, there still is a slight chance to get infected even when using condoms or other safe sex devices.

This disease can lead to serious complications if not treated such as pelvic inflammatory disease, obstruction of the fallopian tubes (due to scar tissue), ectopic pregnancy and infertility in women. Men can develop a constant pain in the testicular area and in rare cases also become sterile.

Pregnant women who contract this STD will transmit it to the baby during birth.

What are the Symptoms of Gonorrhea?

Many men experience no noticeable symptoms, and the majority of women experience symptom-free infections.

Symptoms include

  • Discomfort during urination, particularly burning sensations
  • Soreness and swelling of the testicles in men (not very commonly)
  • Increased vaginal discharge in women
  • Painful bowel movements
  • Bleeding between menstruation
  • Itching in the vagina or anus
  • Green, yellow, or white discharge from the genitals or anus.

Urine tests and oral, anal, urethral, and cervical swabs are used to diagnose an infection. Since letting gonorrhea go without treatment can cause permanent pelvic or testicular pain and fertility problems, it’s important to get routine STD testing whether you have symptoms or not. It’s very rare, but an untreated infection could become life-threatening if it manages to spread into your blood.

Gonorrhea Causes

Gonorrhea is caused by an infection of bacteria called Neisseria gonorrhoeae in the body’s mucous membranes. This includes the membranes of the reproductive tract as well as the rectum, mouth, throat and eyes.

N. gonorrhoeae is spread via sexual contact, and can be contracted via contact with the mouth, penis, vagina or anus. This means that people can get gonorrhea through anal or oral sex as well as vaginal intercourse. It’s possible to get the disease even if ejaculation doesn’t occur. Furthermore, the infection can also be spread from one person to another through the shared use of sex toys.

Pregnant women with gonorrhea can spread the disease perinatally to their baby. In these cases, the child contracts the disease during childbirth.

How is Gonorrhea Treated?

Gonorrhea is treated with certain antibiotics. Unfortunately, the disease is rapidly being resistant to most of the antibiotics available to treat it. This means it’s essential to take your medication exactly as directed because skipping doses or stopping too early contributes to this kind of resistance.

While treatment cures gonorrhea, there is no way to fix damage done by the infection if it goes on for years or months. You must abstain from sex for a full week after finishing your medication to make sure you’re not still contagious, even if you’re with a partner who also received treatment.

Gonorrhea Prevention

Gonorrhea can be prevented by practicing safe sex. Contraceptive pills, injections, implants and IUDs do not protect against STDs like gonorrhea, so barrier contraceptives, like male or female condoms, should be used to prevent the spread of the infection during intercourse.

Since gonorrhea can be spread via oral sex, it’s important to take precautions in this regard. Men should use condoms and women should use dams to cover the genitals during oral sex.

Having frequent sexual health screenings can help people to identify STDs like gonorrhea early and undergo treatment before they risk passing the infection on to others. Both parties should undergo sexual health screenings before having unprotected sex to ensure neither is carrying a disease.

If using sex toys, ensure that they are thoroughly cleaned before use and avoid sharing them with your partner unless they have recently screened negative for all STDs. If in doubt, cover them with a new condom before someone else uses them.

Anyone who has been diagnosed with gonorrhea should notify any recent sexual partners so that they can also get treated. It can take time for symptoms of gonorrhea to occur, so be sure to notify anyone you had sexual contact with up to 60 days before you noticed symptoms. You should also abstain from sexual activity until you have completed treatment and no longer have any symptoms to prevent passing the infection on.

Last Reviewed:
September 13, 2016
Last Updated:
December 28, 2017