What Is Gonorrhea?
Gonorrhea is a sexually transmitted disease (STD). You get it from having sex with someone who is infected with it. You may have heard people call it “the clap.” Both men and women can get it, though men get it more often than women.
Gonorrhea symptoms in men usually include:
- Burning when you pee
- Painful or swollen testicles
- White, yellow, or green discharge from your penis
Most women don’t have symptoms. If they do, they’re often mild. You might mistake them for something else. They include:
- Burning or pain when you pee
- Bleeding between periods
- More vaginal discharge than is typical
- Pain in your belly
- Pain when you have sex
Gonorrhea infection in your rectum, or rear end, may cause:
- Pain when you poop
Gonorrhea can also infect your eyes, throat, or joints. You can also be infected but have no symptoms.
If you don’t get treatment, gonorrhea can cause serious and long-lasting problems, including:
- Increased chance of getting HIV
- Infection in other parts of your body like your skin or joints
This STD comes from bacteria called Neisseria gonorrhoeae. It’s spread through sex, but a man doesn’t have to ejaculate in order to pass it on to their partner.
You can get gonorrhea from any kind of sexual contact, including:
- Anal intercourse
- Oral intercourse (both giving and receiving)
- Vaginal intercourse
As with other germs, you can get the bacteria that cause gonorrhea just from touching an infected area on another person. If you come into contact with the penis, vagina, mouth, or anus of someone with gonorrhea, you could get it.
Women who have gonorrhea can pass it to their baby during a vaginal delivery. Babies born by C-section can’t get it from their mother.
These germs can’t live very long outside the body, so you can’t get gonorrhea by touching objects like toilet seats or clothes.
Gonorrhea Risk Factors
The surest way to keep from getting gonorrhea is to not have sex. You have a lower risk if you’re in a long-term sexual relationship with one person and you’re their only partner.
Your risk for gonorrhea is higher if you:
- Are young
- Are having sex with a new partner
- Are having sex with someone who is having sex with other people
- Have multiple sex partners
- Have had gonorrhea before
- Have had other STDs
Your doctor will need to look for the bacteria in your body, including:
- Tests of your rectum, throat, vagina, or urethra
- Tests of your pee
Take these steps to protect yourself from gonorrhea:
Use condoms. They help keep you from getting STDs. They act as a barrier and keep bacteria from infecting you. Spermicide won’t prevent you from getting gonorrhea.
Have your sexual partners get tested. Ask them whether they’ve been checked for gonorrhea. If they haven’t, talk to them about getting tested.
Don't have sex with someone who has symptoms of gonorrhea. Has your partner complained of a burning feeling while peeing or sores in their genital area? Take a break from sexual activity until they get their symptoms checked (and you should get checked, too).
Get regular screenings. Get tested for gonorrhea once a year if you’re:
- A man who has sex with men
- A sexually active woman under age 25
- A woman who has a new sex partner, multiple partners, or a partner with an STD
Your doctor will give you antibiotics to kill the bacteria. Some strains are becoming immune to certain antibiotics, so you’ll probably get two types of drugs: an injection and pills. Be sure to take all of your medication, even if you feel better quickly.
If you’re pregnant and have gonorrhea, talk to your doctor so you can get the right treatment. This STD can cause health problems for babies, so it’s important to treat the disease as soon as possible to help lower your baby’s risk for complications.
With the right treatment, gonorrhea is curable. But one successful treatment won’t protect you for life. You’ll need to keep practicing safe sex to keep from getting it again.