What is Gonorrhea? What Causes It?

Gonorrhea is a sexually transmitted disease (STD). You get it from having sex with someone who is infected with it. Some people call it “the clap.” Gonorrhea usually causes pain and other symptoms in your genital tract, but it can also cause problems in your rectum, throat, eyes, or joints. Both men and women can get it, though men get it more often than women.

Causes of Gonorrhea

This STD comes from a bacterium called Neisseria gonorrhoeae. Even though it’s spread through sex, a man doesn’t have to ejaculate in order to pass it on to his partner.

You can get gonorrhea from any kind of sexual contact, including:

  • Vaginal intercourse
  • Anal intercourse
  • Oral intercourse (both giving and receiving)

As with other germs, you can get the bacterium that causes gonorrhea just from touching an infected area on another person. If you come into contact with the penis, vagina, mouth, or anus of someone carrying this bacterium, you can get gonorrhea.

These germs can’t live for more than a few seconds outside the body, so you can’t get this STD by touching objects like toilet seats or clothes. But women who have gonorrhea can pass the disease on to their baby during a vaginal delivery. Babies born by C-section can’t get it from their mother.

Gonorrhea Prevention

The only sure way to keep from getting gonorrhea is not to have sex. You also have a lower risk if you’re in a long-term sexual relationship with only one person and you’re their only partner. You can reduce your chances of getting gonorrhea by practicing safe sex, which means using a condom, and by getting regular screenings.

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

There are specific steps you can take to safeguard yourself from gonorrhea:

Use condoms. They help protect you from 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 if they’ve been screened for gonorrhea. If they haven’t, have a conversation 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).

Gett regular screenings. Doctors recommend you 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 multiple sex partners

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.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Nivin Todd, MD on April 02, 2019



Mayo Clinic: “Gonorrhea.”

Stanford Medicine: “Gonorrhea.”

CDC: “Gonorrhea: CDC Fact Sheet.”

American Sexual Health Association: “Gonorrhea.”

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