Gonorrhea is a very common bacterial sexually transmitted disease/sexually transmitted infection (STD/STI). Gonorrhea is spread through contact with the penis, mouth, vagina, or anus of an infected person. That means it is passed from person to person through oral, vaginal, or anal sex. Gonorrhea can also infect the eyes and throat. Gonorrhea can be passed from an infected mother to her child during the birthing process.
Most people, both males and females, with gonorrhea have no symptoms at all.
For women who do experience symptoms, an untreated gonorrhea infection may cause
- abnormal vaginal discharge
- painful or burning sensation during urination (peeing)
- vaginal bleeding between periods
Males who have symptoms may experience
- burning sensation when urinating
- a white, yellow or green discharge from the penis
- painful or swollen testicles
Both males and females who have anal intercourse can contract gonorrhea infections in the anus. Most commonly, a person with an untreated anal infection will not experience any symptoms. Both males and females who have symptoms may experience a discharge from the anus, anal itching, soreness, or bleeding from the anus and painful bowel movements.
Gonorrhea in Pregnancy
Gonorrhea is strongly associated with ectopic (tubal) pregnancy, infertility, increased risk for miscarriage, preterm delivery and premature rupture of the amniotic sac, which increases the fetus’s risk for infection and preterm delivery. During delivery, babies are exposed to these bacteria and risk developing blindness, joint and life-threatening blood infections.
- Abstinence (which means not having ANY vaginal, anal or oral sex)
- Using condoms or dental dams the right way every time you have sex
- Having one un-infected partner who only has sex with you
- Avoiding alcohol or drug use because they may lead to risky sexual behavior
- Talking to your partner(s) about their sexual history
Not having vaginal, anal, or oral sex is the most effective way to avoid getting chlamydia and other STDs (including HIV).
Use male latex condoms and dental dams if you decide to have sex.
Condoms are not 100% effective. But they can help protect against gonorrhea and other STDs (including HIV).
- Be sure to use a new latex condom properly for each act of vaginal, anal, or oral sex.
- Follow instructions on the label exactly. Check the expiration date.
- Never use latex condoms with oil-based products, such as petroleum jelly and vaginal products that have oil.
If you have a latex allergy you have alternatives, there are polyurethane and polyisoprene male condoms available as well as polyurethane female condoms.
Limit your partners.
To be safer, only have sex with one un-infected partner who does not have sex with anyone else.
Avoid alcohol or drug use because these activities may lead to risky sexual behavior. It is important to talk to your partner about their sexual history.
Washing your genitals, urinating, or douching after sex will not protect you from getting gonorrhea.
Get tested if you think you or your partner may have gonorrhea. Ask your partner to get tested, too. Avoid having sex until you are sure neither of you is infected. This will help prevent repeat infections.
Regular screenings are advised for many people. Experts recommend yearly screening for gonorrhea if you are:
- A man who has sex with other men
- A sexually active woman age 24 or younger
- A sexually active woman over age 24 with a risk factor - for example, having a new sexual partner or multiple sexual partners
Screenings are also recommended for pregnant women.
Have an open and honest talk with your healthcare provider so they can assess the testing you may need. He or she may also advise getting tested for other STDs, including HIV.
Testing is simple and painless. Many clinics offer STD testing. Go to gettested.cdc.gov to find a test site near you. A urine sample or swab sample may be tested for signs of infection. Talk with your healthcare provider if you have any questions about your test results.
Because gonorrhea is a bacterial infection, it can be cured with antibiotics prescribed by a health care provider for the specific gonorrhea infection. This, again, stresses the importance of routine testing and screening by a health care provider for STDs/STIs and HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, because only health care providers can properly diagnose and treat STDs/STIs and HIV.
What if I don’t get treated?
- Untreated gonorrhea in women could cause permanent damage to the reproductive system.
- Untreated gonorrhea in men can cause a painful condition in the tubes attached to the testicles and in rare cases cause them to not be able to father a child.
- Though it happens rarely, untreated gonorrhea can also spread to your blood or joints, which can be life-threatening.
- Untreated gonorrhea also increases your chances of getting HIV.