If you’ve had any sex ed classes in your life, you know that different sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and diseases (STDs) can transmit via any kind of sex: genital, oral, or anal sex.
Like most people, you probably believed that kissing was a safe sexual practice, but recent research has many people confused and concerned.
Here’s the truth: You cannot get chlamydia through kissing, however, you may be able to contract gonorrhea this way. The science is still emerging, though, so read on to learn how to stay safe.
In this article, we’ll explain what gonorrhea is, whether it’s possible to get it from kissing, and other ways it’s transmitted.
We’ll then discuss how gonorrhea is diagnosed and treated before sharing how to reduce your risk of contracting gonorrhea and when to see a doctor.
What Is Gonorrhea?
Gonorrhea is a bacterial infection that spreads through sexual activities, including anal, vaginal, and oral sex.
This STD happens when the bacteria Neisseria gonorrhoeae infects any part of ]the reproductive tract (such as the urethra, cervix, uterus, or fallopian tubes).
In some cases, N. gonorrhoeae also infects the throat, eyes, mouth, or rectum.
Infections in the genital area are called genital gonorrhea, while infections in the mouth or throat are called oral gonorrhea or oropharyngeal gonorrhea.
Gonorrhea infections in the rectum are called anorectal gonorrhea.
Is It Possible to Get Gonorrhea from Kissing?
For years, the general scientific belief was that gonorrhea was only transmitted through sexual intercourse. But some new evidence suggests you may be able to get gonorrhea from kissing.
A study of 3,677 men who identify as gay or bisexual found an association between kissing-only relationships and oropharyngeal gonorrhea.
This challenges the belief that gonorrhea is transmitted exclusively through sexual fluids and calls for more research on whether French kissing with no sexual contact can transmit gonorrhea.
Does the type of kiss matter?
At this point, it seems that French or “deep” kissing (where tongue is involved) is most likely to transmit gonorrhea.
However, because there is little research on if you can get gonorrhea from kissing, it’s still unclear if closed-mouth kissing can also transmit the infection.
Can it spread through sharing straws, eating utensils, and other items?
The bacteria causing gonorrhea thrives in warm, moist environments such as mucous membranes like the mouth and vagina.
It cannot, however, survive on external surfaces for longer than a few minutes.
As a result, our current understanding is that you can’t contract gonorrhea from social or intimate activities like sharing straws, utensils, or other food items.
You also can’t get gonorrhea from things like sitting on a toilet, holding hands, coughing, or sneezing.
Other Ways Gonorrhea Is Transmitted
Gonorrhea can be transmitted anytime sexual fluids are swapped or ingested.
Other ways that gonorrhea can be transmitted that haven’t been discussed include:
- Through childbirth, which infects the baby
- Through sharing sex toys that haven’t been cleaned properly
Symptoms of Gonorrhea
Often, gonorrhea causes no symptoms, so you might not know you have it until you get tested for STDs.
If the infection spreads, it can cause pain and damage to different parts of the body.
Depending on your body and the site infected, you might experience the following.
Oral gonorrhea can cause:
For people with penises, gonorrhea might cause:
- Painful or burning sensations when urinating
- Discharge from the penis that’s white, yellow, or green
- Painful or swollen testicles
If left untreated, gonorrhea can damage the epididymis, the tube that holds the testicles in place.
This can result in inflammation, pain, and infertility.
For people with vaginas, gonorrhea might cause:
- Itching, burning, or swelling around the vagina and labia
- Yellow vaginal discharge
- Painful or burning sensations when urinating
- Frequent urination
- Bleeding between periods or longer, heavier periods
- Pain during intercourse
- Pain in the abdomen or pelvic areas
If left untreated, gonorrhea can cause serious health issues for people with vaginas, such as pelvic inflammatory disease (PID).
Symptoms of PID include cramping, abdominal pain, fever, and painful intercourse and urination.
Long-term or chronic PID can scar the fallopian tubes and ovaries and lead to fertility problems.
How Gonorrhea Is Diagnosed
To diagnose gonorrhea, most often, doctors either swab the infected area (such as around or in the genitals, rectum, or throat) or collect a urine sample to diagnose genital gonorrhea.
Both procedures test for the presence of Neisseria gonorrhoeae bacterium, which causes gonorrhea.
If gonorrhea has spread to other areas of your body, more or different antibiotics may be required.
If you do not see an improvement in symptoms after a week of medication, contact your healthcare provider to learn if you need a more in-depth examination or a stronger treatment.
Reducing Your Risk of Getting Gonorrhea
The only sure way to prevent gonorrhea is to abstain from sexual intercourse.
The next best way to reduce your risk of gonorrhea is to use safe sex practices and wear or have your partner wear a condom.
Doing so decreases the risk of transmitting many sexual diseases, including gonorrhea, chlamydia, trichomoniasis, herpes, and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
Also stay aware of your status by getting tested for STDs anytime you have a new sex partner or your current sexual partner has intercourse with someone else.
Avoid sexual intercourse with anyone who shows symptoms of gonorrhea.
And if you have gonorrhea, to prevent spreading it, refrain from having sex until you’ve recovered.
When to See a Medical Provider
If you experience any symptoms relating to gonorrhea or any other STD, book an appointment for an STD test.
If you test positive, your doctor can prescribe the appropriate antibiotics.
Also get tested:
- Anytime you have a new sexual partner
- Anytime a sexual partner shares that they have had intercourse with someone else
- Yearly if you are a women under the age of 25 (regardless of sexual activity or the number of partners)
- If you become pregnant, as some STDs can cause complications in pregnancy.
How K Health Can Help
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Frequently Asked Questions
K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.
K Health has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.
Condoms and STDs: Fact Sheet for Public Health Personnel. (2021).
Frequent Transmission of Gonorrhea in Men Who Have Sex with Men. (2017).
Gonorrhea – CDC Fact Sheet (Detailed Version). (2021).
Kissing May Be an Important and Neglected Risk Factor for Oropharyngeal Gonorrhoea: A Cross-Sectional Study in Men Who Have Sex With Men. (2019).
The Role of Saliva in Gonorrhoea and Chlamydia Transmission to Extragenital Sites Among Men Who Have Sex With Men: New Insights Into Transmission. (2019).
Sexually Transmitted Disease Surveillance 2019. (2021).
Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs). (2021).