The disease is primarily contracted through unprotected sex, which is why it’s also known as a sexually transmitted infection (STI).
While abstinence is the most surefire way to prevent gonorrhea, there are other methods you can employ to ensure you still have an active, healthy, and safe sex life.
If you have a new sex partner and you are noticing some changes in your body, be sure to visit a medical provider or special clinic that tests for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) to get checked out.
They will be able to run tests to determine if you have gonorrhea or other STDs and prescribe the right treatment for you. In this article, I will go over what gonorrhea is and what the symptoms are.
I will also discuss how to prevent it and how to get tested for it if you think you have it.
What is Gonorrhea?
Gonorrhea is a contagious sexually transmitted disease caused by the Neisseria gonorrhoeae bacterium, also known as gonococcus.
It can infect the penis, vagina, cervix , rectum, eyes, or throat.
You can contract gonorrhea from having unprotected sexual intercourse, including anal sex and oral sex, with an infected person.
It can also be passed on during childbirth.
Everyone can contract the disease although it is more prevalent in those with penises.
Also, people with penises exhibit symptoms more frequently, which makes it especially important to get regular STD check ups to ensure you don’t have it.
Gonorrhea is particularly common in people aged 15-24 years old.
How to Prevent Getting Gonorrhea
Gonorrhea is spread through sexual fluids like semen (or cum), pre-cum, and vaginal fluids.
Though abstaining entirely from vaginal, anal, or oral sex would be the best way to prevent getting gonorrhea, that’s not a realistic prevention method for a lot of us.
Learning how to have safer sex is important for minimizing your risk of contracting a sexually transmitted disease. Use condoms and dental dams with your partner and get tested regularly if you have a new sex partner.
This will lower your chances of getting an STD as well as spreading it.
How to Make Sure You Don’t Spread Gonorrhea
If you suspect you have gonorrhea, it is important you abstain from sex to avoid passing the disease on to your partner or partners.
Let your partners know what signs and symptoms you are experiencing so they can arrange to also get tested.
If you are treated for gonorrhea and your partner doesn’t get treated, you run the risk of contracting it from them again so it is important to both get tested.
The best way to avoid spreading gonorrhea is to use a barrier method of protection when you have sex as well as get tested regularly regardless of whether you are showing symptoms.
Symptoms of Gonorrhea
Usually, symptoms of gonorrhea will appear within 2-14 days after exposure.
Typically, symptoms are milder for people with vaginas.
This can make it difficult to determine if you are infected as the disease can easily be mistaken for a bladder or vaginal infection.
Those with penises may experience the following symptoms:
- Frequent urination
- A white, yellow, beige, or slightly green pus-like discharge (or drip) from the penis
- Swelling or redness at the opening of the penis
- Testicular pain
- Testicular swelling
- A persistent sore throat
Common symptoms for people with vaginas include:
- A watery, creamy, or slightly green discharge from the vagina
- Pain or burning sensation while urinating
- More frequent urination
- Pain during sexual intercourse
- Heavier periods or bleeding between periods
- A persistent sore throat
- A sharp pain in the lower abdomen
Gonorrhea can also infect other areas of the body such as your rectum, eyes, or throat.
In these areas, you may experience any of the following:
- Rectum: Anal itching, painful bowel movements, a pus-like discharge from the rectum, and spots of blood after wiping on your toilet tissue are all symptoms of gonorrhea in your rectum.
- Eyes: Eye pain, sensitivity to light, and a pus-like discharge from one or both eyes are all symptoms of a gonorrheal infection in your eye.
- Throat: A sore throat and swollen lymph nodes are all indicators of gonorrhea in the throat.
Getting Tested for Gonorrhea
Think you might have gonorrhea? Your local healthcare provider or STD clinic will be able to run tests to determine if you are carrying the infection.
They will likely test you for several other STDs at the same time, since gonorrhea puts you at a greater risk of having other sexually transmitted infections, especially chlamydia.
Two common ways to obtain a sample for for testing are:
- Urine test: A sample of urine collected in a small plastic tub will identify if you have bacteria in your urethra.
- A cotton swab: A swab of your throat, urethra, vagina, or rectum can collect bacteria that can be identified in a lab.
Home test kits are available for people with vaginas.
The kits include vaginal swabs that you can send to a specified lab for testing. When your results are ready, you can receive them by email or text message.
You can also view your results online or over the phone by calling a toll-free hotline.
If you test positive for gonorrhea, do not stress.
The treatment options for adults with gonorrhea are fairly straightforward – they involve a course of antibiotics prescribed by your healthcare provider.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends uncomplicated gonorrhea be treated with two antibiotics: ceftriaxone (administered as an injection) along with oral azithromycin (Zithromax).
Two antibiotics are recommended because strains of drug-resistant Neisseria gonorrhoeae have emerged.
Be sure to discuss your medical history with your provider. Inform them if you have any known allergic reactions to cephalosporin antibiotics, such as ceftriaxone.
If you’re allergic to cephalosporins your healthcare provider may prescribe you oral gemifloxacin, or injectable gentamicin and oral azithromycin.
Babies who are born to parents with gonorrhea may develop the infection.
They can be treated with antibiotics.
Causes of Gonorrhea
Gonorrhea is caused by Neisseria gonorrhoeae bacteria entering your body through the genitals, anus, or mouth, typically during unprotected sex.
Unwashed sex toys can also pass gonorrhea to you so be sure to wash and cover them with a new condom before you use them.
Pregnant people with gonorrhea can also pass it to their babies during birth.
The infection tends to start in the urethra for those with penises and the cervix for those with vaginas.
When to Seek Medical Attention
You should visit a clinic to get tested after having unprotected sex with any new partner.
This will ensure that if you are infected with an STD, it can be treated immediately to avoid more complicated health issues down the line. It will also help stop the spread of STDs to any other partners.
Some clear signs that you may be infected with Neisseria gonorrhea include painful and frequent urination or a pus-like discharge from your penis, vagina, or rectum.
Communicate these symptoms with your healthcare provider and they will be able to test you to determine the right treatment for you.
See a medical provider as soon as possible if your partner has tested positive for gonorrhea regardless of whether you are experiencing any symptoms.
Gonorrhea can be a silent disease. In the meantime, abstain from any sexual activity to avoid spreading the infection.
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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.
Antibiotic-Resistant Gonorrhea. (2022).
Gonococcal Infections Among Adolescents and Adults. (2021).
Gonorrhea - CDC Fact Sheet. (2022).