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What is Gonorrhea?

Tricia Christensen
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Gonorrhea is a prevalent sexually transmitted disease (STD) that occurs at the rate of approximately 600,000 new cases per year in the US alone. Gonorrhea is also termed “the clap,” and untreated, this disease is the leading cause for several diseases in women that are linked to later infertility. These include pelvic inflammatory disease, scarring of the fallopian tubes, ectopic pregnancy, and endometriosis.

Gonorrhea is caused by a specific bacterium, called Neisseria, which spreads rapidly through contact of infected parts of the body. Both men and women are at risk for developing this condition. As well, undiagnosed pregnant women with this STD may pass this condition to a child as it passes through the birth canal. The bacterium can cause serious complications to the newborn.

Unprotected sexual intercourse is the primary means of transmission of gonorrhea, but it is a mistake to believe it may only be passed through intercourse. While it is true that the disease primarily affects the penis and vagina, the bacteria can spread with any type of oral or mutual masturbatory sex, and infections can occur in the throat, eyes, and anus. The bacteria thrives in moist areas of the body, so it does not tend to directly affect the skin of the body, though the skin particularly on the fingers can transmit the bacterium to more vulnerable areas of the body.

Symptoms affecting the throat can include sores in the mouth, and fever, aches and chills in some cases. Contact in the eyes can cause a form of pink eye. Gonorrhea in the vagina can cause itchiness of the pubic area, particularly in the skin surrounding the vagina. The cervix may also be irritated, and there is occasionally abnormal bleeding or discharge, and a burning sensation during urination.

In men, the infection may be unnoticed since only about 20% of men who contract gonorrhea directly on the penis will have symptoms. Usually, the bacteria irritates the urethra, which is the hollow tube through which both semen and urine pass in the male, with its outlet in the tip of the penis. Men may also experience redness at the tip of the penis, pain or blood during urination, and discharge from the penis. The glands in the groin may be swollen, and men may feel a more frequent urge to urinate.

Treatment for the condition is usually a single oral dose of antibiotics. However, since the disease can have devastating effects if untreated, the best possible treatment is avoidance of the illness through safe sex practices. Safe sex means avoiding casual sex, and also wearing a male or female condom throughout the entire sexual encounter, including any foreplay such as oral sex. However, a male and female condom cannot be worn at the same time, so most important is to know your partner and get a health check-up testing for STDs before engaging in any type of sexual behavior with a partner. A partner who cares about you will also be willing to get a check-up, and be willing to wait for the results and possible treatment before engaging in sex.

The Centers for Disease Control recommends avoiding multiple partners, and instead having a sexual relationship with a monogamous partner to avoid gonorrhea and other STDS. If you suspect you have it, you should not engage in any type of sexual activity until you have been seen and cleared by a doctor. Women who have it frequently also have chlamydia. Anyone who has engaged in sex with multiple partners should get a check up to rule out this, and several other STDS for which they are at increased risk.

Treating gonorrhea cures the infection, however the body can become reinfected if one has further exposure to the bacteria. Thus contraction of the disease suggests rethinking one’s sexual practices to avoid getting the infection again.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a The Health Board contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By anon302477 — On Nov 09, 2012

This whole STD treatment thing seems a bit shady and I need to find people who took the treatment to actually see if anything they give you actually 'works'.

It seems like they took good drugs off the market under the guise of 'resistant bacteria' to instead replace them with dangerous and ineffective (and I'm sure profitable..) drugs.

This isn't paranoia, here. It's proven in all segments of society (from what's in your water to what's in your food etc) and somehow I don't think it'll be any different here.

Please reply. I will check and hope to get in touch with others who want to keep track of the true effectiveness of these 'drugs.'

By anon162870 — On Mar 25, 2011

i recently had a baby and did not have sex for the full six weeks. when i went for my six week postpartum check up, i tested positive for gonorrhea. how did i catch this if I've had only one sex partner and it's been him for three years? There's been no cheating whatsoever. We're with each other every day! please help me!

By anon142194 — On Jan 12, 2011

I just want to ask about the foul odor and a yellowish color that is coming from my discharge. Is it possible that I've got gonorrhea? I noticed this earlier. How long do i take medicine? Please help me.

By anon120470 — On Oct 21, 2010

I've just been tested positive for gonorrhea. my testicles ache and my eyes are very sore and I'm feeling very tired. is this possibly from gonorrhea? I am going t the clinic to get treated today.

By anon109733 — On Sep 08, 2010

I was diagnosed with gonorrhea but I haven't been sexually active in over six years. No type of sexual activity whatsoever! How is this possible?

By anon91956 — On Jun 24, 2010

i have never had sex and i have not have oral sex in over two years but i have symptoms of gonorrhea. is it possible to have had it for this long and just now be getting symptoms?

By anon91955 — On Jun 24, 2010

when or if you have gonorrhea does the extra discharge you have clump or do i just have a yeast infection? they have very similar symptoms but i am worried if i should take a yeast infection more seriously because it could be more than that.

By anon68066 — On Feb 28, 2010

I just found out I have gonorrhea in my vagina and it is supposed to come with side effects (symptoms) but I have not had any yet and i got re-tested but it still came back positive and the bad thing about it is I am not even having no source of sex whatsoever and I don't understand what is going on with me.

Also does gonorrhea lead to any other bigger and worse disease of any cause? Just to be on the safe side I've already have gotten my shots and every thing I just don't know what leads to the following. What am I supposed to do now?

By anon49458 — On Oct 20, 2009

I had the same problem, addict guy. I never had discharge, but had pain in the tip of my penis and frequent urination. My knees up to my upper legs were red and warm. I tested positive for gonorrhea, then got a shot of rocephin and took cipro orally. Two weeks later, a retest was negative, but I was still having symptoms. I then got a 1g shot of rocephin everyday for a week. Eight months later i still have joint discomfort, penis pain, and have a white hairy tongue. I was told that I may have Reiter's Syndrome or Reactive Arthritis.

By anon40337 — On Aug 07, 2009

I had this burning, itches and pains just at the tip of my penis after sex a year later. I sought for treatment before, seemed like going but had symptoms again on and off and still. Can you help me.

By nash — On May 28, 2009

How long should a person take antibiotics if he was diagnosed/suffered from gonorrhea?

By anon23341 — On Dec 22, 2008

I have a problem ever since I started menstruating at the age of 14yrs, I've had this smelly and sometimes off color discharge till today. I got pregnant and had a natural birth without complications, I did a pap smear a year ago and the doctor found nothing. This one I took treatment from a doctor and everything was fine until I finished the treatment, then the problem came back. I did HIV test and came out negative and my husband also went for one and was also negative, he also went for a through check and he's perfectly fine.

By WGwriter — On May 13, 2008


We can't diagnose things at wisegeek, but it is a safe bet that you should see a doctor or nurse practitioner to have this condition evaluated. These symptoms could suggest a sexually transmitted disease to a yeast infection. There is a very wide range of things this could be, and many of them require medications by prescription or diagnosis by a doctor so that the problem can be fixed.

By anon12552 — On May 08, 2008

I want to ask a question about my vagina. It is itching and sometime it has something like nasal mucus and it has white green color. It itches along the cervix through bladder.

I want to know what kind of infection do I have now?

By addictguy — On Aug 01, 2007

I just want to ask if it is true that untreated gonorrhea may cause your glands in the groin to swell?

I have it and still not getting treated because it is kind of costly. I had an HIV test though and is negative. I'm feeling something- a tolerable pain, on my groin. It is not enlarged though but I feel a mild pain in there. Could it be my untreated gonorrhea? I also have joint pains. I experienced testicular pains but not anymore after my first medication. I took medication but not able to continue it cause it is too costly here.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a The Health Board contributor, Tricia...
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