What is gonorrhea?
Gonorrhea, also known as ”the clap,” is a common sexually transmitted infection (STI). It can affect the penis, cervix, anus, throat or eyes.
How do you catch it?
Gonorrhea is transmitted through unprotected sex—vaginal, anal or oral sex without a condom or dental dam. A pregnant woman who has gonorrhea can also pass it onto her baby when she gives birth.
How can I avoid gonorrhea?
Practicing safe sex by using condoms or dams every time you have sex will protect you from gonorrhea and other STIs. Body fluids like sperm, saliva and vaginal lubricant can contain gonorrhea, but condoms and dams form a barrier between you and your partner that can prevent the transfer of these fluids. Check out the Condoms fact sheet for tips on how to use condoms correctly.
How can I tell if I have it?
You can’t always tell if you have an STI. Some people get gonorrhea and have no symptoms, so you could pass it on without even knowing you have it. If symptoms show, they’ll usually appear within a week after contact, and can include:
- An unusual discharge from the penis or vagina (sometimes yellow or bloody);
- An itchy, swollen or red testicles or vagina;
- Pain in your stomach;
- Pain during sex; and
- Pain when you urinate.
Both men and women can get a gonorrheal infection in their anuses, and symptoms might include:
- Soreness; and
Gonorrhea can infect your throat too, through oral sex. It might give you a sore throat, but sometimes you won’t have any symptoms. If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, or if you’ve had unprotected sex, contact your doctor or a local health clinic about getting tested.
What happens during a gonorrhea test?
For women, a doctor or nurse will take a sample from the cervix. This means he or she will take some tissue from inside the vagina with a long cotton swab and send it to a lab to be looked at under a microscope. For men, the doctor will take a sample from the opening of the penis. He or she might also take a urine sample, so it’s a good idea not to urinate for two hours before the test. The doctor or nurse can also examine a sample from your throat.
Many people infected with gonorrhea also have Chlamydia, another common STI. You can be tested and treated for this at the same time as gonorrhea, so ask your doctor if you’re concerned. Check out the Chlamydia fact sheet for more information.
Will it go away if I ignore it?
No, you need to take care of gonorrhea with antibiotic pills. If it’s not treated, gonorrhea can lead to Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID) for women or infertility for both men and women. It can also increase your risk of getting or passing on HIV.
To find out more about getting a sexual health check, talk to your doctor, or go to a clinic or Planned Parenthood office.
How will treatment work?
Once you’ve started taking antibiotics, the infection will clear up in about seven days, but you should avoid having sex during that time. About a month later, you’ll need a check-up from a doctor or nurse to make sure the infection is completely gone. It is important to follow the doctor’s instructions for how to take your prescribed medication.
Your current sexual partner needs to get treated, too, so you don’t pass the infection back and forth. All of your partners over the past three months should also be contacted and tested. This process is called ”contact tracing,” and it can help prevent the spread of gonorrhea. Your doctor should discuss with you the different ways that you can inform your partners that you have an STI. In some states, you might also be able to tell your partners anonymously with the help of a social worker or counselor.
After your treatment is finished, if you have unprotected sex with somebody who has the infection, you can catch gonorrhea again.
What if I’m pregnant? Can I still get treated, or will that harm my baby?
During birth, gonorrhea can be passed from mother to baby and can affect the baby’s eyes. Without quick treatment, the eye damage can be serious and permanent. But there are antibiotics you can take that are safe when you are pregnant. Talk to your doctor for more information.
If I go to a clinic, will the doctor tell my parents?
If you’re 18 or older, your medical records are private according to the law. Any information that health staff receive or discuss with you at a clinic is completely confidential and cannot be shared with your parents or people you know without your permission. Regardless of your age, health care providers, including mental health professionals like counselors, are also bound through ethical practices to keep your health information confidential. The only exception to this is if providers believe you are at risk of serious harm to yourself or others. If you’re concerned about keeping your medical information confidential, it’s best to speak with your doctor before being treated.
Doctors are also required to report cases of gonorrhea to the government so the disease can be monitored throughout the U.S. Your identifying information like your name will not be used. They don’t need to know who you are, they only want to keep track of how many people are getting the infection across the country.
How do I know this?