Key Facts
  • Gonorrhea is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) that is spread through oral, anal, and vaginal sex.
  • Symptoms in girls include vaginal discharge, burning with peeing, pelvic pain, and irregular periods.
  • Gonorrhea can be cured with antibiotics.
  • Condoms lower your chance of getting gonorrhea.
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  • Young men's version of this guide

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Have you heard of “the clap,” or “a dose,” or “a drip”? These are all names for gonorrhea. Gonorrhea is a common sexually transmitted infection, or STI, caused by bacteria.

How common is gonorrhea?

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), 677,769 cases of gonorrhea were reported in 2020. It is the second most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) in the United States! Most gonorrhea infections are among young people (both guys and girls) between the ages of 15 and 24.

Am I at risk?

If you are having unprotected sexual contact (penis, vagina, mouth, or anus) with another person, you may be at risk. Unprotected sexual contact means not using an effective barrier method such as a latex or synthetic condom. Anyone having unprotected sexual contact with someone infected with gonorrhea can get gonorrhea.

How is gonorrhea spread?

Gonorrhea is spread through sex—oral, anal, and vaginal. Women are more likely to catch gonorrhea from men than men are from women. Although it is less likely, women can also acquire gonorrhea from female sexual partners. Gonorrhea is highly contagious between male sexual partners. Gonorrhea can also spread to the eye by way of a hand or other body part carrying infected fluids.

What are the symptoms of gonorrhea?

Most women do not have symptoms of gonorrhea. If you do have symptoms, they typically appear within 2-10 days of becoming infected, but symptoms can take longer to show up. You can pass gonorrhea on to others whether or not you have symptoms.

Possible symptoms of gonorrhea in girls include:

  • Vaginal discharge
  • A burning feeling when peeing
  • Pain with intercourse
  • Pain in the lower abdomen or pelvis
  • Irregular periods

Symptoms of gonorrhea in guys include:

  • Milky white, yellow, or green discharge from the penis
  • A burning feeling when peeing
  • Pain and swelling in one testicle
  • Symptoms usually appear within 14 days after becoming infected

Symptoms of gonorrhea in both girls and guys include:

  • Sore throat (from gonorrhea in the throat)
  • Pain, discharge, and bleeding from the anus (from gonorrhea in the anus)
  • Redness, itching, or discharge of the eyes (from gonorrhea in the eye)
  • Joint swelling and skin rash (from gonorrhea in the joints and in the blood)

How is gonorrhea diagnosed?

Your health care provider can diagnose gonorrhea by testing a urine sample or a swab of the affected area (penis, vagina, cervix, anus, throat, and/or eye). It’s important to get tested so your health care provider can tell you whether you have gonorrhea, another STI, or negative results.

Is there a cure for gonorrhea?

YES. Gonorrhea infection is treated with antibiotics prescribed by your health care provider. The usual dose for uncomplicated infections of the cervix, urethra, or rectum is just one If you treat gonorrhea early, it is usually cured with antibiotics. In recent years, bacteria that causes gonorrhea has become resistant to some antibiotics (the drug no longer kills the bacteria). This means it is even more important for people infected to take all of their medicine on time. The earlier gonorrhea is treated, the easier it is to cure. If the infection goes untreated, it can spread and cause a more serious infection, which will need a longer course of antibiotics. You may even need to be hospitalized to treat the infection.

Is gonorrhea dangerous?

Gonorrhea can cause serious problems if it goes untreated. It can spread from one area of the reproductive tract to other surrounding parts. Girls who have had a pelvic infection with gonorrhea are more likely to have a pregnancy in the tube (“ectopic pregnancy”) or pelvic pain. There is also a risk of gonorrhea spreading into the bloodstream and causing fever, chills, blisters on the skin, or inflammation (arthritis) of the joints.

How can I prevent spreading gonorrhea?

If you think you have gonorrhea, you should stop having sex. As long as you have gonorrhea, you can pass it on to someone else. You need to wait until you have finished all treatment with antibiotics. Your health care provider will tell you when it is safe to have sex again.

You can also help prevent the spread of gonorrhea by talking to any partners that may have been exposed to it. There are different ways to let your partner(s) know:

  • You can tell them face to face, over the phone, or via a text message.
  • You can use an anonymous notification application, such as: an email from a reliable website such as bedsider.org. This website will send a confidential email card to your partner(s) for free. Another website, inspot.org, will send an anonymous text to your partner(s).

It is also important that all of your sexual partner(s) are tested and treated. If your partner is unlikely to get evaluated, your health care provider may be able to give you a prescription to provide treatment to your partner (called expedited partner therapy). Find out if their health care provider has told them if it is safe to have sex again (before you think about having sex with them).

Make sure you use a latex (or polyurethane if you are allergic to latex) condom every time you have vaginal, anal, and oral sex.

How can I avoid getting gonorrhea?

The best way to keep from getting gonorrhea is to not have sexual intercourse. If you decide to have sexual intercourse, make sure you use an effective condom every time you have vaginal, anal, or oral sex.