Gonorrhea Facts and Statistics: What You Need to Know

Gonorrhea is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) that infects the reproductive tract and the urethra. The STI often presents without symptoms, which makes it highly transmissible.

In 2018, roughly 1.6 million people were diagnosed with gonorrhea in the United States. Over half of the people who contract gonorrhea are between the ages of 15 and 24.

This article discusses the facts and statistics surrounding gonorrhea and what you need to know about STI.

woman talking to doctor

Gonorrhea Overview

Gonorrhea is highly common. When a person contracts the infection, they may be asymptomatic. Asymptomatic infections do not cause symptoms. Because there aren't always symptoms, people can easily transmit the infection to others simply because they are unaware they have it.

The bacterium that causes gonorrhea can affect the cervix, uterus, fallopian tubes, and urethra. It can also infect the mouth, throat, eyes, and rectum. When symptoms do develop, they often include:

  • Yellow or green pus-like discharge from the penis, vagina, or rectum
  • Painful urination
  • Burning sensation during urination
  • Bleeding between menstrual periods
  • Pain and swelling of the testicles
  • Painful bowel movements
  • Itching in the anal area
  • Anal bleeding

The symptoms of gonorrhea can be so mild that they are mistaken for other types of infections such as a urinary tract infection.

What Percentage of People Experience Symptoms?

The prevalence of symptoms depends on a person’s sex. Only 20% of females and roughly 10% to 15% of males will develop symptoms of a gonorrhea infection.

How Common Is Gonorrhea?

Gonorrhea is an incredibly common STI and it was estimated that in 2016, 0.9% of females and 0.7% of males had gonorrhea worldwide. This roughly amounts to 30.6 million cases across the globe.

A total of 468,514 cases were reported in the United States for the same year, which amounts to 145.8 cases per 100,000 people in the country.

The most recent data compiled from 2020 shows that roughly 677,769 new cases were reported that year, showing an increase since 2016. It is estimated that the 2020 numbers show roughly 200 cases per 100,000 people.  

The Cause of Rising Cases

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the increase in gonorrhea cases can be attributed to:

  • Poverty and unstable housing
  • Drug use
  • A lack of medical care both pre- and post-pandemic
  • Inability to seek medical care due to lack of insurance
  • High community transmission

Conditions by Ethnicity

There is a disparity among ethnicities when it comes to gonorrhea rates.

Gonorrhea by Ethnicity 2020
Ethnicity Rates per 100,000 people
Black 662.4
American Indian or Alaska Native 339.6
Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander 192
Hispanic or Latinx 121
White 74.6
Asian 31.1
Multi-race 145.5

Most Affected Ethnicities

Gonorrhea affects a disproportionate number of people who are Black or American Indian or Alaska Native.

Gonorrhea by Age & Gender

While both males and females can get gonorrhea, the infection is more prevalent in males. The rates vary depending on the age group, however, teenagers and young adults are found to be the most affected by the STI.

Rates of Gonorrhea by Age and Gender per 100,000 People
Age Group Male Female
10-14 4.7 19.1
15-19 280.7 481.3
20-24 626.3 605.4
25-29 534.7 345.3
30-34 348.2 178.5
35-39 228.8 98.4
40-44 144.4 49.7
45-54 93.6 20
55-64 34.7 5.5
65+ 6.4 0.7

Changes in Rates by Age Group

While higher rates of gonorrhea are generally found in males, there are some age groups where the opposite is true. Females between the ages of 10 to 19 have higher rates of infection than males.

Causes of Gonorrhea and Risk Factors

Gonorrhea is caused by bacteria known as Neisseria gonorrhoeae. This bacteria can enter the body through sexual contact, including penile, vaginal, anal, and oral. Infants can also contract the infection from their mother if an infection is present at birth.

Anyone sexually active is at risk of contracting gonorrhea. This is especially true if they do not use condoms.  

What Are the Mortality Rates for Gonorrhea?

It is rare that gonorrhea will lead to death. However, it is not impossible. The research surrounding deaths caused by gonorrhea is incredibly scarce because of how rare it is.

One research paper investigated deaths in females between the ages of 15 and 44 caused by either gonorrhea or chlamydia and found that only 0.1 deaths per 100,000 people occurred between 1999 and 2010.

That said, gonorrhea can have severe health consequences if left untreated which can lead to infertility in both males and females.  

How Does Gonorrhea Cause Infertility?

In females, gonorrhea can cause infertility because the infection can damage the entire female reproductive system. In males, a small tube near the back of the testicles known as the epididymis becomes inflamed. This tube has sperm ducts, and when it becomes inflamed, it can lead to infertility. 

Screening and Early Detection

Because gonorrhea is often asymptomatic, it’s important to participate in regular screenings. Early detection can help lower the risk that the infection will progress and cause infertility.

Yearly gonorrhea testing is recommended for:

  • People who are sexually active and under the age of 25
  • People who are over the age of 25 but have multiple sexual partners or a partner with a known infection
  • Those who do not wear protection when engaging in sexual activities
  • If you are a man who has sex with other men

Tests for gonorrhea can include a swab on the area affected (such as the throat, rectum, cervix/vagina, urethra) or a urine test.

Gonorrhea re-infection is common, so anyone with gonorrhea should be retested three months after treatment, even if their sex partners got treatment.

If a person gets diagnosed with gonorrhea, they should notify all recent sex partners to seek treatment in order to reduce risks of severe complications and re-infection.


Gonorrhea is a common and highly transmissible STI. Rates of the STI continue to rise, and a high number of cases occur in people between the ages of 15 and 24. Since 2009, rates of gonorrhea infections have risen by 111%. The continual rise in rates has multiple causes, including a lack of access to proper medical care and poverty. While gonorrhea isn’t likely to lead to death, there have been rare instances in which death occurred because of the infection.

Early screening is vital to keep the spread of the infection down because of the dangerous health consequences such as infertility and, rarely, death.

A Word From Verywell

Gonorrhea is incredibly common, so if you happen to get diagnosed with it, don’t panic. While the stigma attached to the infection may cause you to feel shame or embarrassment, you don’t need to feel that way.

Early detection is actually a good thing so that the disease doesn’t progress further and cause more severe health complications. If you are sexually active, the best thing you can do for yourself is get tested for gonorrhea once per year. This will help keep you and your partners safe from the infection.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can gonorrhea kill you?

    While gonorrhea can lead to death, it is incredibly rare. Research surrounding gonorrhea deaths is incredibly scarce because of that fact. People with untreated gonorrhea and female reproductive organs are the most at risk of death, but again, it is extremely rare.

  • What age group is most affected by gonorrhea?

    People of all ages can contract gonorrhea if they have unprotected sex with someone who has the infection. However, one age group is the most affected. That age group is young adults and teenagers between the ages of 15 and 24.

  • How can I reduce my risk of contracting gonorrhea?

    Anyone who is sexually active runs the risk of contracting gonorrhea. Using condoms during all forms of sexual activity—vaginal, penile, anal, and oral—can significantly reduce that risk. Getting screened regularly can also help reduce the chances of the infection spreading.

12 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  12. It's Your (Sex) Life. Talk to Your Partner.

By Angelica Bottaro
Angelica Bottaro is a professional freelance writer with over 5 years of experience. She has been educated in both psychology and journalism, and her dual education has given her the research and writing skills needed to deliver sound and engaging content in the health space.