Gonorrhea

Gonorrhea, also known as "the clap," is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) caused by Neisseria gonorrhoeae bacteria. While gonorrhea can cause symptoms including vaginal or penile discharge and pain when urinating or during sex, it often comes with no such hints at all. 

Gonorrhea affects both men and women and can be transmitted to newborns at birth. More than 500,000 cases are reported in the United States each year—and the rate is rising. As a bacterial infection, gonorrhea is treated with antibiotics, however, N. gonorrhoeae has become resistant to most antibiotics and reinfection is common. If left untreated, gonorrhea can cause severe complications including miscarriage, infertility, septic arthritis, and even blindness.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is gonorrhea curable?

    Gonorrhea is a bacterial sexually transmitted disease. It is treatable with antibiotics, however, the Neisseria gonorrhoeae bacterium that causes gonorrhea has become resistant to most antibiotics. While a single dose of azithromycin and ceftriaxone can clear most infections, reinfection is common.

  • How do you get gonorrhea?

    Gonorrhea is a sexually transmitted bacterial infection that is spread through unprotected vaginal, anal, or oral sex with an infected partner. In 2017, there were 555,608 reported cases of gonorrhea in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

  • What does gonorrhea look like?

    Gonorrhea symptoms can vary depending on the type of infection, and many people have no symptoms at all. Symptoms include vaginal or penile discharge that may be greenish-yellow or white, burning or pain when urinating, vaginal itchiness, bleeding between periods, lower abdominal pain or discomfort, pain during sex,  and swelling in the testicles or scrotum. Rectal gonorrhea may cause mild itchiness, discomfort, bleeding, or pain during defecation.

  • Why Is gonorrhea called the clap?

    Gonorrhea is also known as the clap, but the reasons why are unclear. One theory is it is short for the 13th century French word clapoire, which was a slang term for brothels. Another theory is the phrase comes from a medieval treatment for gonorrhea that involved clapping one's hands around the penis to reduce the pain and swelling.

  • Can you get gonorrhea from kissing?

    No. Gonorrhea is a sexually transmitted disease spread through vaginal, anal, or oral sex. You cannot get gonorrhea from kissing.

  • Can gonorrhea go away on its own?

    No, gonorrhea is a bacterial infection and requires treatment with antibiotics. Left untreated, gonorrhea can cause serious and permanent damage including infertility. In women, gonorrhea can spread into the uterus or fallopian tubes and cause pelvic inflammatory disease. It can also spread to the bloodstream and cause disseminated gonococcal infection (DGI), a potentially life-threatening illness.

Key Terms

Page Sources
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  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sexually transmitted disease surveillance 2017: gonorrhea. Updated July 24, 2018.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Gonorrhea. Updated October 25, 2016.

  3. U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus. Sore throat. Updated September 23, 2020.

  4. U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus. Sexually transmitted diseases. Updated September 29, 2020.

Additional Reading