Can You Get Gonorrhea From Kissing?

Gonorrhea, otherwise known as “the clap,” is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) or disease (STD) caused by a bacteria called Neisseria gonorrhoeae. It spreads through sexual intimacy rather than casual contact, but recent research suggests it could spread through certain types of kissing. 

Cases surged at the end of 2020, with a 111% increase since 2009. An estimated 677,769 new cases were reported in 2020. After chlamydia, it is the second most common STD in the United States.

This article reviews how gonorrhea is transmitted as well as its prevention, signs, and treatment.

Two people just about to kiss.

Inti St Clair / Getty Images


The terms STI and STD are often used interchangeably. In general, they refer to the same thing. STIs refer to the bacteria that cause the infection, while an STD is a disease that results from the infection. 

How Is Gonorrhea Spread?

Gonorrhea spreads through contact with an infected body part, most commonly through oral, vaginal/penile, or anal sex. However, you can contract gonorrhea during non-intercourse sexual intimacy or unwashed sex toys.

All genders who engage in sexual activity can get gonorrhea. The infection can develop in the throat, the reproductive organs, the urethra (where urine leaves the body), and the rectum. 

Gonorrhea and Kissing

Until recently, there was little evidence that you could get gonorrhea by kissing someone. In the 1970s, several case reports suggested deep kissing could cause oropharyngeal (throat) gonorrhea, but the science was limited.

In 2019, a small study of 3,677 men who identified as gay, bisexual, or who have sex with men showed that people could pass oral pharyngeal gonorrhea through deep kissing. There is no evidence to suggest that quick, casual kisses on the lips are of concern. 

This study created a lot of discussion on the topic, but the small study doesn't provide enough data, and scientists have not come to any one conclusion. 

Until there is further research, it may be best to assume gonorrhea can be transmitted this way and stay up to date with screening, testing, and other prevention strategies. 


STD prevention starts with screening and testing at your healthcare provider's office. There are at-home STD tests available, but you must notify your healthcare provider if you receive a positive test result. 

The following are ways to help prevent gonorrhea:

  • Limit your number of sexual partners or abstain from sexual activity
  • Limit sexual activity to a monogamous relationship with an uninfected partner 
  • Do not have sex if you or your partner have symptoms
  • Use barrier devices such as condoms, finger cots, and dental dams 
  • Clean sex toys after every use
  • Receive regular screening and testing

The Importance of Screening and Testing for STDs

About 90% of those with STDs do not have symptoms, so screening and testing are essential. Left untreated, gonorrhea can lead to complications and increase your risk for other STDs.  

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends yearly screening for sexually active people under 25 or high-risk individuals over 25. Risk increases with:

  • A new sex partner or multiple sex partners
  • Sex partners who have sex with others
  • Males who have sex with males 
  • Recent sexual contact with someone outside the United States
  • A sex partner who has an STD
  • A diagnosis of another STD

Healthcare providers typically screen pregnant women at the first prenatal visit. This should also occur during the third trimester if you are at high risk. 

Signs of Gonorrhea

Gonorrhea does not produce symptoms as often in females as in males. When females do have symptoms, they include:

  • Abnormal vaginal discharge
  • Vaginal itching
  • Painful urination
  • Pain with sexual intercourse
  • Vaginal bleeding outside of her period
  • Lower abdomen (belly) or pelvic (between the hips) pain
  • Rectal pain or discharge
  • Pain with bowel movements (poop)
  • Constipation

 The most common signs of gonorrhea for males include:

  • Penile discharge or itching
  • Painful urination
  • Testicular pain
  • Rectal discharge or pain
  • Constipation

Oral or pharyngeal gonorrhea causes an infection in the throat. It can cause a fever, swollen lymph nodes, a red, scratchy, sore throat, and difficulty swallowing, but it is typically asymptomatic (no symptoms).


Healthcare providers treat gonorrhea with antibiotics; however, the type of antibiotic has changed over the years. This is because the bacteria have become resistant to the antibiotics that previously cured them. 

If you continue to have symptoms after treatment, notify your provider. Your infection could be resistant to the antibiotics prescribed.

What Is Antibiotic Resistance?

Antibiotic resistance occurs when the bacteria learn and mutate (change or adapt), so they can overcome the antibiotic designed to attack them. 

The most common treatment for uncomplicated gonorrhea is Rocephin (ceftriaxone). Healthcare providers give it as a one-time shot in the muscle (IM). It's a 500 milligrams (mg) dose for teenagers and adults weighing less than 330 pounds or 1000 milligrams (1 gram) for those over 330 pounds.

Some may be allergic to ceftriaxone, or it may also be unavailable. Providers can use Garamycin (gentamicin)—240 milligrams IM, if this happens. It is given in addition to either:

Restrain from sexual activities until:

  • Seven days after treatment
  • All symptoms resolve
  • All sex partners are treated

If you receive treatment for gonorrhea, you should retest three months after treatment.

Is Reinfection Common?

Rocephin (ceftriaxone) is 95–99% effective for uncomplicated gonorrhea. However, reinfection is common. Your provider may ask you to retest a couple of weeks after treatment to ensure you no longer have the infection. 

Most reinfections occur for the following reasons: 

  • Sexually intimate partners do not receive treatment 
  • Partners don’t refrain from sexual intimacy for seven days after treatment or until symptoms are gone (passing the infection back and forth) 
  • Sex with a new, infected partner occurs


Gonorrhea, otherwise known as “the clap,” is a bacterial sexually transmitted disease (STD). 

In the 1970s, a few studies suggested you could get gonorrhea through deep kissing. The science was limited, but this theory resurfaced in 2019 when scientists conducted another small study that indicated the same results. Though more research is necessary, it may be best to assume it’s possible and follow STD screening, testing, and prevention recommendations.

The majority of women who have gonorrhea don’t show symptoms. When they do, signs include abnormal vaginal discharge, painful urination or sexual intercourse, belly pain, and more. Men usually exhibit penile discharge or itching and painful urination among other symptoms.

Healthcare providers treat gonorrhea with antibiotics and monitor you to prevent reinfection.

A Word From Verywell

Many people with gonorrhea don’t show symptoms and are concerned about unknowingly getting or passing an STD through sexual intimacy or kissing. Talk openly with your healthcare provider about your sexual activity and concerns if this is your case because it is highly treatable.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is gonorrhea transmitted by saliva?

    Yes, saliva can transmit gonorrhea during oral sex. This is also true with other sexual activities involving the use of saliva as a lubricant during sexually intimate activities. There is limited research noting the possibility of passing gonorrhea through deep kissing, but more studies are needed to confirm this. 

  • What are the chances of getting gonorrhea from kissing?

    Though a small sample of studies shows that getting gonorrhea from kissing is possible, there is insufficient evidence to say there is a high chance. This makes STD prevention strategies, screening, and testing even more critical to maintaining sexual and reproductive health. 

  • Can gonorrhea be transmitted non-sexually?

    Gonorrhea is not transmitted through casual contact. However, it can be transmitted through sexually intimate activities or sharing sex toys. Intercourse does not need to occur for gonorrhea to pass between intimate partners.

8 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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  2. Workowski KA, Bachmann LH, Chan PA, et al. Sexually transmitted infections treatment guidelines, 2021. MMWR Recomm Rep. 2021;70(4):1-187. doi:10.15585/mmwr.rr7004a1

  3. UpToDate. Patient education: gonorrhea (beyond the basics).

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  5. Chow EPF, Cornelisse VJ, Williamson DA, et al. Kissing may be an important and neglected risk factor for oropharyngeal gonorrhea: a cross-sectional study in men who have sex with men. Sex Transm Infect. 2019;95(7):516-521. doi:10.1136/sextrans-2018-053896

  6. Hook EW III, Bernstein K. Kissing, saliva exchange, and transmission of Neisseria gonorrhoeae. Lancet Infect Dis. 2019;19(10):e367-e369. doi:10.1016/S1473-3099(19)30306-8

  7. Wagenlehner FM, Brockmeyer N, Discher T, et al. The presentation, diagnosis, and treatment of sexually transmitted infections. Dtsch Arztebl Int. 2016;113(1-02):11-22. doi:10.3238/arztebl.2016.0011

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Additional Reading

By Brandi Jones, MSN-ED RN-BC
Brandi is a nurse and the owner of Brandi Jones LLC. She specializes in health and wellness writing including blogs, articles, and education.