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On This Page: Overview | Gonorrhea Symptoms | Causes | Risk Factors | Prevention 

What is Gonorrhea?

Gonorrhea is a bacterial sexually transmitted disease (STD) that is very common and easily cured with prescription antibiotics. It is spread through oral, vaginal, and anal sex. There are an estimated 820,000 cases of gonorrhea in the U.S. each year. Many people with gonorrhea are unaware they have it because they often have mild or no symptoms.1

Gonorrhea is often called “the drip” or “the clap” and is especially common in young people in their teens and twenties. It is caused by the bacterium Neisseria gonorrhoeae, which infects the mucous membranes of the reproductive system including the cervix, fallopian tubes, uterus in women, and the urethra in both men and women. Gonorrhea can infect the penis, vagina, anus, throat, and (more rarely) eyes. If you don’t treat it, gonorrhea can lead to serious health problems or even infertility, which is why regular STD testing is important even if you feel healthy.

Gonorrhea is a bacterial infection that affects people’s reproductive systems, such as the cervix, uterus, fallopian tubes, and urethra in women, and the urethra in men. It can also infect the throat and anus through oral or anal sex. Gonorrhea is spread through sexual contact with an infected person and can lead to serious health problems if not treated promptly.

Take Charge of Your Health

Untreated gonorrhea can lead to infertility​ in both men and women and make you more susceptible to contracting​ ​additional STDs​. Gonorrhea is an STD that is easily cured with antibiotics. Order quick and confidential testing today.

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Symptoms of Gonorrhea

Many men and most women with gonorrhea have no symptoms at all. 

Symptoms in men include:

  • Painful urination
  • A white, yellow, or green discharge from the penis
  • Painful or swollen testicles

Symptoms in women include:

  • Pain or burning while urinating
  • Increased vaginal discharge
  • Vaginal bleeding between periods

In both men and women, rectal infections can cause no symptoms or cause symptoms such as anal discharge, soreness, bleeding, or itching, or painful bowel movements.

Read more link about gonorrhea symptoms and complications

Gonorrhea at other places in the body

How does gonorrhea affect your joints? –  Gonorrhea can affect the joints and cause a condition known as disseminated gonococcal infection (DGI). DGI occurs when the bacteria that cause gonorrhea spread from the genital tract or rectum to other parts of the body, including the bloodstream. This can cause the bacteria to infect and inflame joints, leading to joint pain, swelling, and redness. In severe cases, DGI can lead to long-term joint damage and arthritis.
How does gonorrhea affect your rectum? – Gonorrhea can infect the rectum, causing rectal gonorrhea. This can occur through anal sex with an infected partner. Rectal gonorrhea can cause symptoms such as rectal pain, discharge, and bleeding. If left untreated, rectal gonorrhea can lead to serious health problems, including an increased risk of acquiring or transmitting other sexually transmitted infections (STIs), pelvic inflammatory disease, and infertility. It is important for individuals who engage in anal sex to get tested regularly for STIs, including gonorrhea, and to practice safe sex, such as using condoms, to reduce their risk of infection.
How does gonorrhea affect your eyes? – Gonorrhea can infect the eyes and cause a condition known as conjunctivitis or ophthalmia neonatorum. This occurs when the bacteria that cause gonorrhea spread from an infected person’s genital tract or rectum to the eyes. Conjunctivitis can cause symptoms such as redness, itching, burning, and discharge from the affected eye. In newborns, conjunctivitis can occur when the bacteria are transmitted during delivery and can lead to serious eye infections and even blindness if left untreated.

How Do You Get Gonorrhea?

Gonorrhea can be transmitted during oral, vaginal, and anal sex through the semen, pre-cum, or vaginal fluids of an infected partner; even if there is no ejaculation.

Gonorrhea can also be spread from mother to baby during childbirth.  A baby that contracts gonorrhea during childbirth may suffer blindness, joint infection, or a life-threatening blood infection. The CDC advises pregnant women to get tested and treated as necessary to prevent passing gonorrhea to the baby.

Who Is at Risk?

Anyone who is sexually active can get gonorrhea, especially if they are having unprotected sex. That being said, certain groups of people have biological and behavioral factors that put them at higher risk. According to the CDC, sexually active teenagers, young adults, and African Americans have the highest reported rates of infection.

The CDC recommends at least yearly gonorrhea screening for:2

  • Women under 25
  • Women older than 25 if they have risk factors like new or multiple sex partners or partners with an STD
  • Men who have sex with men

How Common is Gonorrhea

Gonorrhea is a common sexually transmitted infection (STI) that affects millions of people worldwide. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), an estimated 78 million people are infected with gonorrhea each year. The incidence of gonorrhea varies by region, with higher rates of infection reported in some countries and lower rates in others.

In the United States, gonorrhea is the second most commonly reported bacterial STI, with an estimated 635,000 new infections occurring each year. However, this number is likely an underestimate, as many people with gonorrhea do not show symptoms and therefore do not get tested and treated.

It is important to note that the incidence of gonorrhea can increase or decrease based on a variety of factors, including access to sexual health education and resources, cultural attitudes towards STIs and sexual health, and the effectiveness of public health efforts to prevent the spread of STIs.

How Do You Prevent Gonorrhea?

Not having vaginal, anal, or oral sex is the best way to avoid gonorrhea. That being said, if you are sexually active, safer sex with consistent use of protection like latex or polyurethane condoms and dental dams helps lower (though not eliminate) the risk of getting an STD.

Being mutually monogamous with a long-term partner who has tested negative can also help prevent infection. Having open conversations about sexual health and getting regularly tested with your partner(s) can help confirm your status and protect your health.  We hope this helps answer the question “what is gonorrhea” and how it works.


Gonococcus is the scientific name for the bacteria Neisseria gonorrhoeae, which causes the sexually transmitted infection gonorrhea. The term “gonococcus” was first used in 1879 by Albert Neisser, a German physician, and bacteriologist. He named it after the Greek words “gonos,” meaning seed or offspring, and “kokkos,” meaning berry, because of its distinctive shape under a microscope.

The bacteria can be spread through sexual contact with an infected person, including oral, vaginal, and anal sex. It can also be passed from mother to baby during childbirth. Once inside the body, it multiplies quickly and can cause inflammation of the reproductive organs and other parts of the body.

What is Gonococcus?

Gonococcus is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections worldwide, affecting millions of people every year. Fortunately, it is usually easy to treat with antibiotics if caught early enough.

While this term is commonly used in medical and scientific circles, it is not as widely known among the general public. This is because gonorrhea itself is often referred to by its more common name rather than its scientific name. Additionally, many people may not be aware that there is a specific bacteria responsible for causing gonorrhea.

  1. “Gonorrhea - CDC Fact Sheet (Detailed Version).” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  2. “Screening Recommendations and Considerations Referenced in Treatment Guidelines and Original Sources.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Medically Reviewed by on April 17, 2023

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