Gonorrhoea – aka the clap STI

The World Health Organisation is warning that gonorrhoea is becoming resistant to antibiotics. Here's all you need to know about one of the nastiest sexually transmitted diseases: gonorrhoea or ‘the clap’.

Two young people are standing outside talking about Gonorrhoea (aka, the clap) STI. One is wearing a white jacket and glasses and the other is facing away wearing a black coat.

What is gonorrhoea?

Gonorrhoea – aka the clap STI – is a highly contagious sexually transmitted infection caused by the bacteria Neisseria gonorrhoeae. It’s passed on through vaginal, anal and oral sex, as well as foreplay and sharing sex toys with an infected person.

How do I know I’ve got gonorrhoea?

A large number of people may not have any symptoms at all. But if you do have symptoms, they’ll start between two to 10 days after having sex with an infected person.

What are the symptoms of gonorrhoea?

Like chlamydia, it can be symptomless or so mild that it can be mistaken for a bladder or vaginal infection. However, if you do develop symptoms, they’ll include discharge from the penis or vagina, usually smelly and yellow or green. Other symptoms include a burning sensation when you pee, pain in your stomach, a sore throat, sore testicles. You may also have heard about gonorrhoea in the eye as the virus can give you conjunctivitis if you’ve rubbed your eyes after being in contact with the infection.

Can I get tested for gonorrhoea if I don’t have any symptoms?

You can get tested for gonorrhoea even if you don’t have symptoms. Sometimes it’s possible to get your results straight away, but most clinics have a two-week turnaround.

Gonorrhoea treatment

As the symptoms of gonorrhoea resemble other STIs (chlamydia or NSU/NGU), as well as urinary tract infections (UTIs) and other types of bacterial infections, you’ll need to see your doctor (GP), or go to your nearest GUM clinic. They’ll take a urine sample and a swab and send it off to the lab for testing.

As over 50% of people with gonorrhea also have chlamydia, you’ll probably be tested for that too.

What type of medicine can be used to treat gonorrhoea?

Luckily, treatment is simple. If caught early, gonorrhoea can be treated with a single-dose injection of an antibiotic.

If you also have chlamydia you’ll be given a combination of antibiotics to treat both STIs.

Is gonorrhoea resistant to antibiotics?

There is a strain of the infection that has developed antibiotic resistance, and in September 2015 it was reported to be ‘sweeping’ across the North of England. With this in mind, it’s important to be really vigilant about safe sex. Clever doctors across the globe are doing their best to research this new strain but, in the meantime, stock up on condoms.

How to avoid catching gonorrhoea

Using a condom or dental dam every time you have any kind of sex — oral, vaginal, anal and using sex toys — can protect you. But they won’t protect you during foreplay. As you can get gonorrhoea in the eye and throat as well as your bits it’s really important to wash your hands after any sexual contact. We know that’s not the sexiest thing you can do after sex, but not as much as ‘fessing up to gonorrhoea would be later on.

The best way to protect yourself from gonorrhoea (in fact any type of STI) is to limit the number of sexual partners you have and try to ask them about their sexual history – the more partners they’ve had, the higher the risk of infection.

What happens if you ignore gonorrhoea?

Ignoring gonorrhoea can lead to a whole host of serious health problems, including pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), infertility in both men and women, and ectopic pregnancy.

Contracting gonorrhoea during pregnancy can also cause problems for the newborn baby, including meningitis and an eye infection that can result in blindness if not treated.

How soon can I have sex again after being treated for gonorrhoea?

You shouldn’t have sex until you’ve finished your treatment and have been given the all clear by your doctor. But treatment is fast (normally seven days), so you won’t have to abstain for too long.

You can catch gonorrhoea more than once

Unfortunately, there’s no immunity against gonorrhoea. So you can get it again and again if you don’t protect yourself. If you’re unsure then get tested, search for a sexual health clinic near you. For more information on STIs check out the rest of our safe sex resources here. Brook provides free sexual health and wellbeing services for young people in the UK. Brook’s services include local clinics and online digital sex and relationships tool. You can also ask questions about STIs on our Discussion Boards.

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By Nicola Scott

Updated on 10-Jan-2023