Sexual Health
Sexually Transmitted Infections and STDs

Gonorrhea: What You Need to Know Today

[Author’s note: Welcome to Part 5 of our seven-part series about Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs), sometimes called venereal diseases or Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs). The good news is that as I write this in 2017, researchers are discovering not only new facts, but also new treatments for STIs. The not-so-good-news is that some STIs that were once nearly eradicated are on the rise again and others are becoming resistant to treatment. Click here to read Part 1 of the series. Click here to read Part 2 of the series. Click here to read Part 3 of the series. Click here to read Part 4 of the series. Come back on Monday, September 11th for Part 6.]

Gonorrhea, a bacterial STI caused by Neisseria gonorrhoeae and colloquially called “The Clap”, is currently the second most common STI after Chlamydia. However, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported on July 7th 2017 that antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea is on the rise and that new drugs are needed. The drugs that used to be effective are Rocephin, Cipro, and Floaxin, among others.

On the heels of that unsettling news, a release sent on August 7th 2017 heralded the fact that the Imperial College London has discovered a new antibiotic class that is effective against gonorrhea, but at the moment only in the laboratory. Other reports of new antibiotics on the horizon to treat gonorrhea have come from the University of York in the UK and from Oregon State University.

Whether or not these potential new drugs will eventually stem the tide of this infection, also known simply as gonococcal infection or GC, remains to be seen. For now, and as always, protect yourself by learning about the sexual history of your partner or partners and by using condoms during intercourse.

Also important for women, get tested for gonorrhea because infections in women are very often asymptomatic until serious complications including pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) manifest themselves. PID can result in infertility.

Men, on the other hand, usually have a thick, painful discharge from the urethra. Even so, that symptom may not occur for a month or more after the infection is acquired. During the initial 30 days or so, a man could unknowingly infect a sexual partner.

Women who do have symptoms of gonorrhea often think they have a urinary tract infection (UTI), also called cystitis. In addition, gonorrhea can infect the anus, bowels, and throat. A throat infection has no symptoms but can be transmitted via oral sex. Vaginal and anal symptoms can be:

  • burning during urination
  • yellowish vaginal discharge
  • a discharge or bleeding from the anus

A cautionary note for older women: Although gonorrhea is most common in women under the age of 25, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reminds us that any sexually active woman can become infected at any age. Be sure to let your healthcare providers know that you are still sexually active, especially if you have new partners. This is no time for false modesty! Even if you’re no longer concerned about fertility, complications of gonorrhea could cause long term pelvic and abdominal pain that may be antibiotic resistant these days.

Again, come back on Monday, September 11th for Part 6 of our STI series!

Sondra Forsyth is Co-Editor-in-Chief of