Gonorrhea is a prevalent sexually transmitted disease (STD) that occurs at the rate of approximately 600,000 new cases per year in the US alone. Gonorrhea is also termed “the clap,” and untreated, this disease is the leading cause for several diseases in women that are linked to later infertility. These include pelvic inflammatory disease, scarring of the fallopian tubes, ectopic pregnancy, and endometriosis.
Gonorrhea is caused by a specific bacterium, called Neisseria, which spreads rapidly through contact of infected parts of the body. Both men and women are at risk for developing this condition. As well, undiagnosed pregnant women with this STD may pass this condition to a child as it passes through the birth canal. The bacterium can cause serious complications to the newborn.
Unprotected sexual intercourse is the primary means of transmission of gonorrhea, but it is a mistake to believe it may only be passed through intercourse. While it is true that the disease primarily affects the penis and vagina, the bacteria can spread with any type of oral or mutual masturbatory sex, and infections can occur in the throat, eyes, and anus. The bacteria thrives in moist areas of the body, so it does not tend to directly affect the skin of the body, though the skin particularly on the fingers can transmit the bacterium to more vulnerable areas of the body.
Symptoms affecting the throat can include sores in the mouth, and fever, aches and chills in some cases. Contact in the eyes can cause a form of pink eye. Gonorrhea in the vagina can cause itchiness of the pubic area, particularly in the skin surrounding the vagina. The cervix may also be irritated, and there is occasionally abnormal bleeding or discharge, and a burning sensation during urination.
In men, the infection may be unnoticed since only about 20% of men who contract gonorrhea directly on the penis will have symptoms. Usually, the bacteria irritates the urethra, which is the hollow tube through which both semen and urine pass in the male, with its outlet in the tip of the penis. Men may also experience redness at the tip of the penis, pain or blood during urination, and discharge from the penis. The glands in the groin may be swollen, and men may feel a more frequent urge to urinate.
Treatment for the condition is usually a single oral dose of antibiotics. However, since the disease can have devastating effects if untreated, the best possible treatment is avoidance of the illness through safe sex practices. Safe sex means avoiding casual sex, and also wearing a male or female condom throughout the entire sexual encounter, including any foreplay such as oral sex. However, a male and female condom cannot be worn at the same time, so most important is to know your partner and get a health check-up testing for STDs before engaging in any type of sexual behavior with a partner. A partner who cares about you will also be willing to get a check-up, and be willing to wait for the results and possible treatment before engaging in sex.
The Centers for Disease Control recommends avoiding multiple partners, and instead having a sexual relationship with a monogamous partner to avoid gonorrhea and other STDS. If you suspect you have it, you should not engage in any type of sexual activity until you have been seen and cleared by a doctor. Women who have it frequently also have chlamydia. Anyone who has engaged in sex with multiple partners should get a check up to rule out this, and several other STDS for which they are at increased risk.
Treating gonorrhea cures the infection, however the body can become reinfected if one has further exposure to the bacteria. Thus contraction of the disease suggests rethinking one’s sexual practices to avoid getting the infection again.