Gonorrhea Prevention & Risks

Reviewed by Ruthann Cunningham, MD, June 2, 2017

How is gonorrhea spread?

Men and women can get gonorrhea by having unprotected vaginal sex, anal sex, or by performing and receiving oral sex. The Neisseria gonorrhoeae bacteria that causes gonorrhea infects the moist mucous membranes of the penis, vagina, rectum (anus), throat and eyelids.

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How can I prevent getting or spreading gonorrhea?

Abstaining from sex is the only way to be 100% safe from getting or spreading gonorrhea. If you are sexually active, a latex condom is the best way to protect yourself and your partner. And the best way for women to decrease their chance of infection when having sex with other women is to properly use a latex dental dam.

What are the complications from untreated gonorrhea?

If untreated, gonorrhea infections can evolve into reproductive problems and other health complications for both men and women. With gonorrhea and other STDs, you can have the infection and not feel sick. That's why getting screened for gonorrhea is so important.

For women, untreated gonorrhea may result in:

  • Infertility caused by Pelvic Inflammatory Disease or (PID), an infection that attacks the uterus and fallopian tubes and can lead to a tubal pregnancy
  • Miscarriage
  • Inflammation of the bladder and chronic pelvic pain

For men, untreated gonorrhea may result in:

  • Inflammation of the prostate
  • Scarred and narrowed urethra
  • Infertility
  • Spreading of the infection to the epididymis and testes

If you have gonorrhea, tell your partner(s).

Gonorrhea is contagious. If you have gonorrhea, then chances are your sexual partner may as well. You should both be treated at the same time to avoid reinfection. Tests can't detect how long a person has been been Infected so it’s important to tell recent sexual partners that you have been diagnosed so they can get tested, too. It's recommended to notify all sexual partners going back 6 months.

All pregnant women should be tested for gonorrhea.

Gonorrhea can be passed from mother to baby at birth and may cause a miscarriage. Gonorrhea is one of the leading causes of prenatal (before baby's birth) pneumonia and conjunctivitis (pink eye) in newborns, and these can lead to infant blindness or death.

HIV and gonorrhea

Being infected with gonorrhea increases the chance of getting HIV if you are exposed. If you have HIV and gonorrhea, a partner is more likely to get HIV from you.

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