Gonorrhoea is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by bacteria called Neisseria gonorrhoeae or gonococcus. It used to be known as 'the clap'.

The bacteria are mainly found in discharge from the penis and in vaginal fluid.

Gonorrhoea is easily passed between people through:

  • unprotected vaginal, oral or anal sex
  • sharing vibrators or other sex toys that haven't been washed or covered with a new condom each time they're used

The bacteria can infect the cervix (entrance to the womb), the urethra (tube through which urine passes out of the body), the rectum, and less commonly the throat or eyes.

The infection can also be passed from a pregnant woman to her baby. If you're pregnant and may have gonorrhoea, it's important to get tested and treated before your baby is born. Without treatment, gonorrhoea can cause permanent blindness in a newborn baby.

Gonorrhoea isn't spread by kissing, hugging, sharing baths or towels, swimming pools, toilet seats, or sharing cups, plates and cutlery, because the bacteria can't survive outside the human body for long.

Signs and symptoms

Typical symptoms of gonorrhoea include a thick green or yellow discharge from the vagina or penis, pain when urinating and (in women) bleeding between periods.

However, around 1 in 10 infected men and almost half of infected women don't experience any symptoms.

Read more about the symptoms of gonorrhoea.

Getting tested

If you have any of the symptoms of gonorrhoea, or you're worried you may have an STI, you should visit your local genitourinary medicine (GUM) or sexual health clinic for a sexual health test.

Gonorrhoea can be easily diagnosed by testing a sample of discharge picked up using a swab. Testing a sample of urine can also be used to diagnose the condition in men.

It's important to get tested as soon as possible, because gonorrhoea can lead to more serious long-term health problems if it's not treated, including pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) in women, or infertility.

You can find your nearest sexual health clinic by searching by postcode or town.

For information on all sexual health services, visit the FPA website.

Read more about diagnosing gonorrhoea and the possible complications of gonorrhoea.

Treating gonorrhoea

Gonorrhoea is usually treated with a single antibiotic injection and a single antibiotic tablet. With effective treatment, most of your symptoms should improve within a few days.

It's usually recommended that you attend a follow-up appointment a week or two after treatment, so another test can be carried out to see if you're clear of infection.

You should avoid having sex until you've been given the all-clear.

Read more about how gonorrhoea is treated.

Who's affected?

Anyone who's sexually active can catch gonorrhoea, especially people who change partners frequently or don't use a barrier method of contraception, such as a condom, when having sex.

Gonorrhoea is the second most common bacterial STI in the UK after chlamydia. Almost 35,000 cases were reported in England during 2014, with most cases affecting young men and women under the age of 25.

Previous successful treatment for gonorrhoea doesn't make you immune to catching the infection again.

Preventing gonorrhoea

Gonorrhoea and other STIs can be successfully prevented by using appropriate contraception and taking other precautions, such as:

  • using male condoms or female condoms every time you have vaginal sex, or male condoms during anal sex
  • using a condom to cover the penis, or a latex or plastic square (dam) to cover the female genitals, if you have oral sex
  • not sharing sex toys, or washing them and covering them with a new condom before anyone else uses them

If you're worried you may have an STI, visit your local GUM or sexual health clinic for advice.

Read more advice about STIs.

Page last reviewed: 28/07/2015

Next review due: 28/07/2017