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 vaginal fluid from infected men and women.
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 are used
The bacteria can infect the cervix (entrance to the womb), the urethra (tube that carries urine 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.
Gonorrhoea is not 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 bleeding in between periods in women.
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.
If you have any of the symptoms of gonorrhoea or you are 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.
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 are clear of infection.
You should avoid having sex until you have been given the all-clear.
Read more about how gonorrhoea is treated.
Who is affected?
Anyone who is 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. More than 25,000 cases were reported in England during 2012, with most cases affecting young men and women under the age of 25.
Previous successful treatment for gonorrhoea doesn't make you immune from catching the infection again.
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 are worried you may have an STI, visit your local GUM or sexual health clinic for advice.
Read more advice about STIs.
Articles and videos on contraception, STIs and talking about sex. Includes a section for teens
Page last reviewed: 17/10/2013
Next review due: 17/10/2015