At Peech, we want to break down the taboos surrounding sex and sexuality, so in this series of articles we're discussing sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). We would like to emphasize how STDs do not make you gross or wrong or any other negative stereotype associated with STDs - it's merely infections, that in most cases can be treated easily and quickly. Give our articles about herpes, gonorrhea, genital warts and HIV/AIDS a read as well, and learn something new about STDs
Gonorrhea has become more and more widespread in the past few years. In just 10 years, from 2006 to 2016, the number of people with gonorrhea has increased tenfold. But what is gonorrhea and how should you treat it? Read along!
What is gonorrhea?
Gonorrhea is an infection caused by the bacteria Neisseria gonorrhoeae or gonococci. As with chlamydia, the bacteria can only survive in the mucous membranes. This is why gonorrhea is called a sexually transmitted infection, since it can only be transmitted through oral, anal and vaginal sex. Gonococci cannot survive outside the mucous membranes, so you cannot become infected by e.g. sharing a toilet or towel with someone who has gonorrhea. This also means that the most effective way to avoid gonorrhea is to use a condom or dental dams, regardless of the type of sex you have. If you want to read more about how the test for gonorrhea takes place, as well as your options for getting tested by a doctor, voluntary clinics or at home, you can read our guide here.
What are the symptoms of gonorrhea?
As with all other sexually transmitted diseases, it is possible to have no symptoms, even if you are infected. Therefore, if you have unprotected sex with others, it's a good idea to be tested for STDs regularly. If you get symptoms, they typically come after 3-7 days after the initial infection. At the same time, the incubation period for gonorrhea is 1 week, which means that it can only be detected in the body 1 week after you have been infected. If you get symptoms quickly, it's therefore a good idea to wait a few days (and not have unprotected sex in the meantime), so that you are absolutely sure that a possible gonorrhea infection can be detected in a test.
The typical symptoms of gonorrhea are a burning sensation when urinating, i.e. "peeing glass shards", as well as discharge from the urethra or vagina. This is also why gonorrhea is sometimes called "drip". Up to 80% of people with a penis develop symptoms a few days after being infected, while this only applies to 1/3 of people with a vulva.
It is also possible to get gonorrhea in the rectum or in the throat, which can cause pain and soreness in both places. However, you rarely get symptoms when infected in the throat. In rare cases, gonorrhea can also cause painful and swollen joints.
If you want to read more about how to test for gonorrhea, as well as where you can receive treatment, you can read our article here.
How is gonorrhea treated?
Once gonorrhea is confirmed with a test, it is treated with antibiotics. Unlike chlamydia, gonorrhea is not typically treated with antibiotics in pill form. Instead, you get a single injection into the thigh or buttocks, after which you must not have sex for a week afterwards.
Approximately 14 days after the injection, a new test must be taken to ensure that the infection is gone. This is because certain types of gonococci have developed a resistance to antibiotics, which means that it cannot be treated with the usual type of antibiotics used to treat, for example, chlamydia. But don't panic, there are only 3 confirmed cases of multi-resistant gonococci and they have only been found in England and Australia after visiting South East Asia. All three cases are also cured, albeit with more difficulty than usual.
As always, it's important to inform your partner(s) so that they can also be treated. This particularly applies to gonorrhea, in order to stop the spread of infection and minimize the risk of new antibiotic-resistant types of gonorrhea developing.
It can feel like an uncomfortable conversation to initiate, especially if it's with people you may not know very well. But you have to remember that you are not wrong or dirty or slutty, or any other negative adjective that are widespread when it comes to having STDs. Anyone can get an STD if they have unprotected sex, regardless of their number of sexual partners. And again, it's just an infection that can quickly be treated. But it's still important to tell others if you have gonorrhea, as untreated gonorrhea can lead to inflammation of the uterus or epididymis. Ultimately, inflammation can damage the ovaries, which can lead to sterility, i.e. a reduced ability to have children. So get tested!