The Basics


What is gonorrhea? Learn how to prevent, manage, and treat gonorrhea with safe practices, lifestyle, and medicine.

Medically Reviewed By:

Dr. George Abraham

Last Updated:

December 3rd, 2022

What is Gonorrhea?

Gonorrhea is a common Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI). Bacteria infect the genitals (penis/vagina), rectum, and throat of men and women. We can easily treat gonorrhea with medicine. Most people with gonorrhea don’t realize that they have it.



Men with gonorrhea often have no symptoms. A man could have:

  • White, yellow, or green discharge from the penis

  • Pain in the testicles (‘balls’) or scrotum  


Women with gonorrhea often have no symptoms. A woman could have:

  • Discharge from the vagina (more than usual)

  • Bleeding from the vagina when you’re not on your period

Men and Women

  • A pain or burning sensation when peeing (called dysuria)

  • Burning, Itching, or soreness in the urethra (the tube that carries urine out of the body)

  • Pain during sex

  • Pain in your lower belly

Rectal Infection

If bacteria enter the rectum, there are usually no symptoms. Men and women could notice:

  • Discharge from the anus

  • Itching or soreness in the anus

  • Blood or pain during a bowel movement (‘pooping’)

Throat (Pharyngeal Infection)

If the bacteria enter the throat (pharyngeal infection), men and women could notice a sore throat, but there are usually no symptoms.

Getting Tested—Do You Have Gonorrhea?

Anyone who is sexually active can have gonorrhea. If you notice symptoms, stop having sex and see your healthcare provider (doctor, clinic, hospital). Or, if your recent sexual partner is diagnosed with gonorrhea, stop having sex and see your healthcare provider.

Sexually active women under 25 years old should get tested every year, even if they have no symptoms and their partners are not diagnosed with gonorrhea.

To get tested, you may either pee in a cup (urine sample) or take a swab from your penis, cervix, urethra, anus, or throat. A lab tests this sample for gonorrhea bacteria.

Mail-In Tests

You may take a sample at the doctor’s office, but you can also use a mail-in self test. The lab will mail you a kit. Then, you take a urine or swab sample at home. You mail the kit back to the lab. The lab gives you your results with an email, website, or app. 

Testing Positive for an STI: What to Do

There are 4 steps everyone should take after testing positive for an STI, like syphilis.

  1. Stop Having Sex

Doctors can treat STIs with just medicine or an injection (‘shot’). But if untreated, syphilis can spread and cause severe problems. Keep seeing your doctor.

  1. See Your Doctor

Doctors can treat STIs with just medicine or an injection (‘shot’). But if untreated, syphilis can spread and cause severe problems. Keep seeing your doctor.

  1. Get Tested for Other STIs

STIs often come in groups. If you have syphilis, you’re at risk for other STIs. Get tested.

  1. Tell Your Partner

If you are diagnosed with an STI, you should tell your recent sexual partners. This protects your partners’ health because they can get tested and treated.

Partner Services

Talking to your partner about your STI can be hard. If you want to stay anonymous, you can ask your health department or doctor to tell your partner, without mentioning your name.

Or, you can ask a Partner Services Representative to be with you and provide support while you tell your partner.

Treatment: How to Feel Better

Medication: Antibiotics

Gonorrhea can both be easily treated with medication from your doctor.

Use Antibiotics the Right Way

Remember to take antibiotics exactly how your healthcare professional tells you. You may feel better in 1 to 2 days. Don’t stop antibiotics because you’re feeling better. You need to finish taking the antibiotics so you don’t get sick again.

Transmission: Protecting Family and Friends

Gonorrhea spread through sexual contact with the penis, vagina, mouth, or anus of someone with the disease. You can get gonorrhea again, even if you have been infected before and received treatment. 

The best way to avoid gonorrhea and protect your partners is to not have sex. But, when you do have sex, use safe sexual practices around STIs:

Safe Sexual Practices Around STIs

  1. Protect

Using condoms can cover syphilis sores and prevent spread. But syphilis can spread from sores in other parts of the body.

  1. Test

Make sure you and your partner are tested for STIs before having sex. If you are diagnosed with an STI, tell your partner.

  1. Wait

Do not have sex until you have finished your STI treatment.