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Happy couple smiling and kissing without getting gonorrhea

Can you get gonorrhea from kissing?

Medically reviewed on November 22, 2022 by Amy Harris, MS, RN, CNM. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.


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Whether you’re hypervigilant about preventing STIs or you could use a sexual health refresher, you’ve probably heard of gonorrhea—a sexually transmitted infection that, with proper treatment, is curable [1].

Most people know that STIs are communicable through genital contact. But given the hyper-transmissibility of other STIs (like the viral herpes), it can sometimes feel unclear which STIs pose a risk under what intimate circumstances.

For instance, can you get gonorrhea from kissing? It’s highly unlikely—but it is possible. And because of that, it’s important to understand how gonorrhea is transmitted, as well as steps you can take to reduce your and your partner(s)’ risk of getting it.

Gonorrhea basics

Gonorrhea is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) that is most common in sexually active people under the age of 24, and the risk of gonorrhoea transmission increases among people who have unprotected sex [2].

However, just because it’s most common in people younger than 24 doesn't mean you’ll become immune to it the day you turn 25—far from it. Experts think gonorrhea is more common in younger adults because:

It’s highly transmissible (contagious) [1] People in this demographic are the most likely to have had numerous sexual partners within a 12-month period3

Barrier birth control methods (like condoms and dental dams) can help prevent gonorrhea transmission, but they’re not 100% effective [2].

Signs of gonorrhea infection

Unfortunately, many people with gonorrhea don’t experience symptoms. This is why it’s important to confirm a diagnosis with a lab test.

Nevertheless, it’s important to know which symptoms could indicate an infection. The most common symptoms of a vaginal gonorrhea infection may include [2]:

  • A burning sensation or pain during urination
  • An increased volume of vaginal discharge
  • Bleeding between menstrual periods

If you’re a cisgender woman (a person with a vagina), these gonorrhea symptoms may be less noticeable than those developed by cisgender men (people with penises).

Cisgender men and people with penises are more likely to develop symptoms of a penile infection, which may come with:

  • A burning sensation or pain during urination
  • Discharge from the penis (usually white, green, or yellow)
  • Swollen or painful testicles (a less common symptom, but still something to watch for)

Moreover, the penis and vagina aren’t the only places where you may develop a gonorrhea infection. While oropharyngeal (mouth and throat) infections can be difficult to detect (since patients typically don’t present any symptoms), rectal infections are typically easier to identify.

Symptoms of a rectal gonorrhea infection can include:

  • Itching
  • Bleeding
  • Soreness
  • Painful bowel movements
  • Discharge

How is gonorrhea transmitted?

Gonorrhea is chiefly transmitted in two ways [2]:

  • An uninfected person can get gonorrhea by having oral, vaginal, or anal sex with a partner who has an active gonorrhea infection.
  • An infected pregnant person can spread gonorrhea to their baby during childbirth. These pregnant people should seek treatment before their due date.

Gonorrhea bacteria thrive in warm, wet places. This makes the genitals and anus prime targets, though mouth and throat infections are also possible.

If you come into extended contact with any infected area—be it the genitals, anus, mouth, or throat—there’s a likelihood of contracting an infection yourself.

Can you get gonorrhea from kissing?

Until very recently, medical experts believed kissing-only interactions didn’t transmit gonorrhea. But in 2019, an Australian study demonstrated that kissing does, in fact, have the potential to spread oropharyngeal gonorrhea (mouth and throat infections) [4].

There are a few important things to note, however:

  • This study is currently the only one that examines the likelihood of oropharyngeal gonorrhea transmission via kissing.
  • The study only addressed a single demographic: men who have sex with other men (MSM).

Despite its limitations, the study holds an important takeaway: the importance of sexual health testing. Since oropharyngeal gonorrhea infections rarely present symptoms, being screened consistently is one of the best ways to know whether you and your partner(s) are at risk [5].

How do you know if you have gonorrhea?

STI testing is important to ensure you don’t develop any long-term effects of gonorrhea.

Lab tests for gonorrhea use one of two methods [2]:

  • Urine testing
  • Swab testing

Urine tests are the most commonly administered tests for gonorrhea. If you use an at-home test for gonorrhea, this is the type of sample you’ll have to collect and send to a lab.

Swab testing is only performed by medical or lab staff. Depending on the area of the suspected infection (and the types of sexual contact you’ve had recently), technicians may swab one or more of the following areas:

  • The cervix
  • The urethra
  • The rectum
  • The throat

Once tested, you can work with your healthcare provider to learn how to treat gonorrhea.

Sexual well-being with Everlywell

Early studies suggest that it’s possible to get an oropharyngeal gonorrhea infection from kissing—but, most transmissions occur during oral, anal, or vaginal sex. Fortunately, you can prevent an infection by using condoms correctly and by staying up-to-date on your (and your sex partner’s) STI status through regular STD testing.

With Everlywell, testing for STIs has never been simpler. Just order one of our STI tests, register it using our secure portal, and we’ll send your sample to our CLIA-certified labs to find out your status.

Make prioritizing sexual health more convenient and find your next at-home test kit with Everlywell today.

How to treat gonorrhea

Gonorrhea long-term effects: what you need to know

How long can you have gonorrhea without knowing?


References

  1. Std facts - gonorrhea. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Published August 22, 2022. Accessed November 7, 2022. URL
  2. Gonorrhea | the clap. MedlinePlus. Accessed November 7, 2022. URL
  3. Haderxhanaj LT, Leichliter JS, Aral SO, Chesson HW. Sex in a lifetime. Sexually Transmitted Diseases. 2014;41(6):345-352. doi:10.1097/olq.0000000000000132
  4. Chow EP, Cornelisse VJ, Williamson DA, et al. Kissing may be an important and neglected risk factor for oropharyngeal gonorrhoea: A cross-sectional study in men who have sex with men. Sexually Transmitted Infections. 2019;95(7):516-521. doi:10.1136/sextrans-2018-053896
  5. Adamson PC, Klausner JD. The staying power of pharyngeal gonorrhea: Implications for public health and antimicrobial resistance. Clinical Infectious Diseases. 2021;73(4):583-585. doi:10.1093/cid/ciab074
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