How do you get gonorrhea?

Medically reviewed by Neka Miller, PhD on March 26, 2020. 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.


Gonorrhea is a common sexually transmitted infection (STI) that occurs in both women and men and is especially prevalent among adults who are age 15–24. Roughly half of the approximately 1 million new cases of gonorrhea in the United States every year affect this particular age group. However, anyone who’s sexually active is at risk.

Learning more about STIs like gonorrhea can help you proactively keep your health safe. Here, you’ll find answers to questions like:

  • How do you get gonorrhea?
  • What is the incubation period for gonorrhea (the amount of time it takes to experience symptoms once the infection has begun)?
  • What can you do to prevent gonorrhea?

Testing for gonorrhea is easy and discreet with our at-home chlamydia and gonorrhea test. The test includes easy-to-follow instructions and everything you need to collect your sample at home—and your physician-reviewed results can be conveniently and securely viewed online on your device.


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How gonorrhea is transmitted

Gonorrhea can be transmitted when someone has vaginal, anal, or oral sex with an infected person. For gonorrhea to be transmitted during sexual contact, ejaculation doesn’t have to occur. Also, if someone has previously had gonorrhea, and then received treatment, gonorrhea transmission can happen again if they have sex with a partner who’s infected. Pregnant women with gonorrhea can pass the infection to their infants during birth, as well.

The gonorrhea incubation period

The gonorrhea incubation period—meaning the amount of time between the start of the infection and when symptoms begin—is different from one person to the next and depends on what part of the body is infected. In men with urethral infections, the incubation period can be anywhere from 1 to 14 days (or even more). Typically, though, symptoms appear between 2–5 days, according to research. Studies show that—in women who develop symptoms—urogenital gonorrhea infections generally have an incubation period of 10 days or fewer.

Many people show no symptoms of gonorrhea, which means they can unknowingly pass it to their sex partner. If you do experience symptoms of gonorrhea, they might include pain or a burning sensation when you urinate. Women may experience abnormal vaginal discharge, and similarly, men may experience penile discharge. A gonorrhea infection in the throat might also cause a sore throat. Symptoms of gonorrhea in men are often more noticeable than symptoms in women with gonorrhea.

If a woman isn’t treated for gonorrhea, the infection can spread to her uterus or fallopian tubes and lead to pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). This can cause lower abdominal pain, pain during sexual intercourse, chronic pelvic pain, and—potentially—infertility.

Someone with untreated gonorrhea can eventually develop a disseminated gonococcal infection, in which the bacteria spread to the bloodstream and infect different parts of the body, like the heart. Though disseminated gonorrhea occurs in only about 0.5–3% of people with gonorrhea, the health complications associated with it can be severe and even fatal in the absence of rapid treatment.

What can you do to prevent gonorrhea?

If you’re sexually active, you can reduce the risk of gonorrhea transmission by using latex condoms every time you have sex. Getting tested for gonorrhea (and other STIs)—and having your partner on board with testing, too—can help lower your risk at the start of a new sexual relationship.

You can easily test for gonorrhea—from the privacy and convenience of home—with the Everlywell at-home Chlamydia & Gonorrhea Test. Your test kit for gonorrhea and chlamydia will include easy-to-follow instructions and everything you need to collect your sample at home.

Plus, your physician-reviewed results can be conveniently and securely viewed online on your device. What’s more, if you get a positive result, you’ll have the opportunity to connect with our independent physician network—and may be prescribed medication (like antibiotics) to treat the infection.


Gonorrhea: signs and symptoms

What is disseminated gonorrhea?

Gonorrhea and chlamydia: knowing the difference


References

1. Gonorrhea - CDC Fact Sheet. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. URL. Accessed March 13, 2020.

2. Gonorrhea - CDC Fact Sheet (Detailed Version). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. URL. Accessed March 13, 2020.

3. Shim BS. Current concepts in bacterial sexually transmitted diseases. Korean J Urol. 2011;52(9):589–597. doi:10.4111/kju.2011.52.9.589

4. Gonorrhea. Mayo Clinic. URL. Accessed March 26, 2020.

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