According to recent study results, yes, there’s a small chance you can get gonorrhea from kissing. People have long thought you can only transmit or contract this sexually transmitted infection (STI) during sexual activity. As researchers and medical professionals better understand how gonorrhea affects people, they’re learning the infection can spread orally, as well.
What Is Gonorrhea?
Gonorrhea is a bacterial, sexually transmitted infection of the rectum, urethra, cervix, and throat. It can infect both males and females. Though it most commonly spreads during sex, babies can become infected during childbirth if the mother has the infection. Babies that contract gonorrhea during birth will most likely have the infection in their eyes.
What Are the Symptoms of Gonorrhea?
People with gonorrhea don’t always experience symptoms, and you might never know you have the infection unless you get tested for it. When symptoms are present, they can potentially affect multiple areas in your body but most commonly occur within the genital tract.
Symptoms of gonorrhea infection in women include but are not limited to:
- Painful urination.
- Painful intercourse.
- Vaginal bleeding between periods.
- Vaginal bleeding after intercourse.
- Increased vaginal discharge.
- Pelvic or abdominal pain.
Men have symptoms that include but are not limited to:
- Pus-like discharge from the penis tip.
- Painful urination.
- Swelling or pain in one testicle.
Other areas of the body that can become infected and show symptoms include the:
- Sensitivity to light.
- Eye pain.
- Pus-like discharge from one or both eyes.
- Needing to strain during bowel movements.
- Anal itching.
- Spots of blood on toilet tissue.
- Pus-like discharge from the rectum.
- Joints (septic arthritis due to bacterial infection in the joint)
- Swollen, warm, and red joints.
- Intense pain in the affected joint.
- Pain worsens during movements.
- Swollen lymph nodes in the neck.
- Sore throat.
How Does Kissing Spread Gonorrhea?
Kissing in and of itself is not considered a sexual activity unless it leads to or happens during sex. That said, researchers have recently shown that infected individuals can spread oral gonorrhea or oropharyngeal gonorrhea through kissing. However, gonorrhea still isn’t classified or widely accepted as a kissing disease; public health authorities still only consider it to be spread orally through oral sex. As with any new research concerning a disease or infection, scientists will have to conduct more studies to further confirm that kissing can, in fact, spread gonorrhea between partners.
French kissing is more likely to spread oral or oropharyngeal gonorrhea than closed-mouth kissing, as the tongue-kissing increases the amount of saliva exchange that occurs. For this to take place, the bacteria must be present in a partner’s saliva and then transferred during a kiss.
How Does This Affect Safe Sex Practices?
As we learn more about kissing as a means of spreading gonorrhea, we might find that standard safe sex practices alone don’t adequately protect sexual partners from spreading or contracting gonorrhea. People who have multiple sexual partners might consider not exchanging saliva when kissing and to use protection (such as dental dams) when having oral sex.
Common Misconceptions of STIs
There are many misconceptions regarding the spread of STIs such as gonorrhea. Myths people have perpetuated about these infections include:
- Only people with multiple sexual partners will get STIs. Anyone can get an STI from having unprotected (without a condom) anal, vaginal, or oral sex with an infected partner, even if it is just once. You can also spread some STIs by sharing sex toys and having genital contact.
- Oral contraception can prevent STIs. Oral contraception such as the birth control pill is only intended to prevent pregnancy and does not protect against STIs. Condoms and dental dams are the only forms of contraception that can help prevent people from spreading STIs during sexual activity. Always take preventive actions to protect yourself and your sexual partners.
- STIs will resolve themselves, without treatment. Many people with STIs never have symptoms, which makes these infections difficult to detect without being tested. Even if you have a symptom only once and it goes away, you might still have an STI. If so, you can still pass it to your sexual partners without knowing. Left untreated, STIs have the potential to cause persistent, long-term medical issues.
There are many different beliefs and misinformation about STIs, how they are treated, and how they spread. If you have questions about STIs such as gonorrhea, your Nurx™ medical provider can provide you with validated information about STI testing and how to protect yourself when sexually active.
Resistant STIs and STDs
The spread of STIs increases every year. Medical professionals have concerns that this spike is not only related to an increase in sexual activity but also increased bacterial resistance to the medications used to treat STIs. Kissing as a method of transmitting or contracting gonorrhea further complicates these concerns.
Protecting yourself from STIs isn’t as difficult as you may think and doesn’t mean you have to refrain from sexual activity. Staying safe starts by seeking out information on how to protect yourself and others from transmitting or contracting an STI. Safe sex practices involve more than just tangible methods of protection; they also include knowledge of symptoms and precautionary measures related to various STIs. Being informed and using physical forms of sexual protection, such as condoms, can help drastically reduce your risk of contracting STIs.
Other methods of protection include getting regular general health checkups and screenings for STIs. This includes asking current or potential sexual partners if they know their STI status.
Knowing that kissing can potentially cause STI spread shouldn’t discourage you from being intimate with your sexual partner. Keeping yourself informed of the latest information regarding the spread of gonorrhea through kissing can help you stay safe and protect your partners.
Gonorrhea, Mayo Clinic, July 2019