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Why is Gonorrhea Called the Clap?

There are many theories as to why the sexually-transmitted disease, gonorrhea, is often referred to as the clap. The name is believed to have derived from French or English language terms, or from the painful treatment that was once used to treat the disease. Gonorrhea is a sexually-transmitted disease that is caused by the bacteria known as Neisseria gonorrhoeae, which can be easily spread from person to person. It can be transmitted via vaginal, oral, or anal sex and can be easily cured with antibiotic treatment.

The French Language Theory

One possible theory to the word’s origin is from the French word for brothel, “clapier.” The same term was used in the Middle French language to refer to a rabbit’s nest. Due to the active sex life of rabbits, the term was then used to discuss houses of prostitution. Since at the time, gonorrhea was commonly contracted in these establishments, the name translated began being used for the disease itself. When someone was known to have gonorrhea, they would be said to have “clapier bubo,” with bubo being the term for inflamed lymph nodes in the groin area caused by an infection.

The Old English Language Theory

There is also a theory that the term comes from an old English word, “clappan,” which means to throb or beat. When infected, gonorrhea can lead to pain and burning during urination and a throbbing painful condition in the genitals caused by inflammation from the infection.

The Treatment Theory

When gonorrhea was first known as a disease, medical knowledge was limited, and treatment options with often painful, with little or no improvement. One of the early treatments for gonorrhea in males involved clapping both sides of the penis at the same time in an attempt to push the pus and discharge from the urethra. A penis was also sometimes clapped between a hard surface and a book to achieve the same results. It is no surprise that his form of treatment caused major damage and did little to vacate the infection.

Other Nicknames for Gonorrhea

You may have also heard the term “The Drip,” used for describing cases of gonorrhea, and this term often relates to the visual symptoms associated with a penis that is infected. When infected, a penis may leak or ooze a discharge or drip.

How Does Gonorrhea Spread?

Gonorrhea can spread quite rapidly from person to person through vaginal, oral, or anal sex. The actual infection passes through infected semen or discharge from either the vagina, throat or the rectum. Gonorrhea can be prevented through the use of condoms or a dental dam, during sexual activities. You can also reduce the risk of an infection getting worse or passing it to an uninfected person by having regular healthcare checkups, STI testing,  and seeking treatment when you have the disease.

What Are the Symptoms of Gonorrhea?

Many people have few to no symptoms when they initially contract gonorrhea. When symptoms do appear, they often start with a yellowish-green or thick white discharge coming from the penis or vaginal area. The next symptoms often include:

  • Painful urination.
  • An increase in urination.
  • Pain in the testicles.
  • Pain in the vaginal area.
  • Pain in the lower abdomen that may become severe.

It is important to have regular STI testing if you are at risk of contracting gonorrhea, as 10% to 15% of men will be asymptomatic, and 80% of women may show no symptoms at all.

When May You Show Symptoms of Gonorrhea?

For those who show symptoms, they are likely to show up anywhere from two to seven days after contracting the disease, or in some cases, up to 30 days.

How Common is Gonorrhea?

Gonorrhea is one of the most commonly transmitted STIs across the globe, with 0.8% of women and 0.6% of men in the world developing it at some point in their life. Out of the almost 500 million cases of curable STIs a year, over 100 million of those will be gonorrhea, with the other 400 million cases involving chlamydia, trichomoniasis, and syphilis.

What Can Happen if Your Gonorrhea is Left Untreated?

The good news for those infected with gonorrhea is that it can be easily treated with antibiotics. But it can difficult for you to know when you need to seek treatment because so many people don’t show symptoms. This makes routine STI treatment even more important; if left untreated, gonorrhea can lead to other more serious health complications. Some of the complications that untreated gonorrhea can result in include:

  • Pelvic inflammatory disease, if the infection spreads to the reproductive organs. This can lead to fertility problems.
  • Inflammation of the epididymis, which is the tube that carries sperm from the testicles.
  • Septic arthritis, which is a painful infection in the joints.
  • Endocarditis, which is a dangerous infection of the lining of the heart.
  • A disseminated gonococcal infection, which happens when the infection spreads to the blood or the joints.

Who Is at Higher Risk for Contracting Gonorrhea?

While gonorrhea can be contracted by anyone who has vaginal, anal, or oral sex without barrier-method protection, there are some groups of people who may find themselves at a higher risk. They should have regular STI testing to catch a potential case of gonorrhea before it leads to complications. Higher-risk groups include:

  • Sexually active men and women under the age of 35.
  • Men and women who have begun sex with new partners.
  • Women or men who have sex with multiple partners.
  • Those who have previously had a case of gonorrhea.
  • Someone who currently has another sexually-transmitted infection.

No matter what name you choose to call gonorrhea, it is important to realize that it is a highly transmittable but easily treatable infection that may or may not present any symptoms. Because of this, you can reduce your risk of developing complications from an untreated infection by having regular checkups and regular STI protection.

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