Gonorrhea is spread by kissing: groundbreaking study overturns decades of medical advice

Gonorrhea can really be spread by kissing, leading scientists now claim.

For decades, sexual health experts have insisted that “clap” can’t be spread through smooching and instead is transmitted through unprotected sex.

But the researchers say the evidence is now clear enough for the guidelines to be changed.

Professor Eric Chow, from the Melbourne Sexual Health Centre, told MailOnline: ‘We think it’s possible to get gonorrhea from kissing.

“I think the guidelines should be updated.”

Gonorrhea can be spread by kissing, say scientists, as they call for advice to be changed

Gonorrhea can be spread by kissing, say scientists, as they call for advice to be changed

In January, his team of researchers reviewed six studies aimed at determining whether tongue kissing was a risk factor for gonorrhea and chlamydia.

The review, published in the journal Sexually Transmitted Diseases, concluded that smooching increased the risk of infection.

However, this was not the case for chlamydia.

Meanwhile, a study published in July by several of the same researchers determined that kissing could spread gonorrhea. He analyzed the sexual histories and STI records of more than 2,000 gay and bisexual men.

“We found that oropharyngeal gonorrhea was associated with exposure to a partner’s mouth through kissing,” the study authors wrote in eClinicalMedicine.


Gonorrhea is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by the bacteria Neisseria gonorrhoeae or gonococcus.

This bacterium is usually found in the secretions of the penis or vaginal secretions.

It is spread through unprotected vaginal, oral, or anal sex, as well as sharing vibrators or sex toys that have been used without a condom.

The bacteria can infect the cervix, urethra, rectum, throat or eyes.

It can also spread from pregnant women to their unborn babies.

Because the bacteria cannot survive long outside the body, gonorrhea is not spread through kissing, cuddling, sharing towels, toilet seats, or swimming.

About one in 10 men and half of women experience no symptoms.

However, these can include:

  • Thick green or yellow discharge from the genitals
  • Pain when urinating
  • Bleeding between periods in women

Treatment usually consists of a single antibiotic injection and a tablet.

Gonorrhea can be prevented by using condoms during sex and not sharing sex toys.

Source: NHS choice

And in 2019, the same team found that gay men were more likely to get gonorrhea in the throat than in the penis – and the risk of spread was higher for kissing than for oral sex.

“A number of lines of evidence suggest that transmission through the oropharynx (back of the throat) may be more common than previously thought,” Professor Chow and colleagues wrote in the journal Sexually Transmitted Infections. .

“(The bacteria) can be cultured from saliva, suggesting that the exchange of saliva between individuals can potentially transmit gonorrhea.”

This means that, according to them, the use of saliva as a lubricant during sex could also present a risk.

A spokesperson for the UK Association for Sexual Health and HIV told MailOnline: ‘Further research into the transmission of STIs is important for our understanding of how they are spread and, if so, how the risk of transmission of gonorrhea can be reduced.

“Gonorrhea is mainly transmitted during unprotected oral, vaginal or anal sex.

“While there may be instances where it has passed from mouth to mouth during a kiss, it is probably very rare.

“This research underscores the importance of individuals getting tested regularly, especially after condomless sex with a new or casual partner.

“It remains essential that everyone has access to high-quality sexual health services to help keep you and your sexual partners safe.”

The NHS states that gonorrhea cannot be transmitted through mouth-to-mouth contact.

Meanwhile, guidance from the US CDC says there is not enough evidence to prove it is spread by kissing.

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) warned in March that cases of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) had reached an all-time high.

Provisional UKHSA data said 56,327 cases were recorded between January and September 2022, up 21% from the 46,541 recorded during the same period in 2019, which was the previous record high.

Health bosses said the spike was largely driven by people aged 15 to 24 “due to more frequent changes in sexual partners”.

Gonorrhea is usually easily treated with a single injection of an antibiotic.

But experts fear the bacterium, like others, is slowly transforming to become drug-resistant.

Several strains of “super-gonorrhea” have already been detected around the world, notably in the United Kingdom and the United States.

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