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Gonorrhea is also called “the clap.” There are a few different theories for this name. For one, this could refer to archaic treatment of the disease in men. This used to involve clapping the sides of the penis to force a fluid discharge. Others believe “the clap” to be a shortened version of the French term “clapier” (which means “brothel”) where a great number of people likely contracted the infection back in the day.
Nicknames for this bacterial infection don’t stop there. You may also hear to it referred to as “the drip” or “the morning drip,” which refers to one of the main symptoms, genital discharge. Others still may call it “the dose,” referring to the single dose of antibiotics required to cure it.
What is Gonorrhea?
Gonorrhea is a bacterial infection of Neisseria gonorrhoeae, also charmingly known as “the drip” or “the clap.” Although it is one of the most common STDs, gonorrhea keeps a low profile. It is often asymptomatic for weeks after initial infection. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates about 820,000 new cases of gonorrhea in the US each year.
Online Dating Gone Right (And Then Wrong)
So who is at risk for catching “the clap?” As you’ll learn, it could be anyone! These days, you can be just a swipe away from finding someone to play with. Maybe that night of ‘no strings attached’ fun turned out to have some strings attached after all.
Before you flip your lid on someone for not disclosing their status with you, remember that symptoms of gonorrhea are often mild, and most people don’t experience symptoms at all. It’s entirely possible that your partner had no clue they were infected.
What Does Gonorrhea Look Like?
The first question that people ask when it comes to any sexually transmitted infection (STI) is “what does it look like?” Unfortunately, it may not look like anything when it comes to gonorrhea.
That said, a quick google search may produce some rather extreme photos. Comparing your own body to these images could potentially point you in the right direction, but is far more likely to confuse and frighten you. Many of the readily available photos in image search results, even on popular websites, may be “worst case scenario” photos. Or they could feature people that are afflicted with additional medical conditions. Worse yet, there is no guarantee that the information is provided by a reputable medical source. It’s possible that these photos can put you on the right track, but don’t bet your health on it.
For the curious, here are some images of the infection directly from the CDC.
What are the Symptoms of Gonorrhea?
The toughest part of gonorrhea treatment is recognizing that you are infected in the first place. This part is key, because this infection could have serious consequences if it remains undetected and untreated. As there may not be any physical signs at all, it is absolutely possible for you to walk around for months without realizing that you have been infected.
If the burning, itching, and potential inability to reproduce wasn’t consequential enough, gonorrhea is a massacre on your mojo. Discomfort and embarrassment from a VD puts sexy-time on a time out. While you’re left with a burning in your loins, your honey may be feeling responsible for your lack of interest–and this damage, too, may be permanent. Itching, tenderness, and odor are not a welcomed post-coital gift. We’d suggest flowers or breakfast in bed instead.
Because it’s frequently confused with other conditions (like urinary tract infections) and can go undetected in the first weeks of infection, gonorrhea is easily spread unknowingly between partners.
Gonorrhea has an incubation period of about two to six days, but it can take as long as 30 days before symptoms pop up. Most people who are infected with gonorrhea don’t notice immediately. When symptoms are present, they are subtle enough to be mistaken for other common ailments. In both men and women, physical symptoms of the clap typically include:
- Abnormal discharge
- An urge to urinate
- General discomfort in the affected area
- Lower abdominal pain
As with most infections, leaving gonorrhea untreated can be a gamble. These symptoms may be minor and easy to ignore in some cases, but diagnosis and treatment is important. If left untreated, a gonorrheal infection can permanently damage reproductive organs and even result in sterility.
This infection can also spread to the blood or joints. Once gonorrhea has entered the bloodstream, both men and women can experience arthritis, heart valve damage, or inflammation of the lining of the brain or spinal cord. These are rare but serious conditions. Ultimately, it can become life threatening if left untreated.
Having gonorrhea can also make you more susceptible to other sexually transmitted infections, such as HIV. People who test positive for both HIV and gonorrhea are more likely to transmit HIV to their partner than people with only HIV.
Specific Symptoms of Gonorrhea for Women
Gonorrhea can also affect men and women in different ways. Most women do not have symptoms of early gonorrhea. If there are symptoms, they often appear very similar to a common bladder or vaginal infection. Women may also experience increased vaginal bleeding or discharge between periods. Here are some of the most common gonorrhea symptoms in women:
- A yellowish vaginal discharge
- Redness or swelling of the genitals
- More frequent urination
- A burning sensation during urination
- Abdominal and/or pelvic pain
- Pain during sexual intercourse
If left untreated, later stages of “the clap” can spread to a woman’s uterus and fallopian tubes, causing Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID). PID can lead to further health complications, including internal abscesses and chronic pain. The disease is capable of damaging the fallopian tubes enough to cause infertility.
Pregnant women should be especially vigilant about testing for gonorrhea as the infection can be passed to a child during delivery. This can lead to blindness, joint infection, or a life-threatening blood infection for the child. It is also possible for untreated gonorrhea to cause dangerously premature labor. In the worst-case scenario, this can even lead to stillbirth.
Specific Symptoms of Gonorrhea for Men
Most men with gonorrhea do not have symptoms, especially during the early stages of infection. Knowing most common symptoms of gonorrhea in men will help carriers identify the infection early and seek proper medical care:
- A yellowish discharge from the penis (appears within 14 days after the initial infection)
- A burning sensation during urination
- Painful or swollen testicles
If left to spread, gonorrhea can affect a man’s prostate and scar the inside of his urethra or develop a painful abscess in the interior of the penis. Ultimately, this makes urination difficult and even painful. In some cases, this is accompanied by testicular and scrotal pain – a condition called epididymitis, which can lead to infertility if untreated.
Testing and Treatment for Gonorrhea
On the positive side, the clap is curable. Of course, curing the infection can’t happen unless you have first been diagnosed. And that diagnosis can’t happen until you’ve been tested. Testing for genital gonorrhea is done by urine sample. You should get tested sooner rather than later so you don’t risk experiencing any of the potential complications that untreated gonorrhea can cause.
Since you’re a responsible partner and you tested yourself, be sure to let your new friend know they should get tested and treated as well so you can both get back to having fun. The best move is to test early, test often, and enjoy the peace of mind that comes with a clean bill of health!
The CDC recommends a single dose of Ceftriaxone and a single dose of Azithromycin, both at the same time. Gonorrhea has historically proven to be very adaptable and gradually becomes resistant to antibiotic treatments. Doctors used penicillin to treat gonorrhea until the 1970s. When that was found to no longer be effective, other antibiotics came into popular use. As it stands today, the current recommended treatment is said to cure 99.2% of all genital and anal infections and 98.9% of all throat infections.
How Can I Prevent Gonorrhea?
As always, safe sex is smart sex. If you are hitting the sheets, you should use protection, such as condoms or dental dams. Condoms can break, slip off, or simply fail to cover the entire infected region. It is very possible to get infected even if you are doing your best to “wrap it up.” These methods of protection aren’t bulletproof, but they will definitely decrease the chances of getting an STD.
That’s why everybody needs to get tested. Many men and women will contract gonorrhea during their lifetimes. Gonorrhea is absolutely curable when detected early, but the only way to treat it is to know that you are infected in the first place. Regular testing is the key to a clean bill of sexual health. It’s the best way to avoid the potential complications that untreated gonorrhea can cause.
Also, you should always be honest with your sexual partners about your status, both for their safety and your own. This will open up a conversation about whether or not they’ve been tested, or if you should get tested together. Testing together can be an intimate experience when you’re able to do so comfortably from home.
Reviewed by Luis Ferdinand M. Papa, MD, MHA
- Effect of Expedited Treatment of Sex Partners on Recurrent or Persistent Gonorrhea or Chlamydial Infection. New England Journal of Medicine. 2005. .
- Asymptomatic Gonorrhea in Men — Diagnosis, Natural Course, Prevalence and Significance. New England Journal of Medicine. 1974. .
- Asymptomatic Gonorrhea. Medical Clinics of North America. 1972. .
- Gonorrhea modeling: a comparison of control methods. Mathematical Biosciences. 1982. .
- Gonococcal pharyngeal infections. British Journal of Venereal Diseases. 1973. .
- Screening Tests To Detect Chlamydia trachomatis and Neisseria gonorrhoeae Infections. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. 2002. .
- Disseminated Gonococcal Infection. Annals of Internal Medicine. 1971. .
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