What is gonorrhoea?
Gonorrhoea is a sexually transmissible infection caused by bacteria known as Neisseria gonorrhoeae. It usually affects the genital area, although the throat or anus (back passage) may also be affected. Gonorrhoea affects both men and women and is easily transmitted during vaginal intercourse. It can also be transmitted during anal or oral sex.
Symptoms of gonorrhoea
The symptoms of gonorrhoea are slightly different in men and women.
Symptoms of gonorrhoea in women
Often, women with gonorrhoea experience no symptoms. This lack of specific signs and symptoms means gonorrhoea may go undetected for longer in women than in men.
Symptoms of gonorrhoea in women may include:
- an unusual discharge from the vagina
- pain while urinating or passing water.
Symptoms of gonorrhoea in men
Gonorrhoea commonly infects the inside of the penis (the urethra). Symptoms of gonorrhoea in men may include:
- a burning sensation while urinating or passing water
- a white or yellow pus-like discharge from the penis (may be observed in underwear)
- swelling and pain in the testicles, which can occur if the gonorrhoea infection goes untreated.
In a small percentage of men there are no symptoms at all.
Symptoms of oral and anal gonorrhoea
In both men and women:
- Anal gonorrhoea often occurs without signs or symptoms.
- Gonorrhoea in the throat may cause a sore throat, however, it usually occurs without symptoms.
Treatment of gonorrhoea
Gonorrhoea is treated with antibiotics. Some strains of gonorrhoea are now resistant to penicillin and some other antibiotics. Tell your doctor if you have been travelling overseas because many of the new resistant strains have originated outside Australia.
Untreated gonorrhoea can lead to infertility in women
If left untreated, gonorrhoea can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) in women, which can cause infertility. Symptoms of PID include:
- lower abdominal pain and tenderness
- deep pain during sexual intercourse
- heavy and painful periods
Women who have had PID need to be especially careful about gonorrhoea and chlamydia, because the risk of infertility increases with each bout of inflammation.
Test for gonorrhoea
Because gonorrhoea may not cause symptoms until PID has already developed, it is recommended that sexually active women who have recently had a change of sexual partner or feel they may be at risk of a sexually transmissible infection (STI) have a test for gonorrhoea (and for chlamydia infection, which can also cause PID).
Prevention of gonorrhoea
The best protection against gonorrhoea is to always use barrier protection such as condoms, female condoms and dams (a thin piece of latex placed over the anus or vulva during oral sex). Condoms and dams can be used for oral-vaginal sex and oral-anal sex to help prevent the spread of infection.
Condoms for men can be bought from supermarkets, chemists and other outlets. Female condoms and dams are available through Family Planning Victoria and may be available from selected shops. Latex free condoms are also available from some outlets. Male condoms and lubricant are available free from the Melbourne Sexual Health Centre, along with female condoms and dams on request.
When using a condom for men:
- Open the packet carefully so that you don’t tear the condom.
- Pinch the tip of the condom before carefully rolling it down the entire shaft of the erect penis.
- Do not use saliva, Vaseline, baby oil or other oil-based lubricants.
- Use water-based lubricants, such as KY, Muko or Wet Stuff.
- Withdraw the penis before the erection is lost, so that the condom does not fall off. Hold the base of the condom to prevent spills.
- Store condoms in a cool, dry place and check the expiry date.
Where to get help
- Your doctor
- Melbourne Sexual Health Centre Tel. (03) 9341 6200 or 1800 032 017 (outside Melbourne Metro) or TTY (for the hearing impaired) 1300 555 727 or HIV Clinic for HIV Positive People (03) 9341 6214
- Victorian AIDS Council Tel. (03) 9865 6700 or 1800 134 840
- Education and Resource Centre at The Alfred Tel. (03) 9276 6993
- Northside Clinic (03) 9485 7700
- Prahran Market Clinic (03) 9514 0888
- The Centre Clinic, St Kilda Tel. (03) 9525 5866
- Family Planning Victoria Tel. 1800 013 952 or (03) 9257 0100 or Advice Line on (03) 9257 0116
- Action Centre (for youth 25 years and under) Tel. (03) 9660 4700 or 1800 013 952
- Sexual Health Clinic Ballarat Tel. (03) 5338 4541
- Bendigo Community Health Tel. (03) 5448 1600 and Bendigo Youth Services Tel. (03) 5448 1600
- Barwon Health Sexual Health Clinic Tel. (03) 4215 1396
- STD/AIDS Clinic Traralgon Tel. (03) 5173 8111
This page has been produced in consultation with and approved by:
Department of Health and Human Services - RHP&R - Health Protection - Communicable Disease Prevention and Control Unit
Content on this website is provided for education and information purposes only. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your doctor or other registered health professional. Content has been prepared for Victorian residents and wider Australian audiences, and was accurate at the time of publication. Readers should note that, over time, currency and completeness of the information may change. All users are urged to always seek advice from a registered health care professional for diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.