It wasn’t believed to be, but recent studies have shown that it is actually possible to contract oral gonorrhea from kissing.
There’s accumulating evidence that kissing might be a common mode of gonorrhea transmission, though just how common requires more research.
There’s no need to swear off smooching, though. Instead, read on to learn everything you need to know about developing gonorrhea from kissing and other contact.
Experts still aren’t sure exactly how kissing transmits gonorrhea.
One theory is that you can contract oral gonorrhea from kissing someone whose saliva contains the bacteria, but how much saliva-swapping would do this is unclear.
Possibly. Based on the results of the most recent study, deep kissing with tongue – also known as French kissing – appears to pose the highest risk.
You should be fine. There’s no evidence that you can contract gonorrhea from sharing these objects with someone who has received a diagnosis.
That said, objects of the naughtier variety could do it. You can contract gonorrhea and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) from sharing sex toys with someone who has received a diagnosis.
Avoiding kissing is probably the only way to completely remove any risk for oral transmission, with limiting your number of kissing partners coming in at a close second.
In 2019, Australian researchers surveyed 3,677 men who have sex with men.
The data collected looked at the number of partners the men had in the last 3 months in three categories, including:
- kissing-only partners
- sex-only partners
- kissing-with-sex partners
Kissing-only and kissing-with-sex were associated with throat gonorrhea. Having four or more kissing-only or kissing-with-sex partners doubled the risk for throat gonorrhea.
Sex-only — defined as any type of sexual activity without kissing — wasn’t associated with throat gonorrhea.
Gonorrhea is primarily transmitted when bodily fluids like semen, pre-seminal fluid, and vaginal fluids get on or inside the mouth, genitals, or anus during oral sex without a method of barrier protection.
It can also be transmitted if fluid containing the bacteria gets into the eye, such as by touching your eye when there’s fluid on your hand.
It can also be transmitted from a mother to her baby during childbirth.
Transmission via saliva has been suspected since the 1970s. However, investigating whether gonorrhea can be transmitted via kissing isn’t easy, because kissing is often coupled with other sexual activity.
Only recently have researchers looked into kissing possibly transmitting gonorrhea.
Anyone who has penetrative or oral sex without a condom — or another method of barrier protection — can contract gonorrhea.
The type of gonorrhea you contract is dependent on the type of sex you have.
Contracting gonorrhea of the genital tract is more likely if you have vaginal sex. It can affect any part of the genital tract, but most often affects the urethra, vagina, or cervix.
Being on the receiving end of anal sex can also increase your risk of contracting gonorrhea in the rectum.
If you develop genital gonorrhea, there’s a risk of the infection spreading to your rectum.
According to one 2014 study, 35 to 50 percent of women with gonococcal cervicitis — which is gonorrhea of the cervix — have a concomitant rectal infection.
In the female reproductive system, gonorrhea can increase the risk for:
In the male reproductive system, gonorrhea can increase the risk for epididymitis, or an inflammation of the epididymis, which is a tube at the back of the testicles that stores and carries sperm.
Epididymitis increases the risk for infertility.
In rare cases, untreated gonorrhea can be transmitted through the bloodstream to other parts of the body and cause a serious condition called systemic gonococcal infection or disseminated gonococcal infection (DGI).
Unless you get tested, you might not know you have it. Gonorrhea doesn’t always cause symptoms.
If you contract oral gonorrhea from kissing or oral sex, your symptoms can be hard to distinguish from common symptoms of other throat infections.
These may include:
- sore throat
- redness in the throat
- swollen lymph nodes in the neck
People who contract oral gonorrhea can also have a gonorrhea infection in another part of the body, here are some other symptoms to be aware of.
Symptoms of urogenital gonorrhea include:
- pain or burning when urinating
- unusual vaginal, penile discharge
- swollen lymph nodes in the groin
- painful intercourse
- swollen or painful testicles
Symptoms of rectal gonorrhea include:
- discharge from the anus
- rectal bleeding
- anal itching
- painful bowel movements
Only a healthcare provider can diagnose gonorrhea.
To test for oral gonorrhea, swabs are used to collect samples from your throat.
Swabs can also be used to collect samples from the rectum, urethra, and cervix. Urine samples are also used to test for gonorrhea.
If a partner has been diagnosed with gonorrhea or another STI, you should get tested — even if you don’t have any symptoms.
Yes, with proper treatment gonorrhea is curable.
However, gonorrhea in the throat is harder to cure than genital or rectal infections.
Even if you no longer have symptoms, you should return to your healthcare provider for a test-of-cure 14 days after finishing treatment.
Oral gonorrhea is treated with two types of antibiotics: an intramuscular injection of 250 milligrams of ceftriaxone and 1 gram of oral azithromycin.
Sometimes, a higher dose or multiple doses may be required.
More research is needed to know exactly how kissing spreads gonorrhea. Major health authorities have yet to sound the alarm bells and officially declare kissing a risk factor.
But you don’t have to blow off lip action forever. The following measures can help you stay on top of your sexual health:
- Have regular STI testing, including before and after every partner.
- Always use barrier protection, like condoms and dental dams, during oral and penetrative sex.
- Communicate openly with your partner(s).
Adrienne Santos-Longhurst is a freelance writer and author who has written extensively on all things health and lifestyle for more than a decade. When she’s not holed-up in her writing shed researching an article or off interviewing health professionals, she can be found frolicking around her beach town with husband and dogs in tow or splashing about the lake trying to master the stand-up paddle board.