Youth Blog—What You Should Know about Gonorrhea and Chlamydia
Gonorrhea and chlamydia are sexually transmitted infections (STIs) that are caused by bacteria. We’re talking about them together, because they are spread and prevented in similar ways and both are curable with antibiotics (unlike viral STIs, such as herpes, HPV, and HIV).
Gonorrhea and chlamydia can infect the genitals, rectum (butt), throat, and eyes. They are spread through contact with the penis, vagina, anus, or mouth of an infected partner or at childbirth from an infected mother.
In most cases there are no symptoms, which is why it’s so important to get tested! For a list of possible symptoms, check out the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) fact sheets: gonorrhea and chlamydia.
If They’re Curable, What’s the Big Deal?
About half of these infections are not diagnosed [1,2], which means they are not being treated. Sometimes that’s because symptoms don’t show up, so people don’t think to get tested. It can also be because doctors might not order tests for rectal and throat infections. Over half of infections among men who have sex with men (MSM) may be missed if doctors only order tests of the urethra (penis) .
Gonorrhea and chlamydia can increase the spread of HIV. If you are HIV-negative and have an STI, you are more likely to get HIV if exposed to it during sex. If you are HIV-positive and have another STI, you are more likely to transmit HIV during sex.
Though the discomfort caused by these STIs may be minimal at first, untreated infections can cause a variety of serious problems for male- and female-born individuals. Women are particularly susceptible, because of the risk of pelvic inflammatory disease, which may lead to pain, infertility, or risk for ectopic pregnancy (a dangerous pregnancy outside of the uterus).
Also, over time, gonorrhea has become harder to treat because it is resistant to some antibiotics .
How Common Are These STIs?
Way too common! Every year there are about 3.7 million cases total – about the size of the population of Los Angeles. Young people and young MSM are especially affected.
- The CDC estimates that young people age 15-24 account for 70% of gonorrhea infections .
- One IMPACT study found that 8.2% of young MSM had one of these infections in their penis .
Taking Care of Yourself and Your Partner(s)
If you are sexually active, using a barrier (e.g., condoms, dental dams) for anal, vaginal, and oral sex will greatly reduce your STI risk – but only if you use it correctly. Check out IMPACT’s STI blog and our videos for more information:
How to Use a Male Condom Correctly
How to Use a Female Condom Correctly – for vaginal or anal sex
Women’s Sexual Health – dental dams, male condoms, female condoms
Is Oral Sex Safer Sex?
Which Lube Is Right for Me?
STI testing is an important part of the picture. Even if your doctor doesn’t ask, tell her/him what kind of sex you are having, including if you are having receptive (bottom) anal sex. Saying this might sound awkward, but remember, it’s their job to listen and give you the best care possible.
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 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2014). Gonorrhea – CDC Fact Sheet. Retrieved January 7, 2014, from http://www.cdc.gov/std/gonorrhea/stdfact-gonorrhea-detailed.htm
 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2014). Chlamydia – CDC Fact Sheet. Retrieved January 7, 2014, from http://www.cdc.gov/std/chlamydia/stdfact-chlamydia-detailed.htm
 Kent, C.K., Chaw, J.K., Wong, W., et al. (2005). Prevalence of rectal, urethral, and pharyngeal chlamydia and gonorrhea detected in 2 clinical settings among men who have sex with men: San Francisco, California, 2003. Clinical Infectious Diseases, 41(1), 67-74. doi: 10.1086/430704
 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2014). Antibiotic-Resistant Gonorrhea. Retrieved January 7, 2014, from http://www.cdc.gov/Std/gonorrhea/arg/default.htm
 Mustanski, B., Ryan, D., & Garofalo, R. (2014). Associations of sexually transmitted infections with condom problems among young men who have sex with men. Sexually Transmitted Diseases, 41(7), 427-432.