Two men share a kiss
Posed by models (Photo: Shutterstock)

Australian researchers believe health authorities around the world should update their guidance relating to gonorrhea.

It’s known the infection is primarily passed on through unprotected vaginal, oral and anal sex. Organizations such as the CDC reflect this in their guidance.

However, according to research down under, there’s data to suggest tongue kissing can also transmit the virus from one person’s throat to another.

The group of researchers undertook a systematic review of the issue. That means they looked at other studies already undertaken to look for trends. They specifically looked for evidence of whether sloppy kissing could pass on chlamydia or gonorrhea.

They found nothing to suggest chlamydia spreads this way. However, six studies involving gay men in Australia suggest that passionate kissing alone can pass on gonorrhea.

They concluded, “Reinforcing the message that oropharyngeal gonorrhea could be transmitted through kissing may inform the development of novel approaches to prevent gonorrhea.”

One of the study’s authors, Dr. Eric Chow of the University of Melbourne, elaborated on the findings.

“We think it is possible to catch gonorrhea via kissing,” he told the Daily Mail. “I think the guidelines should be updated.”

One of the studies reviewed looked at 2,000 gay and bi men. It found that men with gonorrhea were more likely to have it in their throat than their penis. Taking sexual histories into account, it’s likely some men acquired the infection through tongue action alone.

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

Their review was published in the journal Sexually Transmitted Diseases.

What is gonorrhea?

Gonorrhea is caused by the bacterium Neisseria gonorrhoeae or gonococcus.

The bacteria is mainly found in discharge from the penis and in vaginal fluid. This research suggests it can also be passed on via tongue kissing. It should be noted the risk of mouth-to-mouth transmission is probably low, otherwise it would have been detected long before now.

Typical symptoms of the infection include a thick green or yellow discharge from the vagina or penis and pain when peeing. However—and this is worth stressing—around one in ten people experience no symptoms at all.

Gonorrhea in the US hit an all-time low of transmission in 2009. However, it has continued to climb since then. In data published last month by the CDC, gonorrhea rates increased more than 4% between 2020 and 2021 alone.

If this research is correct and there’s a chance of acquiring gonorrhea through kissing, there’s not much you can do to protect yourself. However, this research reinforces the importance of gay and bi men having regular sexual health checkups, regardless of whether they have symptoms. If you have multiple sex partners, get checked out at least once every 3-6 months.

Gonorrhea is typically treatable with a shot of antibiotics. Some health experts are advocating for increased use of DoxyPEP. This involves taking an antibiotic after sex to minimize the chances of acquiring an STI. Authorities in San Francisco are already offering this treatment to gay men to see if it helps cut the soaring STI rates in the city.

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