Gonorrhea and Chlamydia: Myths & Misconceptions
Chlamydia and Gonorrhea are together the most common sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) in the United States, infecting almost 4 million people each year.
Chlamydia occurs when there is a breakout of the bacteria Chlamydia trachomatis. A similar overgrowth of the bacterium Neisseria gonorrhoeae is the cause of gonorrhea. Both conditions are transmitted during anal, oral or vaginal sex with someone already infected.
Symptoms for women include a vaginal discharge with a strong odor, painful and burning sensations inside the vagina, painful periods and pain during sex. Men can expect to see a discharge at the penis tip, a burning sensation when urinating and painful swelling of one or both testicles.
However, only 50 percent of men and 25 percent of women have any symptoms at all. And that’s why many people go untreated and can unwittingly infect others.
If either STD goes untreated, there may be consequences. Women run the risk of either condition spreading via the uterus to the fallopian tubes and developing into pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). Equally, for men, it is possible to cause epididymitis, proctitis and prostate gland infection.
If you’re at high risk—that is, you have multiple partners and/or unprotected sex—regular checkups are important.
Gonorrhea, a common sexually transmitted disease (STD), can cause medical problems if it goes untreated. Fortunately, it's highly treatable. But you need to know your risk factors and when to get screened for gonorrhea to make sure it doesn't develop into something much worse.
There is widespread misinformation circulating about gonorrhea. We gathered six common myths and the necessary facts to debunk them.
Myth: Gonorrhea is uncommon.
Reality:Gonorrhea is a common STD among young adults, with more than 1 million new gonorrhea infections occurring in the United States each year. It spreads easily from infected partners who don't practice safe sex strategies.
Myth: I can't get gonorrhea from oral or anal sex.
Reality: You can contract many types of STDs, including gonorrhea, from having anal, oral or vaginal sex with an infected partner. Oral sex can transmit gonorrhea from (or to) your throat, and anal sex can transmit bacteria from (or to) your anus.
The best way to reduce your risk of contracting gonorrhea, besides abstinence, is to use a condom or a dental dam each time you have anal, oral or vaginal sex, or have just a single, mutually monogamous sexual partner.
Myth: It should be obvious if I have gonorrhea.
Reality: Gonorrhea commonly doesn't cause symptoms, especially initially. Just because you have no symptoms and feel fine doesn't mean you're free from gonorrhea and other STDs.
If you do experience symptoms after contracting gonorrhea, you may notice painful urination, pus-like discharge from the penis or vagina, testicular swelling, abnormal vaginal bleeding or pelvic pain.
Gonorrhea can also cause anal itching or discharge, eye pain, light sensitivity, a sore throat, swollen lymph nodes and sore joints.
Complications associated with untreated gonorrhea may include infertility in men and women, additional infections, complications in babies born to infected mothers, and a higher risk of contracting HIV/AIDS.
Myth: I can't get gonorrhea more than once.
Reality: Like other STDs, you can get gonorrhea multiple times, even after undergoing treatment for the infection. After you take antibiotics for a period of time and abstain from sex during treatment, gonorrhea should be gone. Your partner must undergo treatment, too.
However, you can get reinfected with gonorrhea by having unprotected sex with an infected partner. Always take precautions to reduce your risk of reinfection.
Myth: Gonorrhea is difficult to treat.
Reality: Gonorrhea screening and treatment are actually simple. Your doctor might have you undergo a tissue swab or a urine test. During a tissue swab, your physician swabs an infected part of the body, such as your penis, vagina, cervix, throat or rectum.
Gonorrhea treatment is fairly simple, too. You take oral antibiotics or receive an antibiotic as an injection. Take all antibiotics as directed, make sure your partner gets treated, too, and avoid having sex until your doctor says it's OK.
Myth: I won't get gonorrhea if I use condoms.
Reality: Using condoms correctly each time you have oral, anal or vaginal sex greatly reduces your risk of contracting gonorrhea and other STDs. However, condoms aren't 100 percent effective. They can sometimes break and not everyone uses them properly.
Even if you use condoms regularly, it's still important to undergo routine STD screening if you're at risk of contracting gonorrhea and other sexually transmitted infections and diseases.
Chlamydia is a common sexually transmitted disease (STD) that can be problematic for your overall health if left untreated. While chlamydia is highly treatable, it’s important to know your risk factors and undergo routine screening when necessary.
Understanding the realities of this disease will go a long way to debunking the many myths about it and help you and your partner(s) stay healthy.
Myth: I can’t get chlamydia from oral or anal sex.
Reality: You can contract many types of STDs, including chlamydia, from having oral, anal or vaginal sex with an infected partner.
Having oral sex with an infected person can transmit chlamydia from (or to) your throat. Receiving oral sex from an infected person can transmit a chlamydia infection to your genitals. Likewise, having anal sex can transmit a chlamydia infection to (or from) your anus. The skin in the anal region, in particular, is susceptible to microtears because unlike skin in other body parts, it’s thinner and more susceptible to transmission of diseases.
Using a condom or dental dam every time you have oral, anal or vaginal sex reduces the risk of contracting or transmitting chlamydia. Having just one mutually monogamous sexual partner who has tested negative for chlamydia is another prevention strategy you may want to consider. It’s also important to be open and honest with your partner(s) about exposures, especially if you’re in an open relationship.
Myth: I can’t get chlamydia more than once.
Reality: Like other STDs, you can contract chlamydia more than once, even if you’ve been treated for the infection. Your doctor will prescribe antibiotics, but you should also follow the direction to abstain from sex for one to two weeks until you complete the treatment. Defer to your doctor on that time frame and be sure to follow up with a doctor’s appointment after treatment is completed.
Your partner must get treated, as well, to avoid spreading the bacteria back and forth, and use preventive measures each time you have sex to avoid reinfection until you have all tested negative.
Myth: Chlamydia always presents symptoms.
Reality: If someone does not have symptoms, do not assume they don’t have the disease. You can have chlamydia and not have any physical symptoms, especially in the early stages of infection. Men, in particular, may not present symptoms, but they are still able to spread the disease.
Just because you feel and look fine doesn’t mean you’re STD-free.
Even if you don't have serious symptoms after contracting chlamydia, you may still notice an unusual discharge from the penis or the vagina, a burning sensation with urination, testicular or lower abdominal pain, rectal discharge or pain, discomfort during sex, and unusual bleeding (in women).
Untreated chlamydia can cause infertility in men and women, additional infections, and problems during pregnancy. Chlamydia can result in chronic infection, scarring and changes in the genitourinary tract, leading to infertility or pregnancy complications, such as the embryo implanting in the wrong location, nonviable pregnancies and an increased risk to the life of the mother.
Myth: Chlamydia goes away on its own over time.
Reality: It’s highly unlikely that chlamydia will ever go away on its own. Not treating it can lead to gynecological complications in women, and testicular or prostate problems in men, and fertility issues in both.
If you’re sexually active and at risk of contracting chlamydia or other STDs, routine STD screening is important. Pay attention to any changes in your health, and not just involving the genitals, as some STDs can have other systemic symptoms, such as arthritis. It’s also important to talk to your partner(s) openly and honestly about any changes to your health or any lifestyle changes you may need to make.
Myth: Chlamydia testing and treatment are difficult.
Reality: Chlamydia screening and treatment are really simple.
To screen for it, your doctor will have you undergo a urine test or tissue swab. No big deal at all. During a swab, your medical provider takes a fluid sample from a potentially infected site, such as your vagina, cervix, penis, rectum or throat.
Chlamydia treatment is simple, as well. You take antibiotic medications for about five to 10 days. After a period of a week or two, the chlamydia infection should clear, as long as you abstain from sex during that time. You may still be contagious during this time, so it’s important to complete the entire course of antibiotics even if you are feeling good before the medication runs out.
Myth: Using condoms always prevents chlamydia transmission.
Reality: Using condoms in the correct manner significantly reduces your risk of contracting or transmitting chlamydia. However, condoms aren’t 100 percent effective for STD prevention.
To lower your risk of getting an STD, use a male latex condom or a female polyurethane condom each time you have sex. You might also consider abstaining from sex altogether or limiting sexual relations to just one monogamous partner who has tested negative for STDs. If you’ve tested positive for chlamydia, complete the antibiotic treatment in its entirety, and don’t assume that using condoms will prevent transmission.
Don’t let chlamydia myths prevent you from undergoing routine STD screenings or following prevention measures. Remember that people who are infected can be asymptomatic and suffer long-term health consequences, as well as unknowingly spread chlamydia to other people.