Is Kissing A New STI Medium?

CLAIM: News publications allege kissing may spread gonorrhoea.

INSUFFICIENT EVIDENCE: Kissing, specifically french kissing is, as for now, only suspected of being a mode of contracting the STI- gonorrhoea. There is still need for more research and triangulation before a conclusion can be drawn.

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The release of these alarming news articles (News Telegraph and Tori) have raised some important questions about the sexually transmitted infection (STI), gonorrhoea! We once thought it was only spread, well, through the means its name suggests – sexual contact!

In the same vein, researchers suggested that: “…kissing does not transmit the disease as the bacteria apparently do not infect the tongue or mouth. However, it is possible to transmit the disease if the bacteria is in the pharynx [a part of the throat]”. 

Therein lies the questions – is this claim actually true and what are the implications to people’s love lives? 

What did the study find?

Both articles are referring to a particular study by lead researcher, Eric Chow and his colleagues. The study which was conducted on 3677 men in Melbourne, Australia does indeed exist. It was published in the Journal of Sexually Transmitted Infections; it discovered that oral gonorrhoea was prevalent among its participants with kissing-only and kissing-with-sex partners

What is gonorrhoea?

Gonorrhoea is a common, yet preventable infection caused by the sexually transmitted bacterium known as Neisseria gonorrhoeae. It affects men and women alike. It is typically transferred through unprotected vaginal, anal or oral sex with someone who has gonorrhoea. 

What most people do not know is that this infection as well as affecting the genitals, can also affect the throat and also the rectum. 

Long term, gonorrhoea can cause serious complications to an infected person. If left untreated, this STI can result in infertility in men and women. Research has also shown that people with untreated gonorrhoea are more at risk of acquiring HIV. 

The signs and symptoms of gonorrhoea in men will often include painful urination, pus-like discharge from the tip of the penis and pain or swelling in one testicle. While in women the symptoms of gonorrhoea include increased vaginal discharge, painful urination, vaginal bleeding between periods, painful intercourse and abdominal or pelvic pain. 

Globally, an estimated 78 million cases of gonorrhoea occur each year. In Nigeria, the exact estimate remains unknown. However, all evidence points to the fact that it is indeed widespread; along with other STIs such as chlamydia, syphilis and trichomoniasis.  

Are you at risk? 

Dubawa reached out to Dr Ameh Thomas, Obstetrician and Gynaecologist, he said: 

“We don’t know exactly how common oral gonorrhoea is in the general population. What we do know is that a reasonable number of sexually active adults have had oral sex and anyone who has unprotected oral sex is at risk.” 

Dr Ameh Thomas

“although studies are limited, there are a couple of older case reports on transmission through kissing, especially french kissing, as well as through oral sex performed on the genitals or anus of someone who has gonorrhoea.”

He added

Dr Thomas noted that you should look out for the following symptoms for oral gonorrhoea:

  • a sore throat and redness in the throat; 
  • fever;
  • swollen lymph nodes in the neck. 

He also noted that: “Sometimes a person with oral gonorrhoea can also have a gonorrhoea infection in another part of the body such as the cervix or urethra”. However, a majority of individuals infected may have little or no symptoms. Additionally, Dr Thomas assured us of existing preventative measures available. “Condoms although not 100% effective, afford significant protection from these secretions. This is true for both male and female condoms,” he added.


This one study and the cases that Dr Thomas refers to may suggest a link between kissing and a rise in oral gonorrhoea. However, we consider this link, a tentative conclusion in the absence of backing from other studies or health authorities. A reputable global health organisation such as Planned Parenthood Federation, for instance, has yet to recognise such a link. Their website refers to kissing as ‘casual contact’ and states: “you CAN’T get it [gonorrhoea] from sharing food or drinks, kissing, hugging, holding hands, coughing, sneezing, or sitting on toilet seats”. Therefore, this underpins the need for more research and triangulation to corroborate this Australian study. 

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