Gonorrhoea is usually passed from one person to another during sex. The bacteria can live inside the cells of the cervix (entrance to the womb), the urethra (tube where urine comes out), the rectum, the throat and occasionally the eyes.
You can become infected with gonorrhoea if you come into contact with infected semen or infected discharge from the vagina, throat or rectum.
The infection is most commonly spread through:
unprotected vaginal, anal or oral sex
sharing sex toys if you don’t wash them or cover them with a new condom each time they’re used.
Gonorrhoea can also be passed from a pregnant woman to her baby (see What happens if I get gonorrhoea when I’m pregnant?).
In women it is possible for the bacteria to spread in the vaginal secretions, to the rectum. You don’t need to have anal sex for this to happen.
Gonorrhoea bacteria that come into contact with the eye can cause conjunctivitis. This is uncommon in adults.
It is not clear if gonorrhoea can be spread by transferring the bacteria to another person’s genitals on the fingers or through rubbing vulvas (female genitals) together.
You cannot catch gonorrhoea from kissing, hugging, sharing baths or towels, swimming pools, toilet seats or from sharing cups, plates or cutlery.