Gonorrhea—An Oral Epidemic

Walter Armstrong

Could you have an STD in your throat and not even know it? Could be—if you’ve been spending a lot of time on your knees lately (but not in church). Just in case, you may want to ask your doctor to swab your throat for G-spots—"G" as in "gonorrhea." The sexually transmitted disease is at peak levels in San Francisco’s gay community, a known leader in sexual trends nationwide. The easily curable bug popped up in the throats of 6% of HIV negative gay men—while presenting no symptoms at all to alert the unworried well.

And don’t shrug off the statistic as of interest only to hustlers. The study tested 603 HIV-negative gay men whose average age was 36, average education level high school or better, and average annual income $45,000. Conducted by the best HIV-prevention researchers in the business, the EXPLORE study is considered definitive because it tracks its participants’ health over a period of years, with new—and often sadly prophetic—data about HIV, STDs and the use of everything from crystal to condoms breaking out hopefully before public health problems do.

The 6% of HIV-negative Explorers whose throats had become a warm, moist, welcoming home for the bacteria were also more likely to:

  • be younger
  • have more oral-sex partners
  • have more known HIV-positive oral-sex partners.
  • In addition, the gay men who tested positive for HIV during the study had five times the rate of throat gonorrhea than those who remained negative.

    The tricky part of the throat bug is that it always clears up in a matter of a few weeks—without treatment. This is good news for your throat, but bad news for America’s, er, gay throats as a whole. Why? Because by spending a short, symptomless spell in your throat, gonorrhea gets the opportunity to spawn those G-spots on every penis that stops by. And no one’s any wiser. Plus, throat gonorrhea is a marker for gonorrhea down below, as well as for other STDs. It can also increase the risk of HIV infection.

    The prospect of a national epidemic of gay gonorrhea was enough to have the EXPLORE docs’ hearts in their throats. That’s why they’re urging all gay men who have anonymous or casual sex to get swabbed every three to six months.

    And, hey, Uncle Sam pays for the test if you go to your local community clinic.