Gonorrhoea could be transmitted through French kissing, new research has suggested.
According to a study, published in the journal Sexually Transmitted Infections, “deep kissing” (aka French kissing or kissing with tongues) could be a neglected factor for spreading the infection among gay and bisexual men.
The results challenge a widely held notion that the sexually transmitted disease is spread almost exclusively through sexual contact.
Researchers from the Melbourne Sexual Health Centre found that kissing with tongues could be a way to transmit oropharyngeal gonorroea, or oral gonorrhoea.
The study, of gay and bisexual men, gathered data from around 3,000 participants between 2016 to 2017.
They were asked to fill out a survey detailing their sexual practices with male partners in the last three months and had to state whether they had had partners with whom they had kissed but not had sex with, had sex with but not kissed, and/or kissed and had sex with.
The results revealed that men who had a higher number of ‘kissing only partners’ had a greater likelihood of testing positive for throat gonorrhoea than others.
More than six per cent had the disease in their mouth while less than six per cent had it in their anus and three per cent in their penis.
The number was higher in a group of men who said they had only kissed another man in the last three months without having sex.
Those who had sex but did not kiss were less likely to have gonorrhoea, the research revealed.
The data suggests that kissing may be associated with transmission of oropharyngeal gonorrhoea, irrespective of whether sex also occurs.
Study authors can’t say for certain that kissing was the cause of gonorrhoea, mainly because the study didn’t include other sexual practices outside of kissing and sex, which may have had an impact on the infection risk.
But they suggested throat to throat transmission of gonorrhoea has been “underestimated and neglected.”
“Our results suggest kissing with or without sex may be a risk factor for oropharyngeal gonorrhoea,” they added.
The results come as it was revealed last year that cases of gonorrhoea are on the rise.
Figures, from Public Health England, indicated that there has been a year-on-year rise in cases in the STI and with the infection growing increasingly resistant to antibiotics, there are fears that it will eventually become untreatable.
Earlier this year ‘Super gonorrhoea’ hit the headlines after a British tourist contracted a case described as ‘the world’s worst’ in Thailand last year – but the infection has now reached Britain.
Two women have contracted the infection, with one believed to have been infected in the UK, according to Public Health England.
According to the NHS gonorrhoea is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by bacteria called Neisseria gonorrhoeae or gonococcus. It used to be known as "the clap".
The NHS site states that symptoms for gonorrhoea in women may include pain when urinating, unusual vaginal discharge or bleeding in between periods. For men, symptoms can include inflammation of the foreskin and unusual discharge from the top of the penis.
“However, around 1 in 10 infected men and almost half of infected women do not experience any symptoms,” the site states.
Previously, experts have advised people to reduce the risk of contracting gonorrhoea through condom use, but the new findings of this latest study suggest this advice could be insufficient.
But as the study authors pointed out the study does have some limitations, particularly as it was such a narrow testing group.
“The new study from the Monash University and the Melbourne Sexual Health Centre looks at a very specific testing group and as such we would be wary to take those learnings and apply with them to the general population,” explains Dr Laura Joigneau Prieto from online doctor Zava.
“It is always interesting to read about new medical studies from around the world.”
Dr Joigneau Prieto explains that the bacteria causing gonorrhoea are mainly found in discharge from the penis and in vaginal fluid.
“However, in far fewer cases, this bacteria has also been found in the throat,” she explains.
“This is where the discussion around french kissing causing gonorrhoea stems from.”
“We would advise anyone who thinks they have any symptoms to speak with a healthcare professional or use an STI test kit, which is readily available online.”