Deep kissing, or French kissing – basically, with tongues – may be an unwitting way to pass on throat gonorrhea in gay and bisexual men, a new study published in Sexually Transmitted Infections reports.
It had been assumed that the infection could only be transmitted through genital contact, but the new findings suggest throat (oropharyngeal) gonorrhea may be contracted through kissing alone.
Throat to throat transmission of gonorrhea has been underestimated and neglected, the researchers say. If confirmed by other studies, this could open up new avenues of preventative options for throat gonorrhea, as public health campaigns aimed at LBGT communities have traditionally focused on reducing risk of transmission through condom use alone.
Gonorrhea can be transmitted through anal, vaginal, and oral sex, even when there are no symptoms, and can affect the anus, urethra, cervix, throat, and eyes. It can be treated with antibiotics, but as strains constantly mutate, ones that are resistant to antibiotics are becoming more common, sparking the concern the number of people infected will increase as it becomes harder to treat.
To analyze whether throat gonorrhea could be passed on by kissing alone, the researchers gathered information from over 3,000 gay and bisexual men, who filled out a survey at a public health service in Melbourne, Australia, answering questions on their sexual practices over the previous three months. The practices were categorized as kissing with sex, kissing with no sex, and sex with no kissing.
And we’re not talking a brief peck on the cheek or smooch on the lips. "There needs to be enough time to have saliva exchange between the individuals," co-author Eric Chow told BuzzFeed News. “Like a French kiss.”
Just over 6 percent of participants had throat gonorrhea, just under 6 percent had anorectal gonorrhea, and nearly 3 percent had tested positive for urethral gonorrhea. Roughly a quarter of the participants had partaken in all three categories with partners in the previous three months, but just 1.4 percent had exclusively partaken in just kissing, and yet the proportion of these men testing positive for throat gonorrhea was higher than those who had had sex without kissing.
Their results showed amongst the participants, a higher number of kissing only or kissing with sex partners was associated with a greater risk for testing positive for throat gonorrhea.
Although the researchers point out they can’t confirm transmission through kissing alone for sure, as this is an initial observational study, they warn it should not be ignored as a risk factor and is worth further study. If it is transmissible by deep kissing, other preventive options, such as antibacterial mouthwash, should be explored.
"If you can get [throat] gonorrhea from kissing without having sex it means even if you use a condom you might not be protected against it," Chow said.