Why Is Gonorrhea Called The Clap?

Written by: Jessica Guht Reviewed by: Amy Dougherty, FNP-BC, AGAC
Jessica Guht
Categorized as STDs
Jessica Guht
Categorized as STDs

There are many different sexually transmitted diseases out there, but gonorrhea is amongst the most well-known. Not only that but it is also one of the most common STDs in the United States right now. The most recent data from 2020 concludes that it is the second most common sexually transmitted infection and has increased by 111% since 2009. Over the years, it has taken on many nicknames, with the most prevalent being the clap. But, why exactly is gonorrhea called the clap?

What is gonorrhea?

Gonorrhea is a sexually transmitted bacterial infection. It is caused by Neisseria gonorrhoeae, a bacteria that like to target warm and moist parts of the body. As a consequence, it typically infects the female reproductive tract, vagina, anus, and urethra. 

This particular STI can be transmitted and caught by having unprotected sex – be it oral, anal, or vaginal. Thus, one of the best ways to protect yourself from this infection is by wearing a condom. It won’t 100% guarantee you don’t contract the STI, but it does a fantastic job of lowering the risks. 

Why is it called the clap?

Strangely, there is no concrete theory as to why gonorrhea is called the clap. Over the years, many different theories have been discussed that may indicate where this nickname has come from. Generally, most medical experts can agree that it stems from one of the following three theories: 

  • The Clapier Theory – Clapier is a French word that was used in the 1500s to refer to brothels. As many people caught STIs like gonorrhea from brothels, the term started to be used to refer to these diseases. The English language took this and it went from clapier to the clap. 
  • The Clappan Theory – Another theory suggests the nickname comes from the old English word ‘clappan.’ This was used to describe something that was beating or throbbing, which strongly links to the symptoms of this STI. It’s theorized that the disease was once called the clappan, and then shortened to the clap. 
  • The Treatment Theory – Perhaps the most painful theory, some believe the clap stems from a medieval method of treating the disease by clapping the penis to force discharge out of it. Thankfully, this is no longer a treatment as it was proven to not work at all. 

Other nicknames for gonorrhea?

Like most sexually transmitted diseases/infections, gonorrhea has more than one nickname. The clap is the most widely known, but it is sometimes referred to as either of the following: 

  • The Drip – Not the nicest nickname, this is used because of the dripping discharge experienced when suffering from this infection. 
  • The Dose – A more modern and much nicer nickname than the other two. The reasoning behind this is that gonorrhea can be treated with just one dose of antibiotics. 

Symptoms of gonorrhea?

Both men and women can contract this disease, and there is a common misconception that it is much more prevalent in men. However, one research study concluded that the true ratio is actually 2.5:1, male: female, which is far lower than regularly reported. One of the reasons men are reported to have this STI more often is that it is harder for women to spot the symptoms in themselves. 

For men, symptoms include: 

  • A burning sensation when urinating
  • Discharge from the penis
  • Swollen testicles

For women, symptoms manifest themselves as: 

  • A burning sensation when urinating
  • Vaginal bleeding outside of periods
  • More vaginal discharge than usually experienced
  • Stomach pains
  • Pain during sexual intercourse

Unfortunately, these symptoms are mild in women, which is why gonorrhea is often ignored or presumed to be something else. If you suffer from any of the above, it is always good to see a doctor for an STI test just to be sure. 

We should also note that gonorrhea contracted via anal sex can lead to these symptoms: 

  • Rectal bleeding
  • Anal discharge
  • Extreme itching
  • Pain when passing waste
  • Extra soreness

Diagnosing gonorrhea

Gonorrhea can be diagnosed using a variety of methods. 

In most cases, a urine test will be used to see if you are carrying this infection. It’s a very simple test that can present quick results. 

Alternatively, swab tests might be required if the results of a urine sample are inconclusive. Medical professionals may also prefer this method if you are testing for gonorrhea caused by oral or anal sex. The test is a lot longer, which is why the urine method is preferred. 

Gonorrhea treatment

Thankfully, gonorrhea can be treated by a course of antibiotics when caught early on. These can be taken orally or injected into your system. One review found that the best oral antibiotic for gonorrhea is azithromycin, and ceftriaxone is the best for injections. 

Sometimes, you may only get oral antibiotics, but other times you will have an injection and then be given oral ones to take for the next seven days. 

It is very important that this STI is treated because it can have some serious repercussions when left alone. It is believed that leaving gonorrhea untreated can increase the chances of contracting other sexually transmitted infections. 

When should you see a doctor?

You should see a doctor immediately if you spot any signs of gonorrhea. You cannot treat it at home or with any over-the-counter medication; you need to see a doctor get a prescription for antibiotics. 

Get help from an online doctor

It’s important to act fast, which is why getting help from an online doctor is the best course of action. Our board-certified clinicians can provide online consultations that let you figure out if you have this infection or not. If your symptoms align, they can order you a test to take and send off before getting antibiotics if required. 

Key takeaways

Gonorrhea is the second most widely spread STI in the US, and it has been nicknamed the clap since the 1500s. Plenty of theories speculate why this is the case, but the good news is that this infection is very treatable with modern antibiotics. Be sure to take a test as soon as you spot the symptoms!


DrHouse articles are written by MDs, NPs, nutritionists and other healthcare professionals. The contents of the DrHouse site are for informational purposes only and are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you are experiencing high fever (>103F/39.4C), shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, chest pain, heart palpitations, abnormal bruising, abnormal bleeding, extreme fatigue, dizziness, new weakness or paralysis, difficulty with speech, confusion, extreme pain in any body part, or inability to remain hydrated or keep down fluids or feel you may have any other life-threatening condition, please go to the emergency department or call 911 immediately.

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