Yes and no. The answer to this question ultimately depends on how you define “sex.” Generally speaking, any oral, genital, or anal contact with another person’s bodily fluids can spread gonorrhea.

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) like gonorrhea are, as you can probably guess, transmitted through sexual contact. But what that looks like can vary from person to person.

Different STIs can spread through different types of sexual activity. Some STIs are spread through intimate skin-to-skin contact, while others are spread through bodily fluids.

That means penis-in-vagina intercourse isn’t the only way to catch an STI. When it comes to gonorrhea, any activity involving the genitals, anus, mouth, or their respective fluids can spread the infection between partners.

“It’s very rare to contract gonorrhea outside of sexual contact as the virus dies quickly when secretions have dried outside of the body,” says Andrea Sleeth, APRN, nurse practitioner, and medical advisor at Wisp, a telehealth platform focused on sexual and reproductive health.

Within 72 hours of suspected exposure

The antibiotic doxycycline can be used as a postexposure prophylaxis (Doxy-PEP) to protect against gonorrhea, chlamydia, and syphilis. Think of it as a “morning-after pill” for bacterial STIs.

Doxy-PEP is available by prescription only, and it must be taken within 72 hours to be effective. In other words, it’s important to act fast. A typical dose is one 200-milligram (mg) pill.

Gonorrhea is usually spread through oral, anal, or vaginal sex. This includes the following forms of sexual contact:

In some cases, getting ejaculate or squirt in your eye can also be a source of transmission. This may happen if a partner “finishes” on your face during fellatio or if a partner squirts during cunnilingus.

Manual stimulation can spread gonorrhea if you touch infected fluids and then touch your mouth, anus, or genitals. For example:

“If you share a sex toy with someone who [has] gonorrhea and don’t clean your toy between uses, you could get gonorrhea from the infected sexual fluids,” says Kenosha Gleaton, MD, OB/GYN, founder and CEO of The EpiCentrein Charleston, South Carolina.

For example, this might involve using the same toy:

  • at the base of the penis, like a cock ring
  • inside the anus, like a butt plug
  • inside the mouth, like a dildo
  • inside the vagina, like a wand
  • on the clitoris, like a vibrator

“Using condoms or other barriers during [these sex acts] can help reduce the risk of spread, as it limits contact to the infected fluids,” says Michelle Forcier, MD, a gender affirming clinician with virtual healthcare service FOLX.

This means wearing gloves or finger cots during hand sex, dental dams during analingus and cunnilingus, and internal or external condoms during penetrative anal or vaginal sex.

Some evidence suggests that oral gonorrhea may spread through French kissing or kissing with the tongue. However, more research is necessary to understand the risk of transmission better.

Gonorrhea can also spread during pregnancy or childbirth.

When gonorrhea is spread during delivery, it can affect the infant’s eyes. Though rare, Forcier says this is the most common cause of gonococcal conjunctivitis.

Gonorrhea is usually asymptomatic. That means the only way to reliably know whether you’ve catched gonorrhea is to get tested.

Experts generally recommend waiting until at least 2 weeks have passed since suspected exposure. Testing too soon could result in a false negative.

It’s best to avoid sexual activity until you’re able to get tested and, if necessary, treated. Otherwise, you risk spreading the infection to a partner or reinfecting yourself.

When anal or genital symptoms do occur, they may include:

“Oral and throat gonorrhea very rarely produce symptoms, but if they do, it will likely feel like a sore throat that can be easily confused with other infections,” says Gleaton.

Gonococcal conjunctivitis may cause symptoms similar to pink eye, explains Forcier.

Can a nonsexually active person get gonorrhea?

Ultimately, it depends on your personal definition of sexual activity.

If you’re having oral or hand sex with someone, you can get gonorrhea, even if you don’t consider yourself to be sexually active, says Forcier.

If you’re masturbating with a toy that someone else has used but not cleaned, you could get gonorrhea due to the transfer of infected sexual fluids from the toy to your genitals, says Gleaton.

How do you get gonorrhea if your partner doesn’t have it?

“It’s entirely possible that your partner was asymptomatic or showed no symptoms but still [had] gonorrhea,” says Sleeth.

The only way for your partner to know whether they have gonorrhea is to get tested. And if they did get tested, it’s possible that they tested too soon.

What STIs or STDs can you get without having penetrative sex?

Anytime there’s skin-to-skin genital contact or an exchange of bodily fluids, there’s a risk of STI transmission.

The following are spread through skin-to-skin contact:

The following are spread through bodily fluids:

Gonorrhea can spread through a variety of nonpenetrative sex acts.

If you think you have gonorrhea — or are experiencing symptoms commonly associated with the infection — it’s important to consult with a healthcare professional.

They’ll be able to test you for gonorrhea as well as screen for other STIs and underlying conditions.

In the event that you do have gonorrhea, your healthcare professional will prescribe a course of antibiotics to clear the infection.