Why is Gonorrhea Called the Clap?

Why is Gonorrhea Called the Clap?

Gonorrhea, sometimes called the clap or the drip, is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) that affects both women and men. It is caused by a bacterial infection that is transmitted by having oral, anal, or vaginal sex with a person who already has gonorrhea. The infection is spread through semen and vaginal fluids, but it can infect the eyes, mouth, and throat in addition to the vagina, cervix, uterus, fallopian tubes, urethra, and anus. Gonorrhea has been around as early as the 1500’s and there are many theories as to the origin of the slang terms: the clap and the drip. Read more below to learn about these theories and the facts around symptoms and treatment of gonorrhea.
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Why is it called the Clap?

Gonorrhea has been called the clap for potentially hundreds of years. Slang terms for STDs are often common due to the social stigma around talking about them. Many other slang terms exist for other STDs such as chlamydia (the clam), AIDS (Hi-Five), pubic lice (crabs), etc. Usually based on the name of the disease itself or on an iconic aspect of the disease, these slang terms are persuasive in our culture and language around STDs. Gonorrhea is unique in that the slang term, the clap, does not have a known origin. The truth is that there is not a consensus as it why it is called that, but there are a few interesting theories.

First, the origin could come from old English, as the word “clappan” was used to describe a beating or throbbing. This could refer to the painful, burning urination or swelling in the penis or vagina caused by gonorrhea. Second, a number of people believe that the name stems from a proposed treatment during medieval times of “clapping” the penis or slamming the penis between both hands (or a hard surface) to get rid of the discharge/pus and thus the infection. This theory has most likely gained popularity due to its disgusting nature. Finally, in the 1500’s, “clapier” was an old French word for brothel. The use of the clap then would have referred to the location where the disease most easily spread, a brothel. In French, the disease then became known as “clapier bubo” meaning an infection of the penis resulting from a visit to a brothel.

There are also a few theories that come from more modern times. During the early 1900’s, GIs often were infected with gonorrhea during the World Wars. It was sometimes said that they had “the collapse,” which was shortened and transformed into the clap. A 1918 Medical journal is cited as referring to “Gonorrhea clap” as well as calling it the “running range,” but does not describe why the name exists.

Why is Gonorrhea Called the Drip?

Gonorrhea is also sometimes called the drip. The slang term is much less common than its counterpart, the clap, and refers from the most common symptom of gonorrhea: the discharge of pus from the penis or vagina. Similarly, the drip can sometimes refer to just the symptom, a symptom very common with other STDs, particularly chlamydia. This leads people to ask, “why is chlamydia called the clap? Is chlamydia the clap? What STD is the clap?” The answer is no. The clap refers to gonorrhea; however, given their similar symptoms and that the two STDs can happen simultaneously, it is obvious how there is confusion.

Recognizing the Symptoms of the Clap

Sometimes someone with the clap STD does not show any symptoms. It is unclear how common it is with some estimates being the majority of men and women to only 10% of men and 40% of women show no symptoms. The clap symptoms can appear within one or two weeks after having sex with a partner with the clap disease (gonorrhea). Even with no symptoms, it is still possible to transmit the disease and damage the reproductive system.

There are some differences in how gonorrhea presents in men vs women, but in general the most common reported symptoms in both men and women are:

  • Gonorrhea discharge – For women and men, this includes abnormal discharge from the vagina or penis that may be green, yellow, or white.
  • Burning sensation while urinating – Also called dysuria, this symptom is common with other STDs and is an important sign to get tested.
  • Painful, burning and swollen glands in throat – This is a very common sign of a gonorrhea infection from oral sex.

Women can also have painful periods, bleeding between periods, pain during sex, abdominal pain, or a fever. Men can also have a less common symptom of swelling or pain in either or both testicles. Gonorrhea, the clap, can infect one or both eyes causing discharge, conjunctivitis (itchy, red eyes), or sensitivity to light. Gonorrhea can also spread or infect the anus causing:

  • Discharge
  • Bleeding
  • Rectal pain
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How to Diagnose the Clap STD

Gonorrhea can be diagnosed by several different laboratory tests. They can either use a urine sample to test for the bacteria or a cotton swab from the infected area. The gonorrhea test most often uses a swab from the cervix for women and the urethra for men, but can also include a swab of the anus or other potentially infected areas. This swab is used for a culture or antigen for testing, both of which can identify if gonorrhea is present. A doctor may also conduct a physical exam to examine symptoms and check for other STDs. Gonorrhea and chlamydia are very similar, so it is important to test for both to ensure you receive the right treatment. A doctor may ask:

  • How often do you have unprotected sex?
  • Do you a new partner or multiple sexual partners?
  • Do you exhibit any symptoms like discharge, pelvic pain, or pain when urinating?

These questions can be used to determine if you have a STD, and answering yes increases the likelihood that you may have contracted one. Getting tested for a STD can be scary and intimidating, but remember you are taking charge of your health and can have peace of mind knowing if you do or do not have a STD and what you can do about it.

How to Treat the Clap

Many people just want to know how can you get rid of gonorrhea. Since gonorrhea is caused by a bacterial infection, gonorrhea treatment is a regimen of oral antibiotics. Some strains of gonorrhea in the US have become antibiotic resistant, sometimes called “super gonorrhea”. Therefore, a medical physician will decide on the best course of antibiotics with some of the commonly recommended ones being: ceftriaxone, cefixime, doxycycline, or azithromycin (the brand name is Zithromax). The infection should clear after one to two weeks. You should never stop taking antibiotics until the recommended course is finished, even if you think the infection has cleared or you are feeling better. If you do not finish the antibiotics, the infection can come back and be resistant to the antibiotics you were taking. Additionally, since antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria are already more common, if your symptoms continue after a few days of taking antibiotics, consult your doctor. They may switch you to a different strain of antibiotics.

Is gonorrhea curable? Yes, gonorrhea is curable by taking the appropriate medication as directed; however, repeat infections are common. You and your sexual partner(s) should always be tested after three months of completing treatment, especially if you are unsure whether your partner(s) received treatment.

You and your sexual partner(s) should not have sex again until treatment is complete. You should wait at least one week after completing a prescribed single dose medication. You should finish all doses if you are prescribed a seven-day treatment. In some cases, the infection may still be present, so you should wait until you and your partner(s) are sure the disease is no longer present.

Side Effects of the Clap

Because gonorrhea can have no symptoms, some people go untreated. Even with those who have symptoms, stigma, access, or other reasons get in the way of getting medical attention. Not receiving prompt and proper treatment can create serious health problems. If you suspect you or your partner may have a STD, you should get tested immediately to avoid these side effects, such as infertility, chronic pain, ectopic pregnancy, blood or joint infection, and others.

How to Prevent the STD the Clap

Because gonorrhea is a STD, the only 100% effective way to not contract the disease is to not have oral, anal, or vaginal sex. If you are sexually active, however, there are a few things you can do to reduce the risk:

  • Limit the number of sexual partners - Have yourself and your partner get tested before having oral, vaginal, or anal sex and remain monogamous to better ensure you are not exposed. The more partners you have at any given time, the more likelihood of contracting gonorrhea or any other STD.
  • Use condoms - Use condoms as directed every time to help reduce the risk, but condoms are not 100% effective in eliminating the risk.
  • Get tested regularly – Since having a history of STDs increases your likelihood of contracting another, getting tested regularly helps limit exposure.
  • Avoid douching – Douche or douching refers to washing out the vagina either with an at-home mix of water and vinegar or using a purchased product that can include antiseptics and fragrances. Between 20% and 40% of women aged 15 to 44 in the US use a douche and believe it helps clean and freshen their vagina as well as avoid getting a STD or pregnancy. Health experts agree that douching is both not effective and increases your risk of a STD or other health problems.

Should any of these symptoms arise or if you suspect you may have a STD, it is very important to get tested. Even if you have no symptoms as can happen with gonorrhea, you should be getting tested regularly, so you do not unknowingly spread the disease.

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Shannon Chapman

Shannon Chapman

Shannon enjoys breaking down technical subjects and giving others the tools to make informed decisions. Her interests include behavioral economics, sustainable living, meditation, and healthy cooking.

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