‘Deep kissing’ – aka snogging with tongues – could be a risk factor for throat gonorrhoea, according to a new study.
The study among gay and bisexual men found that those who had a higher number of ‘kissing only partners’ (meaning partners they’d had a cheeky smooch with, but no sex) had a greater likelihood of testing positive for throat gonorrhoea than others.
The researchers can’t say for sure that kissing was the cause of gonorrhoea – especially because the study excluded other sexual practices outside of kissing and sex, which could have influenced infection risk.
But they suggested throat to throat transmission of gonorrhoea has been “underestimated and neglected”, adding: “Our results suggest kissing with or without sex may be a risk factor for oropharyngeal gonorrhoea.”
To assess whether throat gonorrhoea might be passed on through tongue kissing, either by itself or as part of sex, the researchers gathered information from gay and bisexual patients at a public sexual health service in Melbourne, Australia.
More than 3,000 men completed the survey on their sexual experiences with male partners over the past three months. Practices were categorised as kissing with no sex; sex with no kissing; and kissing with sex. Just over 6% of the men in the study had throat gonorrhoea.
Nearly all the men (95%) had kissed sex partners; 70% had kissing-only partners; and just over 38% had had sex-only partners.
Around one in four of the men (just under 27%) had had partners in all three categories in the preceding three months. Just 52 (1.4%) had kissing-only partners during this time.
But the proportion of these men testing positive for throat gonorrhoea was higher than it was for those who had had sex without kissing, the researchers said.
In all, the men had had an average of four kissing only partners, one sex-only partner, and five kissing-with-sex partners. A higher number of kissing-only or kissing-with-sex partners was associated with a greater likelihood of testing positive for throat gonorrhoea.
After accounting for potentially influential factors, the odds of testing positive for throat gonorrhoea were 46% higher among men who had had four or more kissing-only partners, and 81% higher among those with four or more kissing-with-sex partners, compared with men who had only one or no partners in these categories, the researchers said.
Strains of gonorrhoea that are resistant to antibiotics, also known as ‘super gonorrhoea’ are becoming more common in many countries, sparking concerns that the infection will become increasingly difficult to treat.
The study authors welcomed further research in the area, saying additional studies could “open up preventive options such as antibacterial mouthwash that do not rely on condoms”.
The latest research is published online in the journal Sexually Transmitted Infections.