This Week in Sex: Something New, Something Old in Gonorrhea Prevention

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This Week in Sex: Something New, Something Old in Gonorrhea Prevention

Martha Kempner

A new drug could fill the antibiotic gap; sex can make you grin the next day; and you might get some sticker shock with a penis product in development.

This Week in Sex is a weekly summary of news and research related to sexual behavior, sexuality education, contraception, STIs, and more.

New Drug on the Horizon?

Our ability to fight the common sexually transmitted infection (STI) gonorrhea has been declining as the bacteria has become resistant to all but one class of antibiotics. But two new studies show glimmers of hope for future treatment and prevention.

The first is a laboratory study that shows a new class of antibiotics may be effective against gonorrhea. Closthioamide was discovered in 2010 and found to be effective against other drug-resistant infections including MRSA (a resistant Staph infection) and VRE (a resistant enterococci infection). Researchers in the United Kingdom tested this new drug on 149 samples of Neisseria gonorrhea bacteria taken from patients with infections of the urethra, throat, cervix, and rectum. The new drug was effective, even in very small doses, on all but three of the samples.

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This is good news because as of now, there is only one group of antibiotics—called cephalosporins—that can treat gonorrhea. And according to the World Health Organization, gonorrhea infections resistant to even these drugs have been reported in 50 countries. The WHO also notes that there are only a few new antibiotics in the research pipeline.

We are still a long way from closthioamide being on pharmacy shelves—it needs to be tested on both animals and humans first—but it is still an exciting development in the fight against a bacteria that had developed resistance to sulfonamides by the 1940s and to penicillins and tetracyclines by the 1980s.

In more good news for those fighting this wily and adaptive STI, a New Zealand researcher has found that an old meningitis vaccine provides some protection against gonorrhea. The vaccine, called MeNZB, was used to prevent meningitis (inflammation of tissues in the brain and spinal cord) caused by Neisseria meningitidis B, a bacterium in the same genus as the one that causes gonorrhea.

Dr. Helen Petousis-Harris of the University of Auckland analyzed data collected during a 2004-2006 outbreak of meningitis in New Zealand. In an article in The Lancet, she explains that the rate of gonorrhea was higher among people who had not received the MeNZB vaccine and estimates that the vaccine provided a 31 percent protection against gonorrhea. Though this is not enough to get to herd immunity—which happens when a critical mass of people in a certain population are immune to infection—or to prevent outbreaks, it did provide some protection for individuals. More importantly, the discovery could point scientists in the direction of an effective gonorrhea vaccine, which has been elusive for more than a century.

While we’re waiting for this research to become a reality, please remember that condoms provide excellent protection against gonorrhea. If you suspect infection, please seek treatment as soon as possible because we do still have some antibiotics that work. Untreated gonorrhea can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease and infertility.

Color Us Shocked: Sex Is Good for the Mood

This week’s entry for “Did we really need a peer-reviewed study to tell us that?” comes from the journal Emotion. It tells us that sex can temporarily improve your mood. Researchers asked 152 college students to keep a daily diary of their sex lives and their emotional state for 21 days. They found that sexual activity was related to greater well-being the next day. Not surprisingly, this positive effect was more likely if the sex was good; higher reported sexual pleasure predicted greater positive effects and fewer negative feelings the next day. And those who reported more relationship closeness also reported a greater sense of well-being after sexual encounters.

Interestingly, the researchers found that the sex-to-mood relationship does not work in reverse. Being in a good mood did not make participants more likely to have sex.

This seems to suggest that whether you are currently in a good mood or a bad mood, you might want to go have some sex. It will make you feel better (or even better) tomorrow.

Jiftip Promises Better Sex With a Sticker

This Week in Sex has been on summer vacation and is catching up with the headlines. Since we last published, a new product caused a splash on the internet by promising, well, no splashes during sex.

Jiftip, which is still in its testing phase, is a polyurethane film with a bandage-like adhesive on the other side. You put it over the penis’ tip before sex and peel it off after ejaculation, thereby preventing “wet spots.”

Why you would want to do this is a little unclear. The obvious answer would be as an alternative to a condom to protect against pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases without covering the whole penis during sex.

But Jiftip does not prevent anything. Some sexually transmitted conditions—such as herpes and HPV—are transmitted via skin-to-skin contact, and this sticker covers very little skin. Preventing pregnancy might be easier, but that would require that semen never leaks out. The product would have to be rigorously tested and approved by the Food and Drug Administration, which it has not been.

To their credit, Jiftip’s inventors are very clear about the fact this is not about protection, saying on their website “Jiftip is NOT an alternative to condoms. THOU SHALT NOT USE IT FOR PREVENTING PREGNANCY OR STIs.”

Instead, they claim the product enhances male pleasure: “Instead of ejaculating: You hold the penis party indoors.” The inventors call it a new sensation that will make you “fall in love with sex all over again.” They also say that Jiftip won’t work for everyone, but it’s not clear whether they’re suggesting that it might fall off or just that some people might not like the feeling. Also, in their real penis tutorial, they say it hurts to take off but you get used to it after a while.

To recap: It doesn’t prevent pregnancy. It can’t prevent STDs. It might not work. And it hurts to use. Oh, and they’re still looking for people to try it out.