What’s Really The Difference Between STDs And STIs?

The English language is an interesting thing, especially in modern times where we have plenty of nicknames and slang terms. Then there’s internet and texting speak. Just think of all the wild names there are for penises. I’m going to save the random slang for another day and focus on two phrases that you might have wondered about: STDs and STIs.

You’ve probably heard of both of them, but have you ever wondered if there’s a difference between them, if any? Or, have you been using them interchangeably and never thought otherwise? Knowing the deal isn’t just important to help you ace a health essay. It will help with your sexual health. Here’s the deal with STDs versus STIs.

So, is there actually a difference between STDs or STIs?

Let’s start with the basics. “STD” is short for sexually transmitted disease and “STI” is the abbreviation of sexual transmitted infection. The terms sound very similar, but obviously the last word is different. And that differentiation does make a difference. While STDs and STIs may refer generally to a group of things transmitted through sexual contact that no one wants to get, STD Check explains, “STDs and STIs are often used interchangeably and as synonyms, but they technically mean different things.”

STD Check continues that a STI means someone has an infection, but it hasn’t developed into a disease. To put it another way, someone would carry the virus of something, but not have any symptoms.

So, are you saying that a STI is the thing you have before you get a full-blown STD?

Yes and no. The University of Maryland’s Health Center explains that STI is a broader term that encompasses things that can be cured and may not cause any symptoms. There are STIs that would never develop into STDs because they can be treated before they show symptoms. And then there are STIs that never show symptoms.

The name STI has become more common in recent years because of this broader definition. It might also be the preferred term because “disease” comes with a lot of negative connotations, according to Women’s Health Mag. What’s more, the University of Maryland’s Health Center states that using “STI” can serve as a reminder for people to get tested since it shows a person could still be carrying something even if they don’t have symptoms.

Can you give me some examples?

Sure thing. Someone could have chlamydia but not show any symptoms. Therefore, it would be correctly described as a STI. For it to be considered a STD there has to be symptoms of it. Same goes with herpes. For herpes to go from STI to STD, you’ve got to have symptoms, i.e. sores Another example is that someone might carry the HPV virus without symptoms. Therefore, it’s a STI. If the symptoms show (in the form of cervical cancer), it becomes a STD.

I’m very confused. How do I know what term to use?

Don’t sweat. They’re not that different that it would be terrible if you used them wrongly. But think of it this way: STI means there’s nothing noticeably wrong with your body whereas STD means there are visible symptoms that you could describe to a doctor such as pain during sex, random bumps, burning while peeing, weird discharge, etc.

When in doubt, it can be helpful to use STI because it covers a wider range of things.

What else should I know?

The most important thing isn’t about naming. It’s about practicing safe sex and getting tested. Remember that STIs/STDs can be spread from person to person through sexual contact. That’s not just limited to putting the P in the V. It can happen through oral sex, anal sex, etc. Make sure that you’re using protection every time (condoms, dental dams, female condoms, etc.) and that you get tested. If something changes with your health and/or you notice something off, abstain from sex and go see your doctor.

What did you think about STDs versus STIs? Did you think there was a difference? Let us know in the comments!


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