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STIs not STDs

We like to use the term Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI) here at Teen Health Source, not Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD). Did you notice? Do you ever wonder why? Well, we’re happy to tell you! There are a few reasons, including:

They aren’t the same thing!

Medically speaking, they aren’t the same thing. ‘Infections’ are different from ‘diseases’, and they describe different things.

An infection is when a bacteria or a virus gets into a body. Period.

A disease is when an infection progresses to the point where a person starts to exhibit signs or symptoms.

So the moment that Chlamydia or Herpes (for example) gets into someone’s body, that person then has a STI. If they start showing symptoms where they’re like “Hmm, maybe I should go get tested…” then they have an STD.

By these definitions, that means that all STDs start as STIs, but STIs aren’t always STDs. Some people like to use STI and STD interchangeably, which is fine, but we feel like it kind of misses the purpose of regular STI testing. This leads us to…

The Purpose of Regular STI Testing

The most common symptom for all STIs is no symptom at all. Some people just carry a bacteria or virus, and will never have any noticeable symptoms. Some people’s infections just haven’t yet progressed to the point where they’re thinking to go see a clinician. However, even if someone’s just carrying an STI in their system, some STIs can progress and lead to more serious health complications. This is why regular testing is so important! It’s good to know if you have an STI before it becomes an STD. This way you can get treatment early, and talk in an informed way to sexual partners (past, current, or potential) about safer sex options so you can protect each other.

There is no rule or law about regular STI testing. Some people go all the time, and some people never go. It depends on a lot of factors, including whether or not you’re even engaging in sexual activities! We generally recommend getting tested once every 6 months if you have more than one sexual partner per year. But it’s up to you.

STI Stigma

There’s a lot of stigma around getting an infection or virus from sex. People are often embarrassed to get them. They think they’ve screwed up sex somehow. And having the word ‘DISEASE’ in there doesn’t make it any easier. It’s a word that sounds icky and gross, and can remind folks about hospitals and even death. But that’s not actually the case with STIs! Most STIs are curable, if not manageable.

Stigma is the feeling of embarrassment or shame that keeps people from talking about STIs with their partners, friends, or even doctors. But lots of people have had experience with STIs (either they had one themselves, or someone they know did), or are currently living with them. Saying STD makes these experiences seem more serious, scary, and intense for some people, and it also doesn’t accurately reflect what’s going on inside someone’s body.

But yeah, STIs are normal. Very normal. And they’re more often than not, a very treatable or manageable part of people’s lives. Hopefully by being more accurate in naming what a person is experiencing, as well as dispelling myths and rumours about STIs, we can help to remove the stigma around regular testing and talking to partners.

For more information on STIs, check out all of our pages on the topic [Link]! Highlights include:

If you have questions about this topic, feel free to contact one of our peer educators. [Link]

Last Updated: April 2020

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