STI vs STD – Why You Should Make The Switch
If you’re anything like us, you probably first heard the term STD (sexually transmitted disease) in middle school sex-ed class. However, a lot has changed since then. The conventional term used now is STI – sexually transmitted infection.
But STI, STD – what difference does it make? Doesn’t it all mean the same? Let’s screw the shush about STIs and see why skipping the D is important!
I and D - Potayto-potahto?
Although some establishments use STI and STD interchangeably, the two aren’t exactly the same. To understand the difference, we need to take a deeper look at what an infection and disease mean.
An infectionis something that is caused by bacteria, viruses, or other parasites. An infection occurs when these pathogens enter the body and start multiplying. This process may or may not manifest in symptoms.
Take, for instance, HPV. Almost 80% of sexually active Australians have been exposed to HPV at some point in their lives. However, not all HPV infections show symptoms like rashes or warts. Most infections do not cause significant health impairments or show symptoms. In other words, infections are comparatively mild, and may or may not cause diseases. They may clear up on their own without any intervention.
In contrast, a disease is more serious (take, for example, heart disease). A disease has a very specific set of starkly diagnosable symptoms. They cause significant impairment in the quality of life and disrupt bodily function. An infection, if left untreated, may develop into a disease. Think of it this way – when a pathogen first enters the body, it multiplies and causes an infection. When left unmanaged, the infection "graduates" to disease and officially begins to cause harm.
Why leave the D behind?
Now that you have begun to see the difference between an infection and a disease, think about what ‘qualifies’ as a sexually transmitted infection. STIs like chlamydia, herpes, genital warts, gonorrhoea, and syphilis can be transmitted from one partner to another through unprotected sexual contact. However, symptoms may not show up for months or years. In fact, some symptoms may not show up at all. These infections can remain dormant and asymptomatic for a long time.
However, a disease MUST have symptoms. A person who contracts an infection like chlamydia may not show symptoms of the disease until years later. This means that a person infected with a pathogen may not have a disease at all – just an infection. This boils down to the numbers – there are more infections than diseases, because not all infections develop into diseases. Clearly, there is a difference between the two. Duh!
Besides, asymptomatic infections will show up only on STI tests. This is why we recommend routine screening tests, especially if you have multiple partners.
Technically, infections are more likely to clear up on their own. Since infections refer to the multiplication of pathogens in the body, a strong immune system will be able to strike it down. Infections like HPV warts and sores can clear up on their own. In contrast, diseases need a doc-approved treatment and medication plan.
Here’s the T(est)!
Generally, you should get tested for an STI after every new unprotected sexual encounter. In case an infection develops into a disease, here are a few (non-exhaustive) symptoms you should watch out for:
/Lumps, Bumps, Warts, Or Rashes In Your Land Down Under (Including Your Vulva, Penis, Butthole, And Thighs)
/Unusual Vaginal Or Penile Discharge
/Spotting Between Your Period
Smashing the Stigma
Seeing as there’s a world of difference between an infection and a disease, 'STI’ ought to be the more commonly used term. But that is not the case.
Historically, the term STD (or venereal disease) was used to refer to these infections, regardless of symptoms. Since talking about sex was taboo (*cue eye roll*), these terms got a bad rep. The sour connotation of the term ‘disease’ stuck through the ages.
Today, sex ed is still a touchy topic for many. There is a lot of stigma weighing down on the word “disease.” Calling an STI a disease may deter people from talking about it in the open. The lesser you talk about it, the more misinformation is likely to spread. It might sound silly, but some people may pretend an infection never exists instead of calling it a “disease.”
The only way to find out if you have an STI or STD is by getting tested after any unprotected sexual activity. People (especially teens and young adults) are less likely to get regular “STD tests.” However, calling it an STI test is less intimidating. By addressing the condition as an STI, we normalize it as a part of life.
Screw the Shush!
Seeing as there’s such a negative connotation to the word 'disease,' it makes sense to drop the term altogether. This encourages a positive, non-judgmental medical community that is based on sexual wellness.
By making “STI” a conscious part of your daily vocab, you break the barrier and make sex-ed accessible and inclusive. All it takes is a bit of mindfulness – don’t use STI and STD interchangeably. You’ll make a world of difference.
Psst. Besides, there are other ways you can get the D, if you catch our drift!