Welcome back to the SSIS column, where we answer any and all of Brandeis students’ questions about sex, sexuality, identity and relationships. If you have a question you’d like answered in our next column, email firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a question in the Google Form link on the Student Sexuality Information Service Facebook page. Any and all questions are welcome: there are no bad, stupid or weird questions!
(Note: These answers are good-faith attempts by SSIS to be helpful to the Brandeis community, and are by no means exhaustive or to be taken as universal. If these answers don’t resonate with you, either pay them no mind, or reach out to us with suggestions for improvement!)
What is the difference between an STD and an STI and tips on telling if a partner is becoming infected?
Great question, and thanks for writing in! While these terms are often used interchangeably, there is a slight difference in the definitions. Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are infections that spread from one person to another through oral, vaginal or anal sex that have progressed to the disease stage. Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) mean the bacteria or virus has first entered the body and started multiplying. STDs are simply a more progressed version of an STI. STIs and STDs are very common, and while not all STDs and STIs are curable, they are all manageable.
The term STI is often preferred over STD because the word “disease” carries stigma. This stigmatization of the word “disease” is often due to a lack of information, and can keep people from getting tested. The word “disease” is often associated with clear symptoms of medical problems; however, many sexually transmitted diseases do not present themselves in an obvious manner. The word “infection” is used more often because sexually transmitted infections become diseases. STIs are much more common: 20 million people a year in the U.S. have STIs, with half of this number coming from people ages 15-24, according to the CDC. Many people who contract an STI will not experience symptoms, which is why destigmatization, safe sex practices and testing are essential. Getting tested every six months for sexually active people can be vital for staying safe. Additionally, if you were potentially exposed, it is recommended to get tested three weeks after exposure.
There are many types of STIs and being aware of them can help you care for your sexual health. One category of STI is viral STIs. Viral STIs are not curable but there are treatments available to manage the disease. Some examples of viral STIs are herpes, HPV, hepatitis B and HIV. The main treatment for viral STDs includes medication to help manage symptoms. The other main category of STI is bacterial STIs, and these are completely curable! Examples of bacterial STIs are chlamydia, gonorrhea, trichomoniasis and syphilis. The main treatments for bacterial STIs are antibiotics or ointments to cure the infection.
Have fun with your partner, communicate clearly and know that being aware of STIs will help to keep you both healthy! We hope this helps, and as always, feel free to stop into our office for more information.