Illustrated by Ly Ngo.
By Kendall McKenzie
Today, we’re talking about STDs. Or, rather, we’re talking about how we talk about STDs. Wait, I mean STIs. Wait — what’s the difference? Which one is correct? And, why do organizations, including Planned Parenthood, use one or the other (or both)?
Infections you get from sexual contact have had many different names over the years: venereal disease (VD), the clap, the drip, and more recently, STDs and STIs. The newest version is STI (sexually transmitted infections). But, its older sibling, STD (sexually transmitted diseases), is still alive and going strong. And, they really mean the same thing — the only difference is “infection” more accurately describes the way STIs operate than “disease.”
In the super-scientific medical world, infections are only called “diseases” when they actually cause symptoms. And, if you know anything about STDs, you know that STDs typically don’t cause symptoms — which means calling them “diseases” is usually incorrect (and also sounds scary). Because it’s the infection, not the disease, that gets passed, “sexually transmitted infections” just makes more sense.
But, here’s the catch: “STD” has been around longer, and way more people use that term. The majority of patients coming into health centers or doctors’ offices say “STD,” and a lot more people search for “STD” than “STI” on the Internet. So, some organizations simply decide to use the most widely known and understood language.
For example, we typically use “STD” on plannedparenthood.org so more people can easily find information and understand it clearly. While the sex educators of the world try to change old habits and switch everyone over to STI, they gotta meet people where they’re at in the meantime.
At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter if you call ‘em STDs, STIs, down-there boo-boos, the genital sads, or any other term you prefer. What matters is that you’re protecting yourself against them by having safer sex and getting tested.