Clearing the Stigma: STIs and STDs

What are STIs and STDs?

Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) and Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) are very common with millions of new cases occurring every year in the United States. STIs and STDs can infect the mouth, genital and anal areas of the body. While some can be spread through sexual skin-to-skin contact, most are spread mainly through oral, vaginal, or anal sex with an infected partner.

STDs/STIs are either viral or bacterial. Although a viral infection cannot be cured, symptoms of the virus can be managed and may not be present at all times. Bacterial infections are caused by bacterial organisms, and the active infection can be cured. A positive STI/STD diagnosis may feel life-altering, but know that all are treatable with medicine and some are curable entirely.

What is the difference between STIs and STDs?

While you have probably heard both terms, and they are often used interchangeably, there is a difference between STIs and STDs. The main difference between the two is that an STI means the individual has an infection, but it has not yet developed into a disease. For example, typically a woman with HPV (human papillomavirus) does not have any symptoms but carries the virus. At this point, she would have an STI, but if the infection develops into cervical cancer, she now has an STD as cancer is a disease.

Recently there has been a shift in the use of these terms to use STI more often than STD. The American Sexual Health Association (ASHA) explains this shift came about in an effort to be more accurate and address the stigma around the subject. Disease indicates a medical condition associated with clear signs and symptoms when in reality several of the most common sexually transmitted viruses often present no signs or symptoms. Therefore, it is more accurate to refer to them as infections rather than diseases.

How do you get an STI?

STIs are typically transmitted through sexual contact. The bacteria, viruses, or parasites that cause these infections are passed from person to person in blood, semen, or vaginal and other bodily fluids. STIs can also be acquired nonsexually. For example, from mothers to their children during pregnancy or childbirth, or through shared needles and blood transfusions.

How do you prevent/protect yourself against infection?

While the best way to prevent an STI is not to engage in sexual activity, we understand that may not be a realistic decision for many. If you do have sex, you can lower your risk of infection by following the steps from this list:

  • Get vaccinated. There are currently vaccines for a few of the most common STIs.
  • Get tested before becoming sexually active with a new partner. Make sure your partner is tested as well and that you discuss your results with each other.
  • Limit your number of sexual partners. Your chance of getting an STI increases with the number of partners you have.
  • Use condoms to create a barrier during skin-to-skin sexual contact. This is not a guaranteed way to prevent STIs, but it is one of the most effective.

These steps should be used in unison as no single step can protect you from all types of STIs.

What are the symptoms and risks associated with STIs and STDs?

Many STIs have only mild symptoms or no symptoms at all. These symptoms can easily be mistaken for something else, such as a urinary tract infection or yeast infection. Getting tested is the only sure way to know what is going on with your body and to ensure the right infection is treated. The risks of an STI increase the longer it goes undetected as it can cause lasting damage to your body. This damage can result in conditions such as pelvic inflammatory disease, cervical cancer, tubal or ectopic pregnancy, infertility, and pelvic pain.

When should you get tested?

The truth of the matter is, that almost everyone needs to be tested for STIs. Individuals who are sexually active and not in a long-term relationship should be tested for STDs on a regular basis. The question of how often you should be tested has a number of factors and can be best answered by your healthcare provider. Your provider will ask you a number of questions to determine risk factors and develop a plan based on your needs.

At Women’s Care, we understand this may be a difficult topic often surrounded by negative stigma, but we want to assure you that STIs are an extremely common occurrence. Your health is our highest priority and our providers are here to care for you without question or judgment.

Contact us today to schedule your STI/STD screening.