Sexual Health Glossary
Abdomen—The part of the body that contains the stomach, intestines, liver, reproductive organs, and other organs.
Abstinence—Choosing not to have any kind of sexual activity. Someone who practices sexual abstinence does not run any risk of contracting a STD/STI or having an unwanted pregnancy. See also selective abstinence.
Acute—Refers to intense, short-term symptoms or illnesses that either resolve or evolve into long-lasting, chronic disease manifestations.
Acyclovir—An antiviral drug used in the treatment of herpes simplex virus 1 (fever blisters, cold sores), herpes simplex virus 2 (genital herpes), and herpes zoster (shingles); and used in the suppression of herpes simplex virus types 1 and 2. Acyclovir comes in the form of pills, ointment or injection. The drug functions as a nucleoside analog, but must be converted to an active (phosphated) form by the thymidine kinase enzyme produced only by cells infected by certain herpes viruses, including varicella zoster virus (shingles) and herpes simplex-1 and -2. Acyclovir causes few side effects–occasionally nausea, diarrhea or headaches.
Alternative Medicine—A catch-all phrase for a long list of treatments or medicinal systems including traditional systems such as Chinese medicine, homeopathy, various herbals and other miscellaneous treatments that have not been accepted by the mainstream, or Western, medical establishment. Alternative medicine is also referred to as complementary medicine. The designation “alternative medicine” is not equivalent to “holistic medicine,” which is a more narrow term. See Holistic Medicine.
Anal sex—When a man puts his penis in another person’s anus. This is also called anal intercourse.
Analgesic—Refers to a compound that reduces pain. Aspirin and the opiates are examples of analgesic drugs.
Antibiotic—A substance, especially one similar to those produced by certain fungi for destroying bacteria, that kills or inhibits the growth of microorganisms. An antibiotic is used to combat disease and infection.
Antibody—A disease-fighting protein in the blood created by the immune system.
Antiretroviral—A substance that stops or suppresses the activity of a retrovirus such as HIV.
Anus—The opening of the rectum to the outside of the body.
Asymptomatic—Without signs or symptoms of disease or illness.
Asymptomatic transmission of herpes simplex virus (HSV)—The spread of virus from one person to another during a time when a person has no signs or symptoms.
Autoinoculation—The spread of a microorganism such as a virus from one part the body to another.
Autoinoculation of herpes simplex virus (HSV)—The spread of HSV from one part of the body to another. This can result when a person with active herpes deposits a significant amount of virus onto some other vulnerable part of the body–most often a mucous membrane.
Bacterial STD/STI—An STD/STI caused by a bacteria, such as syphilis, gonorrhea and chlamydia. Bacterial STDs/STIs respond effectively to antibiotic treatment, yet they remain epidemic in the population.
Bacterial Vaginosis (BV)—The most prevalent cause of vaginal symptoms among women of childbearing age, BV, previously called nonspecific vaginitis, is characterized by a strong fishy odor and a gray, watery discharge.
Balanitis—An inflammation of the foreskin and head of the penis. The inflammation can be due to infection, harsh soaps, or failure to properly rinse soap off while bathing. Men with uncontrolled diabetes are at risk of developing balanitis.
Balanoposthitis—Inflammation of the head and foreskin of the penis.
bDNA (branched DNA) — A test developed by the Chiron Corp. for measuring the amount of HIV (as well as other viruses) in blood plasma. bDNA is similar in results but not in technique to the PCR test.
Benign—Not cancerous; does not invade nearby tissue or spread to other parts of the body.
Biopsy—The removal of a sample of tissue that is then examined under a microscope to check for cancer cells.
Birth control—Used to refer to contraception.
Bisexual—A term to refer to a person who is sexually attracted to both males and females.
Bladder—The hollow organ that stores urine.
Cancer—A term for diseases in which abnormal cells divide without control. Cancer cells can invade nearby tissues and can spread through the bloodstream and lymphatic system to other parts of the body.
Candida—A group of yeast-like fungi, in particular Candida albicans, that infect the mouth as well as other mucous membranes in the esophagus, intestines, vagina, throat and lungs. Oral or recurrent vaginal candida infection is an early sign of immune system deterioration.
Candidiasis—An infection due to candida yeast. The symptoms of oral candidiasis (thrush) and vaginal candidiasis (formerly called monilia) include pain, itching, redness and white patches in their respective sites. Some common treatments are clotrimazole, nystatin and miconazole.
Carcinoma—Cancer that begins in the lining or covering of an organ.
Carcinoma in situ—Cancer that involves only the cells in which it began and that has not spread to other tissues.
Catheter—A flexible tube that is placed in a body cavity to insert or withdraw fluids.
Cauterization—The use of heat to destroy abnormal cells. Also called diathermy or electrodiathermy.
CD4—The protein structure on the surface of a human cell that allows HIV to attach, enter, and thus infect a cell. CD4 receptors are present on CD4 cells (helper T-cells), macrophages and dendritic cells, among others. Normally, CD4 acts as an accessory molecule, forming part of larger structures (such as the T-cell receptor) through which T-cells and other cells signal each other.
CD4 Cell—A type of T-cell involved in protecting against viral, fungal and protozoal infections. Other names for CD4 cell are T-helper cell or helper T-cell.
CD4 Cell Count—The most commonly used surrogate marker for assessing the state of the immune system. As CD4 cell count declines, the risk of developing opportunistic infections increases.
Celibate—Choosing not to have sex or abstaining from sex.
Cell culture—A diagnostic test for many kinds of viruses. In a cell culture for HSV, a swab of the patient’s herpes lesion is placed in a dish containing normal skin cells to see if HSV will grow.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)—The federal public health agency serving as the center for preventing, tracking, controlling and investigating the epidemiology of AIDS and other diseases.
Cervical Dysplasia—An abnormal tissue growth on the cervix which may progress to cancer if not treated in time. Cervical dysplasia is detected through a Pap test.
Cervical Intraepithelial Neoplasia — A general term for the growth of abnormal cells on the surface of the cervix. Numbers from 1 to 3 may be used to describe how much of the cervix contains abnormal cells. Also called CIN.
Cervix—The lower, cylindrical end of the uterus that forms a narrow canal connecting the upper (uterus) and lower (vagina) parts of a women’s reproductive tract.
Chancroid — A highly contagious sexually transmitted disease caused by the Hemophilus ducreyi bacterium. It appears as a pimple, chancre, sore or ulcer on the skin of the genitals. The lesion appears after an incubation period of three to five days and may facilitate the transmission of HIV.
Chemotherapy—Treatment with anticancer drugs.
Chronic—Refers to symptoms and diseases that last for an extended period of time without noticeable change.
CIN—See Cervical Intraepithelial Neoplasia.
Circumcision—A procedure to remove the foreskin of the penis.
Clinical—Refers to physical signs and symptoms directly observable in the human body.
Clinical Trial—A study done to test an experimental medicine in human beings to see if it is safe and effective.
Clitoris—A female sexual organ found where the labia minora, or inner lips of the vagina, meet, partially hidden by the labia. It is highly sensitive, and can be a source of sexual pleasure and female orgasm.
Cold sores—Otherwise known as “fever blisters” and herpes type-1 infection.
Colposcopy—A procedure in which the vagina and the surface of the uterine cervix is examined through a lighted microscope (colposcope) for signs of cervical dysplasia or cancer. Colposcopy is a more accurate alternative to Pap smears, but requires considerably more skill to perform.
Come out — The usually voluntary public revealing of a person’s sexual orientation and/or gender identity.
Complementary Medicine—Non-mainstream health care provided in addition or instead of standard medical practice. See also Alternative Medicine.
Condom—Male: A cover for the penis, worn during sex to prevent STDs and pregnancy. Only a latex condom is recommended for protection against disease. Female: There is also a female condom that lines the vagina, which is worn by the woman during sex for similar protection. Condoms are highly effective at preventing STDs and pregnancy if used consistently and correctly. Learn the right way to use a condom.
Condyloma Acuminatum—A projecting warty growth on the external genitals or the anus caused by infection with certain types of the human papillomavirus (HPV). It is usually a benign or non-cancerous growth. Condyloma acuminatum is also referred to as genital warts or verruca acuminata.
Conization—Surgery to remove a cone-shaped piece of tissue from the cervix and cervical canal. Conization may be used to diagnose or treat a cervical condition. Also called cone biopsy.
Contraception — Ways to prevent pregnancy. Some forms of contraception prevent ovulation (the release of an egg from the ovary), fertilization (meeting of egg and sperm) or implantation of the embryo into the uterine lining. Birth control pills, condoms, and diaphrams are some examples of contraception.
Cross-dressing—Dressing in a manner more sterotpyically associated with the opposite sex. People who cross-dress generally have no intention or desire to change their anatomical sex, and cross-dressing does not necessarily reflect on sexual orientation or gender identity.
Cryosurgery—Treatment performed with an instrument that freezes and destroys abnormal tissue.
Cytomegalovirus (CMV)—A herpes infection that causes serious illness in people with AIDS. CMV can develop in any part of the body but most often appears in the retina of the eye, the nervous system, the colon or the esophagus.
Dental dam—A sheet of latex that can be used to cover the vagina or anus during oral sex in order to prevent body fluids from passing from one person to another. It is called a dental dam because it was designed to be used for dental procedures. A substitute can be made by cutting off the tip and slitting the side of a latex condom.
Dermatitis—Inflammation of the skin.
Dilation and curettage—A minor operation in which the cervix is dilated (expanded) so that the cervical canal and tissue from the uterine lining can be scaped with a spoon-shaped instrument called a curette. Also called a D and C.
Douching—Using water or a medicated solution to clean the vagina and cervix.
Dyspareunia—The medical term for painful sex.
Dysplasia—Abnormal changes or growth of cells and tissues. See Cervical dysplasia.
Dysuria—Painful or difficult urination. Dysuria may be due to an STD/STI.