Sexually transmitted diseases, or STDs (sometimes called sexually transmitted infections, or STIs) affect people of all ages, backgrounds, and from all walks of life. In the U.S. alone there are approximately 20 million new cases each year, about half of which occur among youth ages 15-24 years.
Getting the facts about STDs/STIs and sexual health is increasingly important. We invite you to explore our website and learn more about specific STDs/STIs, tips for reducing risk, and ways to talk with health care providers and partners.
STD or STI? What’s the difference?
Diseases that are spread through sexual contact are usually referred to as sexually transmitted diseases or STDs for short. In recent years, however, many experts in this area of public health have suggested replacing STD with a new term—sexually transmitted infection, or STI.
Why the change? The concept of “disease,” as in STD, suggests a clear medical problem, usually some obvious signs or symptoms. But several of the most common STDs have no signs or symptoms in the majority of persons infected. Or they have mild signs and symptoms that can be easily overlooked. So the sexually transmitted virus or bacteria can be described as creating “infection,” which may or may not result in “disease.” This is true of chlamydia, gonorrhea, herpes, and human papillomavirus (HPV), to name a few.
For this reason, for some professionals and organizations the term “disease” is being replaced by “infection.” ASHA has used the term STD since 1988 and it appears in hundreds of published ASHA documents, including this site. Users of this site will continue to see it for some time. But in moving forward, you will also begin to see increased use of the term STI.
But there is not consensus in the medical and public health community, as H. Hunter Handsfield, MD, Professor Emeritus at Washington University Center for AIDS and STD notes in his essay for the journal Sexually Transmitted Diseases. While making arguments for both terms, Handsfield suggests, “Those who prefer either term should use it freely, with neither defensiveness nor pride in either one.” Read his thoughts and share your comments on STD Prevention Online.
Or is it time for a new term? Medical linguist Janet Byron Anderson, PhD, argues that we do and proposes “sexually transmissible infectious disease (STID).” You can read her take here.