Your kid comes home from school talking about STIs. Let’s assume they were discussed in sex ed class (as opposed to being mentioned for more concerning reasons). You know what an STD is, and you can infer that the “I” means “infection,” but why the change? What’s the difference between STI and STD?
Though used interchangeably, there is an actual difference between a sexually transmitted infection and a sexually transmitted disease. (And, no, “infection” is not being used to remove the stigma associated with the term; it’s NOT a politically-correct version of the same thing.)
As the American Sexual Health Association explains, disease “suggests a clear medical problem, usually some obvious signs or symptoms.” A person who doesn’t show symptoms but has contracted an infection — like chlamydia, gonorrhea, or the human papillomavirus (HPV) — would use the term STI rather than STD.
Confusing? STDCheck.com offered this example:
Take HPV (human papillomavirus) for instance: Typically a woman with HPV does not have any symptoms, but she carries the virus. She has an STI; but if she develops cervical cancer from HPV, she now has an STD since cancer is a disease. The same is true for individuals who have chlamydia or gonorrhea infections that develop into pelvic inflammatory disease (PID).
Some More Facts
In case you forgot, STIs are passed from one person to another through skin-to-skin contact or the exchange of bodily fluids. This can include sexual activity like vaginal, oral, and anal sex, or even just a heavy makeout session. STIs are extremely common — the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates 20 million new infections occur every year in the United States.
Needless to say, if your child has an STI or STD, you can’t ignore it. Get to a doctor and seek help right away.