You may hear the terms “STI” and “STD” used interchangeably – STI stands for sexually transmitted infection and STD stands for sexually transmitted disease. STI is a newer terminology which recognizes that not all sexually transmitted infections cause symptoms of disease, but really these two terms mean the same thing. While talking about sex and sexually transmitted infections might feel awkward, it’s important to have these conversations with both your doctor and your partner(s) in order to keep you safe and healthy.
Here are some things to know about sexually transmitted infections:
- There are 20 million new cases of STIs in the US every year! Rates are continuing to climb for many STIs, so it’s important to understand that the majority of these cases are preventable and/or treatable. Some of them won’t have any symptoms, but can still have long-term effects on your health if not treated.
- The only way to make absolutely sure you don’t get an STI is not to have sex – but there are other things you can do to reduce your risk! Using condoms consistently lessens your risk of all STIs. However, it’s important to know that you can still get certain infections like herpes or HPV (human papillomavirus) even if you use a condom correctly, even if you use one every time. That’s because some infections can be transmitted through contact of skin that isn’t covered by a condom.
- Some STIs are vaccine-preventable! The most common STI is HPV, and we have a vaccine that protects you against the riskiest strains. This is great news, because these high-risk strains of HPV are more likely to cause cancer, like cervical cancer in women and throat cancer in men. The vaccine is now routine for all adolescents, but for women and some men, catch-up vaccination up to age 26 is available as well.
- Always talk with new partners about STI history, risk and plans for safe sex. Although this might feel awkward at first, it’s a critical step in preventing infection and keeping yourself healthy. A new partner should always be willing to have that conversation with you, and will usually admit he or she is glad you brought it up! If you have a history of an STI, be honest with any new sexual partners as well.
- Get tested! At your yearly check-up, or any time you are at risk of an STI (new partner, unprotected sex, or your partner discloses that they have or have had an STI), your doctor can discuss testing options with you. If you test positive for some STIs, like gonorrhea and chlamydia, you may be able to get treatment for your partner also without them making a separate appointment - this is known as "expedited partner therapy" and it helps make sure that you and your partner both get treated quickly and don't pass the infection back and forth.
For more information about STI prevention and treatment, visit the CDC’s website and talk with your primary care provider.