Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI vs. STD)

STI versus STD - What you Need to Know

You may be more familiar with the term STD (Sexually transmitted disease). Today we're phasing that out in favor of STI (Sexually Transmitted Infection), an acronym that better characterizes many of the following diagnoses. In terms of medical jargon – not everyone with an infection develops a disease. STI better reflects these situations with the added benefit of avoiding the negative association STD has come to have. 

For a refresher:

Typically, STIs are transmitted by anal, vaginal or oral sex or by bodily contact. You’ll want to have an open and honest communication with new and recurring sexual partners about your risk level and safety. 

Proper condom usage & open communication reduce the likelihood of contracting an STI.

Common STI’s

Gonorrhea

Gonorrhea is a bacterial infection that typically spreads through anal, vaginal, or oral sex. Many people with Gonorrhea don’t show any symptoms.  It’s important to be tested regularly if you are engaging in sexual activity with multiple partners. Untreated it can lead to sterility, painful pelvic issues and potentially can be life threatening if the infection spreads to your joints/blood. 

Chlamydia 

Chlamydia is another bacterial infection that typically spreads through anal, vaginal or oral sex. Similar to Gonorrhea, most people with Chlamydia don’t show any symptoms.  It’s important to be tested regularly if you are engaging in sexual activity with new or multiple partners. Untreated Chlamydia can lead to difficulty getting pregnant and ectopic pregnancies which can be fatal.  If you or one of your partners has been diagnosed with Chlamydia make sure to follow up in three months. Reinfection rates are high. 

Herpes

Herpes is a virus that stays with you forever and once you have it you can infect others. There is no cure. There are two types of the virus:

Oral Herpes is the cold sore variety commonly found around your mouth.  An estimated half of the US population carry oral herpes resulting from non-sexual contact during childhood.  According to the CDC, you can spread oral herpes to the genitals.
Genital Herpes is more common to the genitals with an estimated 1 in 6 adults infected. Herpes can be transmitted during sex and during skin-to-skin contact so a condom only reduces the risk. People can carry the disease and not present for it.

Syphilis

Syphilis is a bacterial infection that left untreated can lead to significant health problems even if you don’t show symptoms. The infection has four stages each with different symptoms.  Initial infection may present with sore/(s) at the infection site ( typically around the genitals, anus, rectum or mouth). The initial sores are usually firm, round and painless.  The next stage you may experience a skin rash, swollen lymph nodes or fever.  From there the infection can continue to do damage and may result in the final stage presenting as severe medical problems that may affect the heart, brain or other organs. 

HPV

HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection. Nearly every person who is sexually active will contract a version of the infection. The good news is you can be vaccinated against a few of the strains of the infection.  Typically, the infection clears itself.  Some strains of the infection can result in genital warts and cancers.  Warts can be treated by your health care practitioner. Cancer may take years to present.  Condoms used correctly reduce the risk of infection.   

Common symptoms of STIs

If you are experiencing anything unusual it’s important to be checked out, even if the sensations resemble a bladder or vaginal (for women) infection. If you have no symptoms and are sexually active, discuss periodic testing to stay safe.

If you experience:

A burning or painful sensation when urinating;

A white, yellow, or green discharge from the penis; increased vaginal discharge/bleeding between periods

Painful or swollen testicles (although this is less common)

Unusual rectal Discharge;

Anal itching; Soreness or Bleeding;

Painful bowel movements.

Treatment

You should be examined by your doctor if you notice any of these symptoms or if your partner has an STD or symptoms of an STD, such as an unusual sore, a smelly discharge, burning when urinating, or bleeding between periods.  You’ll want to abstain from sex until you’ve been tested and treated if need be.  Wait until at least a week after you’ve finished all your medication before getting frisky again. Your partner(s) will thank you.

Many STIs including Gonorrhea, Chlamydia, Syphilis and Herpes can also be transmitted to your baby if you are pregnant. Check with your doctor!