STDs vs. STIs: is there a difference?

Medically reviewed by Neka Miller, PhD on February 15, 2021. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.


When learning more about sexually transmitted diseases, or STDs, you may have also come across the term “sexually transmitted infections” (STIs). No doubt about it: the different terminology can be confusing, and might make you wonder if there’s a difference between STDs and STIs. Here, we’ll take a look at “STDs” and “STIs” and explore if there’s a difference in what they mean—so read on.


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STDs and STIs: What’s the difference?

STD stands for “sexually transmitted disease,” while STI stands for “sexually transmitted infection.” Most health professionals and organizations use the two terms interchangeably. So in short, there generally isn’t a difference between STDs and STIs, and the two terms can usually be considered synonymous.

Why the change in language?

For years, “sexually transmitted disease” or “STD” was the only real term for referring to diseases spread via sexual activity with a sex partner, so why did health professionals make the switch? One important reason why some medical professionals today prefer the term “sexually transmitted infection” (STI) is because it’s thought that this term reduces the stigma associated with these kinds of infections. For many people, having a sexually transmitted “disease” may come with feelings of shame, while having an “infection” may feel more neutral and thus be less stigmatizing. A term that’s more stigmatizing and triggers feelings of shame in a person could discourage them from getting tested, seeking proper treatment, and having open conversations around STDs/STIs with their healthcare providers and sex partners.

Related: Are any STDs not curable?

Preventing STDs/STIs

The main way of preventing STDs is to practice safe sex, whether that’s vaginal or anal intercourse or oral sex. This primarily means using a condom, dental dam, or other forms of protection every time you engage in sexual activity with someone else, but it can also include communicating with your partner before, during, and after you have sex.

Along with using protection, getting tested for STDs regularly is an effective, proactive step towards keeping your sexual health safe. STD testing can be convenient and easy: our at-home STD Test for women and STD Test for men lets you check for 6 sexually transmitted infections from the convenience of home. If positive results are detected, you’ll have the option to connect with our independent physician network (at no extra cost) to talk through your results and potentially receive a prescription for medication, if appropriate.

References

1. Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Mayo Clinic. URL. Accessed February 15, 2021.

2. Lederer AM, Laing EE. What's in a Name? Perceptions of the Terms Sexually Transmitted Disease and Sexually Transmitted Infection Among Late Adolescents. Sex Transm Dis. 2017 Nov;44(11):707-711.

3. The One Difference Between STIs and STDs — and How to Minimize Your Risk. Healthline. URL. Accessed February 15, 2021.

4. Human Papillomavirus (HPV). Planned Parenthood. URL. Accessed February 15, 2021.

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