Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs)

What’s the difference between STIs and STDs?

 Sexually transmitted infections (also known as STIs, or STDs for ‘sexually transmitted diseases,’ or VD for ‘venereal diseases’) are infections that are commonly/have a high probability of being spread from person to person through sexual contact.The term STI is broader and more encompassing because some infections are curable and may not cause any symptoms. If the infection results in altering the typical function of the body, it is then called a disease. So that’s why you may hear people say STIs – it’s technically more accurate and also reminds people that there are often no symptoms so it’s important to get tested.

What counts as “sexual contact?”

We are almost certain that if we were to interview students on campus, every person would have a slightly different definition of what they considered “sex” or “sexual contact” and that’s OK! But here in the Health Center we want to be clear that when it comes to STIs, we define sexual contact as “any sexual behavior in which an infection can be passed.” Yes, this includes oral, anal, and vaginal sex as well as the use of sexual toys, such as vibrators. For some STIs like Herpes, Syphilis, and HPV – no penetration needs to occur or fluid needs to be exchanged in order for the infection to be passed because these infections are transmitted through skin-to-skin contact, not fluid.

So go ahead and keep your own definitions for “sex” but keep in mind that your definition may be excluding some behaviors that still pose a risk for infection and have specific ways that they can be made safer.

What’s the most common symptom of an STI?

Not having any symptoms! Our bodies are so incredible that our immune system tries to protect us from feeling uncomfortable symptoms. Most of the time, this is a good thing! When it comes to STIs, it could be working against us. If we don’t have symptoms and aren’t routinely getting tested, we won’t know our status. If we have an infection and don’t know our status we could unknowingly be passing it onto other partners and/or the infection could be doing some significant harm to our bodies. Some of the best tools for prevention and early detection are communicating with partners about their STI status, routine testing, and safer sex practices that work for our lives.

Please see the links below for some more specific information, blogs, statistics, and pictures of particular STIs.

 When should I get tested?

If you are “sexually active” (keep in mind our Health Center definition of “any sexual contact in which an infection could be passed, including oral, anal, vaginal sex as well as skin-to-skin contact and the sharing of sex toys”) it is recommended to get tested every six months or in-between sexual partners –whichever comes first. Some people feel the need to be tested on a more frequent basis due to multiple sex partners, minimal condom use, unknown STI status of recent partners, or general concern with their potential risk. Although regular testing will help early STI diagnosis, our Sexual Health Coordinator would be happy to speak with about your concerns and help develop a personalized risk reduction. This plan can help maximize what you are looking for out of your sexual experiences and minimize the anxiety or worry about infection. If you have questions about testing or want to speak with our Sexual Health Coordinator, please contact Jenna Beckwith at jbeckwith@health.umd.edu or 301-314-8130.

How can I get more information?

Our goal is not to re-invent the wheel but, rather, to invite you to explore the many wonderful resources already in existence. Please explore this section for more information on both STIs as well as HIV. If you don’t see what you specifically looking for, feel free to contact the Sexual Health Program Coordinator, Jenna Beckwith at jbeckwith@health.umd.edu or 301-314-8130.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has a very comprehensive and current website that explains the signs & symptoms, transmission, prevention, and treatment information for all Sexually Transmitted Infections. Additionally, this website has helpful statistical and surveillance reports for those interested in this data, as well as up to date information about related programs and services. Visit the CDC website.

Other STI resources that may be helpful: 

American Social Health Association 

Comprehensive STI signs, symptoms, and testing information

HIV/AIDS in Maryland

HIV/STI information from Planned Parenthood

Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS)

Statistical information on HIV/AIDS and STIs for all 50 states and Washington, D.C.

The STD Project: Comprehensive list and blog about all STIs