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STDs vs. STIs: Is There a Difference?

A list of the newest words added to the dictionary comes out each year. The words can come from a wide range of places including abbreviations like “adorbs” references to pop culture like “bingeable” when talking about TV shows, and slang words like “hangry” if you’re pissed off because you’re hungry.

When the list comes out people usually aren’t satisfied. Some complain that certain additions aren’t actually words. Others will swear up and down that a particular word should have been added to the dictionary years ago. This same debate revolves around STIs and STDs too.

STD and STI: A Brief History

Condoms are a very solid option when it comes to avoiding an STD.

Back in the past, the common phrase used for STD was venereal disease or VD for short. This phrase was in use for hundreds of years, but it has recently been updated, like so many other things. It made sense to use the word venereal because it means “arising from or connected to sexual intercourse.”

During the tail end of the 1970s, the medical world began using the acronym STD as it reached the height of popularity. Mostly people felt using VD was more restrictive than necessary because it only focused on intercourse related infections like syphilis and gonorrhea and it ignored other sexual activities.

As far as the meaning of STD is concerned, it was more inclusive and added diseases that could be transmitted without intercourse including hepatitis C and HPV, as well as the diseases transmitted through intercourse. But the government and education centers failed to use the phrase STD until the mid-1980s or even later.And the phrase VD stayed in regular use until the 1990s before it completely fell out of favor.

Sexually transmitted infection, otherwise known as STI, has come into favor over the last few years. And just like the reason STD started being used over VD, STI is being used by some in place of STD now because people can have an infection without ever actually showing symptoms or signs of disease. And lastly, not every STI will become a full blown STD.

The Difference between Disease vs. Infection

Before ever reaching the disease stage, every STD begins as an STI, which is an infection. As an infection, it will present certain signs and symptoms. It’s also good to know that it’s possible to spread the infection even if it hasn’t become a full blown disease. So an STI doesn’t need to reach STD stage before it can be spread.

For this reason alone, STIs have reached a major level of prominence. More often than not, a person probably won’t even know if they are a carrier of an infection. At that stage, there might not be any symptoms or other signs to clue the person in, which is difficult because they will pass the infection along to others without even knowing it. Since every immune system reacts differently, a person with zero symptoms can transmit the infection to someone else who eventually ends up showing symptoms and signs.

At the end of the day, even though your sexual partner has no visible symptoms, it doesn’t mean you will remain symptom free too. Do you understand?

Which One is the Correct Term?

Out of the two, a sexually transmitted infection (STI) is by far the more accurate term. Medical professionals along with the rest of the world should technically refrain from using STD unless visible signs and symptoms have appeared in a patient.

As an example, let’s say you contract the herpes infection and begin having outbreaks. At this stage, your STI graduates and becomes an STD. On the other hand, if you have the herpes virus and zero signs or symptoms, you remain in the STI stage even though you technically have herpes and can transmit it to your partners in both stages.

As you can tell, this can certainly get a little tricky to say the least.

Most public health organization and educational institutions recognize the nuance and aren’t too picky about the way STI and STD are used. The wide majority of organizations have updated their literature to STI but some still use them interchangeably.

Some examples include: the CDC and Positive Singles still use STD and the World Health Organization (WHO) uses STI. The STD Project and the American Sexual Health Association use the phrases interchangeably.

Just like VD, neither of these terms is accurate in their entirety. Some people believe that switching to STI is more inclusive and has a lesser stigma. Because when you think about it, it’s much less frightening to have an infection as opposed to a full blown disease.

At the time of this writing, the general public uses the acronym STD still over STI. And that’s the reason why the big health companies and organizations continue to use the outdated STD or they use both in an effort to avoid unnecessary confusion. Plus, they want the average person to know and understand that they have access to certain related resources.

Which is the Best Term to Use?

Right now, the term STD is much more ingrained in the lexicon. So it’s probably best to stick with using it over STI for now even though it isn’t completely accurate. You never know how things can change over the next few years or decades. It may not take too long for the correct terminology to hit the mainstream. Or if you prefer, you can feel free to use STD or STI interchangeably. We’ll leave it to your discretion.

According to information shared by the United Nations, it’s more than okay to use STD and STI interchangeably whether talking about an infection or a disease, even though STD stands for diseases and STI stands for infections.

Progress definitely takes time and changes do not seem to happen immediately overnight. But people change and so does their vocabulary. Before long, you’ll regularly hear people using STD and STI correctly and it will seem like normal. Just give it enough time to reach this stage and all will seem right with the world. For now, we’ll leave the decision in your capable hands.


Calvin Riddle created Casual Sex Calvin as a way to entertain like-minded individuals on sex topics and solve many of life's problems people are too shy to talk about. When he's not working his 9-5 importing fine wines, he enjoys watching sports and will never turn down a good debate.