What are STIs?

Expanded the “what are STIs” bit to make it clearer that there are infections which aren’t considered STIs that you can still get from sex, because language is weird that way. Other than that mostly cleaned up typos and grammar. Updated October 20, 2017
If I’m going to spend the next couple months discussing STIs, it seems like a good idea to start with what exactly they are, but first let’s take a look at terminology.

STD or STI?

STD stands for sexually transmitted disease. STI for sexually transmitted infection. STD is an old term, that many doctors no longer consider accurate. Basically, in medico-speak, a disease is something that causes symptoms which affect your health and well being. If you get hit with a virus, bacteria or fungus that doesn’t cause any symptoms, it’s an infection, not a disease. A lot of sexually transmitted stuff doesn’t cause symptoms, so many doctors now use STI instead.

Since this kind of change in medical terminology doesn’t make the headlines, non-medical websites, books and pamphlets that discuss sexually transmitted infections sometimes use STD, sometimes use STI and sometimes use both.

When I first write this blog series I used the slashy version ‘STD/STI’ on this blog, so that people who come into the series in the middle and might not have come across ‘STI’ would still know what I was talking about. Now that ‘STI’ has become more familiar, I’ll be changing the series to use just ‘STI’.

What Are STIs? And Why Do We Care?

STIs are pretty much just what the name says: infections that are transmitted sexually. Some viruses and bacteria really like the genitals. They are moist and warm and perfect breeding grounds for bacteria. They have mucus membranes, making them good places for viruses to invade cells.

And unlike the inside of the nose, other warm, moist mucusy areas come into contact with our genitals, making it possible for infections to jump from one person the another.

An infection whose primary means of moving from person to person is genital contact is caused an STI. That means there are many infections (mononucleosis, for instance) which you can get from sex but are not considered STIs, becuase usually people are infected some other way. And there are some STIs that have other means of jumping from person-to-person.

It is a basic fact: a person who never lets anyone else touch their genitals will probably not get an STI. Similarly, if people (of what ever number) who have no STIs are sexually exclusive for their entire lives, it is unlikely that any of them will ever get an STI.

Please note ‘probably’ and ‘unlikely’. As mentioned above, there are several STIs that can infect a person through other avenues. Blood borne STIs are the classic example of this.

It is, however, a reality of non-monogamy that having multiple sex partners makes STI infection easier. Thankfully, openly non-monogamous folks are pretty good at taking precautions against STIs.

Next week I’ll be taking a look at ways you can protect yourself and your partners against STD/STI infection.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *