Sexually Transmitted Infections

The Terminology Debate

Doctor using a microscope to view bacteria
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Technically, diseases cause symptoms and affect the functioning of the body. That is why many experts believe that sexually transmitted diseases should be called sexually transmitted infections. After all, numerous sexually transmitted infections can remain asymptomatic for years. Some can have no symptoms for a lifetime. Therefore, referring to such conditions as sexually transmitted infections is more accurate.

Some people think that, without symptoms, the name "disease" can be misleading. 

However, not everyone agrees. Tare numerous educators and scientists who would argue that the general public is primarily familiar with the terminology of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Therefore, they'd argue that switching to the sexually transmitted infections (STIs) designation is more confusing than useful. One solution that some educators and scientists use is to alternately refer to sexually transmitted infections and sexually transmitted diseases. Such educators often use the combined abbreviation STD/STI.

Some people argue that the switch in terminology from sexually transmitted disease to sexually transmitted infection is important. They feel that it's not just more accurate. The believe it might be able to reduce the stigma associated with infection and transmission. However, my personal feeling is that if the term STD is more associated with stigma than the term STI, it's almost certainly because the people who would stigmatize infected individuals don't know what an STI is.

Reducing the stigma by making people think they're different things does not actually improve the situation.

The problems associated with reducing stigma by switching from the terminology of STDs to STIs is similar to another terminology issue. Sometimes people try to reduce the stigma of oral herpes by referring to the lesions the virus causes as "cold sores." Doing so does reduce the stress associated with infection.

However, many individuals with oral herpes still highly stigmatize genital herpes infections. They even do so while ignorantly putting their partners at risk of such infections by practicing unprotected oral sex.

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