An STI (sexually transmitted infection) is a bacteria, parasite, or virus that is transmitted through sexual fluid or close skin-to-skin contact. Penetration is not necessary to transmit or contract an STI.
STD vs. STI
STD (sexually transmitted disease) and STI (sexually transmitted infection) are often used interchangeably. WAVES prefers the term STI because infections are only classified as diseases when they cause symptoms. Many STIs do not produce symptoms; therefore, STI is a more inclusive term than STD.
STIs are transmitted through unprotected oral, anal and vaginal sex, as well as by contact with an infected body part such as an infected sore or ulcer on someone’s body. Unprotected sex means oral, anal or vaginal sex without using a barrier method such as a male/external condom, female/internal condom, or dental dam.
Many people infected with an STI do not produce symptoms. It is important to get tested, even if you do not recognize symptoms. When symptoms are present, they may include:
- Pain or burning when urinating
- Blisters or rashes on the genitals, anus, or mouth
- Discharge from the penis or vagina
- Ulcers or bumps on the genitals or anus
- Abdominal discomfort
- Pain during sexual intercourse
- Testicular pain
Getting Tested for STIs
STI testing may include a blood and/or urine sample. You may receive STI testing at health clinics such as Student Health Services, the local health department, Planned Parenthood, and/or a primary care physician.
STI Testing Process
You will most likely fill out confidential paperwork about your sexual history, to help identify risk level. To diagnose an STI, the healthcare provider may draw blood, test a urine sample, swab the penis, anus, vagina, or sore, or simply inspect the area. Education and treatment are usually included as well.
STI Cures and Treatment
STIs caused by bacteria and parasites can be treated with medication and are curable. STIs caused by viruses cannot be cured but symptoms can generally be managed and some go away over time.
If left untreated, STIs can cause a variety of serious health problems including pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), infertility, cancer, genital pain and complications, and organ or brain damage.
Having any type of STI can increase the risk of contracting an STI in the future, including HIV.
STIs are Preventable
STIs can be prevented by practicing safer sex, by abstaining from sex, using barriers such as latex or polyurethane condoms or dental dams, learning about your partner’s sexual history, and by avoiding contact with abnormal bumps, blisters, and ulcers.
It is important to get routinely tested once becoming sexually active, even if you don’t experience any symptoms.
It may feel uncomfortable or embarrassing to get tested, but remember it’s better to be aware of your status, as well as your partner’s status.