Someone asked us:
What is the difference between an STD and an STI?
STD and STI are two terms that often mean the same thing — but the “D” stands for “disease,” while the “I” stands for “infection.”. Medically, infections are only called diseases when they cause symptoms, and many STIs don’t have any symptoms. 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.
But many people are more familiar with the terms “STD” and “sexually transmitted disease.” So it’s really common to hear people use these terms even when there are no signs of disease. And that’s why we tend to use STDs when we’re talking about them.
Learn more about STI/Ds.
- Alex at Planned Parenthood
A lot of people ask me, “When should I start getting tested and how often should I get tested?” I recommend getting tested before every new sexual encounter, including your first one. The reason for this is that many STIs can be passed through non sexual means (Herpes, HPV, HIV, Hepatitis and pubic lice are the main ones) and some may be asymptomatic. Also this just gets you in the habit of going and getting tested. I recommend getting tested with your partner. It can be a bonding experience! And that way it can be less awkward. The conversation is less, “So… been tested recently?” and more, “let’s go get tested together.” Most free clinics and planned parenthoods will offer more inexpensive STI tests. There may also be free testing facilities in your area. Use an internet search to find out. Now, always ask what they’re testing for. A simple STI test probably won’t test for herpes or HPV. Chlamydia and Gonorrhea are tested for using a urine sample. They also may show up on a pap smear. HIV, syphilis and hepatitis are tested for using a blood test. HPV and Herpes usually only show up during an examination like a pap smear. Herpes can be tested with a blood test but it’s very unreliable. It’s important to get tested for Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, HIV, Syphilis, Herpes and Hepatitis at least once a year. With HPV it’s important to have a pap smear every other year, unless the exam comes back with abnormal cells at which point you need to get a pap smear every year until the pap comes back with no abnormal cells. So, so far we have that you need to get at least a basic STI test in between every partner and a full one at least once a year. You might be thinking, “well if I’m in a monogamous relationship do I really need to get a test once a year?” Yes. Especially in the cases of HPV and Herpes it’s incredibly difficult to test for and it can take years for you to have an outbreak or abnormal cells show up on your pap smear. Plus, as stated before some STIs are passed through non sexual means. Especially if you travel internationally or use needles you need to get tested yearly as both put you at risk. It’s also important to do your research and know the symptoms of different STIs so you can get tested at the first sign of a possible outbreak. If you haven’t seen it yet, I’d encourage you to read my post on Safer Sex so that you know how to reduce your risk of STIs.
Now, the scariest part of getting tested is the “what if” factor. “What if it comes back positive?” this is especially scary if you have symptoms. The main thing is to keep breathing and don’t obsess about it. Getting tested with someone can help because you have them going through the same thing. Talking to someone about it can help. Distracting yourself by doing things you enjoy can help. Just try not to spiral into the “what ifs”. Just wait till they tell you the results. It can be nerve wracking. I called my planned parenthood several times whenever I was waiting. It’s okay to do that. Now let’s talk about getting the call that tells you that you tested positive.
Whenever I got herpes I knew immediately that’s what it was, getting tested was just a formality. I was so scared. The biggest fear I had was telling my partner. Really, how you deal with the fear is up to you. What you need to focus on at this point is you. Let yourself feel what you’re going to feel. If you need space that’s okay. You do need to tell any partners you’ve had though. Especially if you don’t know when you got it, you need to tell past partners too. If you need to do it in an email or card that’s okay. If you can’t handle having a conversation that’s okay. I felt so guilty, because I didn’t feel like I could talk to my partner so I just sent him a facebook message. I felt like the worst person but you have to do what’s best for you. I needed to come to terms with the fact that I had herpes. The main thing is to rip the bandaid off, don’t sit there wondering how you’re going to phrase things, just be blunt and get it done.
Now everyone has different coping methods. If talking to someone helps, talk to a close friend or family member or partner. If writing helps, write about how you’re feeling. It’s probably not the best thing to go online and research your STI. I got a whole bunch of misinformation and statistics that didn’t help at all. Especially getting HSV-1 genitally people were saying things like, “Oh it’s so rare!”, “even if you do happen to get it you’ll never get another outbreak… unless you have a bad immune system.” Which of course I have a bad immune system. Learning how rare my STI was did not help at all. Know that you’re not a bad person. There’s this huge stigma attached to STIs that it makes you dirty and unclean. That’s not true. Don’t let anyone trick you into thinking that that’s true. You are an amazing person, having sex and happening to get an STI doesn’t change that any more than driving and happening to get into a car accident does. I know it can be difficult to believe that but you have to keep reminding yourself of that fact. Stop those automatic thoughts that get down on you and replace them with thoughts about how good and beautiful and worthy of love you are.
Now during this time if you have a bacterial or parasite infection it’s pretty easy to treat. With bacterial infection all you need is a round of antibiotics. Depending on the parasite it may be more involved but the doctor will tell you what to do. Usually they’ll also give you a treatment for your partner. For those of us who didn’t get a curable STI it may be best to rage and have a good cry and tell our partners first before we talk to the doctor. I don’t know about you, but I can’t really concentrate on the barrage of information while I’m dealing with being told I’ll have to deal with this illness for the rest of my life. Once you do feel a little back to normal it is a good idea to talk with your doctor and discuss your options.
Who you tell is up to you. You don’t have to tell anyone you’re not going to have sex with about this. I’m a very open person and I told my immediate family as well as my friends about it. Partially because I was scared and needed someone to talk to. You don’t have to do that if you don’t feel safe though, but I do encourage you to examine that. I had a mostly positive response but I did have one person who would use my STI against me. We quickly stopped being friends after that. You deserve to be surrounded by people who will love and support you. This can be more difficult if it’s a family member. Been through that too. Again, this depends on your comfort level but I just got to the point where if anyone STI shames in my presence I glare them down and tell them off. Some people need to be educated on how easy it is to get an STI, and how you can’t use that as an excuse to get down on anyone.
Dating with an STI can be hard. Especially if dating is already difficult for you, it’s just one more thing you have to worry about. Definitely talk about it before getting intimate. I like to talk about it early in the relationship. I think it’s important to talk about sexual history and boundaries early on so if you realize you aren’t compatible you haven’t gotten too attached. If someone doesn’t want to be intimate because of that risk that’s okay. If they alienate or bully you because of that, that’s not okay and you need to remind yourself that that’s THEIR problem. You deserve someone who will love you, all of you. You will find people who think that the risk is worth it. There are also dating sites for STI positive people.
Having a good support group helps. There may be groups in your area that you can look into and there are many groups online:
http://inspot.org/ (helpful site dedicated to finding testing sites and helping you tell partners)
http://www.pozmatch.com/ dating website of HIV+
(search STD positive dating sites for more)
http://www.nytimes.com/ref/health/healthguide/esn-herpes-ess.html (on coming to terms with herpes stigma)
http://www.rhrealitycheck.org/blog/2011/04/25/unpacking-full-stigma (Heather Corinna, the creator of Scarleteen, talks about herpes stigma)
http://blogs.webmd.com/genital-herpes-intimate-conversations/2007/09/herpes-stigma.html (webMD article on herpes stigma)
http://www.ashastd.org/ (America social health association on STIs)
http://thesexuneducated.tumblr.com/ (check out pages for specific things about herpes)
Cold sores ARE oral herpes. Most commonly, whenever someone is a child they can get herpes from a family member who gets cold sores kissing them. A LOT of people don’t know that cold sores/fever blisters are herpes and can be spread to the genitals. I’ll see posts on tumblr where people will say things like “got another cold sore, don’t worry it’s not herpes!” or “don’t worry guys cold sores aren’t THAT kind of herpes!” and all I can imagine is how awful it’s going to be when they give their partner genital herpes because they didn’t know that cold sores are herpes. That’s why using protection during oral sex is so important and the fact that many people don’t use protection during oral sex is so devastating!
make sure it is a cold sore, they are commonly confused with canker sores, which are not herpes.