Why are they called STDs vs STIs?
While the terms can be used interchangeably, Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI) is often used instead of Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD). This is because STI is inclusive of both symptomatic and asymptomatic infections. Using the term STI also helps reduce stigma, especially since they are so common—more than half of all of us will get an STI at some point in our lives and 1 in 3 sexually active people under the age of 25 has an STI.
How can I protect myself from spreading or getting an STI?
Although anyone who is sexually active can get an STI, there are lots of ways to protect yourself and your partner(s):
- Use an internal or external condom or a dental dam, which are all available for free at the Well for Health Promotion!
- Get the HPV vaccine
- Consider medications like pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) or post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) which prevents HIV infection Get tested.
- Getting testing is the most effective way for sexually active individuals to remain STI-free.
How do I know if I have an STI?
The only way to know you have an STI is to get tested. The most common STI symptom is actually a lack of symptoms or mild symptoms that get disregarded for something else. This means that most people with STIs don’t even know they have one until they get tested. Not getting treatment can also lead to long term health effects such as infertility, urinary tract and liver problems, and cancers. No STI is harmless so it’s best to get tested and treated!
How soon can I be tested?
Some STIs can be treated within a few days, while others take weeks or even monthly to become detectable. A window period is the time it takes for STIs to become detectable by If you have been exposed to an STI and are tested while in the window period, your test result may not be as accurate. The window period is 10 days for the chlamydia and gonorrhea test, and 3 months for the HIV test. It is best to schedule an appointment when you are out of the window period, if possible. It's important to note that you can still transmit STIs to your partner while you are in the window period.
How often should I get tested?
This depends. If you are sexually active, you should aim to be tested at least once per year. If you engage with multiple partners, it’s a good idea to get tested more frequently, perhaps every 3-6 months. If you’ve had unprotected sex, have a new partner (or more than one partner), or for any reason are worried you have been exposed to an STI, talk to your healthcare provider about getting tested. The bottom line is that it is up to you and it depends on you and your lifestyle!
When is STI testing appropriate?
If you're sexually active, it’s important to get tested on a regular basis, especially if you have more than one partner
- If you've had unprotected sex, have a new partner, or for any reason are worried you have been exposed to an STI
- If you have symptoms such as rash, sores, bumps, itching, burning, pain, odor, discharge, and/or bleeding in your genital region
- If you had a recent experience of sexual assault/sexual violence**
- If any of the above apply to you, talk to your healthcare provider about getting tested.
- If you have no STI symptoms, learn about whether a GYT screening may be a good option.
What's the difference between treatable and curable?
All STIs are treatable and many STIs are curable. STIs can either be caused by viruses, bacteria, or parasites. Bacterial and parasitic STIs are treated by antibiotics and other medications and thus often curable. Viral STIs such as HIV, HPV, Herpes, and Hepatitis—the four Hs—generally have no cure, but many symptoms can be alleviated with treatment.
What should I do if I am showing symptoms?
Make an appointment with a provider at the student health center or with a provider in the community as soon as possible. They will help you get tested for STIs and get treatment.
How should I inform my partners?
Be honest. There is nothing shameful about having an STI. Let them know the facts and encourage them to also get tested and seek treatment. Decide how much information you feel comfortable sharing and set boundaries. For more ideas on how to comfortably and safely disclose your status, check here or here. You can also let your partner(s) know completely anonymously that they should get tested by sending them a text message!
- “Hey I need to talk to you about something important... I’ve been diagnosed with ____ and I’m getting treated. It’s probably a good idea for you to also get tested to see if you need treatment as well”
Can I get an STI from oral sex?
You sure can. Although oral sex is often considered “safer” than vaginal or anal sex, you can get STIs from both giving or receiving oral sex. Many STIs including chlamydia, gonorrhea, and herpes can be transmitted through oral sex. It is a good idea to use barrier methods like condoms (internal or external) or dental dams in order to prevent fluid transfer and reduce your risk of catching an STI.
How do I ask my partner about their status?
If you can, try to have the conversation before things start heating up. One strategy is to sandwich the conversation between positive things you feel about the relationship.
- “I really like you and value you our relationship. I was thinking that before we take things to the next level it might be a good idea to talk about our sexual health and the last time we got tested? I definitely don’t want to kill the mood, but I find you really attractive and really want to take this to the next level.”
- Try to avoid asking your partner(s) if they are clean as this assigns stigma to having an STI.
- Since STIs often are asymptomatic, it’s possible that your partner(s) may not even know that they have an STI. The only way to be sure of your and their status is to get tested! Until you and your(s) get tested together, its best to operate under the assumption that they have an STI and practice the safest sex possible, including barrier methods.
Can I get an STI more than once?
After getting treatment, your body does not build immunity to any bacterial or parasitic STI so you can get a STI multiple times. You can prevent reinfection by completing your entire treatment, having your partner(s) get tested and treated, and practicing safer sex.