— Sex Talk

Is there a difference between an STD and an STI? We investigated, because we know you've been wondering

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When learning about your sexual health and safety, two phrases will often appear on your laptop screen: sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Often they’re used interchangeably, with no regard to one pervasive question: is there really a difference between an STD and an STI? Since April is STD Awareness Month, we decided there’s no better time than now to finally figure out the answer to this question — because we’ve all been wondering.

First of all, let’s get some definitions out of the way: an STD is a sexually transmitted disease and an STI is a sexually transmitted infection, and both can lead to serious medical problems and should be checked out immediately by your physician. But beyond that, are there any real differences? The answer is a little more complicated than a simple yes or no.

Here are five facts on whether there’s a difference between STDs and STIs.

1They’re basically the same

Both of the terms STD and STI are used to describe the same symptoms and diseases by a large part of the medical community. The reasoning is partly because of the negative connotations behind STD. An STI doesn’t sound quite as bad when you’re getting the news about your health malady.

Experts say that STI is a modern term that is gradually replacing STD. “The term STI reflects that fact that some people who get infected do not experience symptoms or even develop the disease. Most people who get infected by HPV do not develop cervical cancer. Thus infections is a more accurate term than disease,” Dr. Gil Weiss, Assistant Professor of Clinical Medicine at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and partner at Association for Women’s Health Care, told Bustle.

2There’s a small but significant difference

Here’s where things get a little more complicated: not all sexually transmitted infections turn into diseases. In fact, many people with an STI don’t even have symptoms; that’s why the term STD isn’t quite accurate in all cases. For example, a woman could carry HPV (human papillomavirus) for years without having a single symptom. They’re still infected, and capable of passing the virus onto others. That being said, most women will never see HPV become something more serious, like cancer.

To put it another way, if your HPV never shows symptoms, it’s an STI. If you begin to have noticeable symptoms, it becomes an STD. Either way, your first stop should be directly to your doctor before you decide on anything yourself.

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