STI vs STD: What’s the Difference Between Them?

Sexually transmitted infection (STI) and sexually transmitted disease (STD) are two terms that are often used interchangeably, primarily because they are very similar. However, there is a key difference between these two terms, and that is whether or not symptoms are present.

Despite the different names, both STIs and STDs are contagious, so it is important to take the necessary precautions to protect yourself and your sexual partners. Additionally, if you think you have an STI or STD, be sure to see a doctor for an STI/STD screening.   

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STI vs STD: How Are They Different?

All diseases and infections that are transmitted through sexual contact used to be identified as STDs, but the term STI has recently become more popular to improve the accuracy and stigma surrounding these conditions.

Mainly, the term STD was used so widely that people now have the wrong idea when they hear about a sexually transmitted condition since disease sounds much worse than infection. In fact, in most cases, STI is more accurate than STD, which is yet another reason why its use is growing in popularity.

Are STD and STI the Same Thing?

STD and STI are not the same thing, and their key difference lies in the difference between an infection and a disease.

An infection is the first step toward a disease, but it has not yet become the disease. Because of that, an infection does not present with any symptoms.

This is one of the reasons why health experts feel that the term STI is more accurate, since most of the common STIs, such as gonorrhea and chlamydia, are asymptomatic.

How Do They Differ?

STIs and STDs differ based on the presence of symptoms. If the condition is present with symptoms, it is an STD; otherwise, it is an STI.

All STDs start as STIs when the pathogen, such as the bacteria, virus, or parasite, enters the body and starts to multiply. When these pathogens begin to damage the cells, causing symptoms, the STI transitions to an STD.

While all STDs start as STIs, not all STIs become STDs. For many STIs, they clear up on their own without ever presenting symptoms. For some STIs, some cases of infection may progress to disease while others do not.

For example, HPV typically goes away on its own without causing any health problems. However, in some cases, the infection does not clear on its own and causes genital warts or certain cancers. In these cases, HPV is an STD.

How to Prevent STIs And STDs?

The good news about STIs and STDs is that they are preventable by taking the correct steps to protect yourself and your partner(s).

Practice Abstinence

The best way to avoid STIs is by abstaining from sex, which includes abstaining from oral, vaginal, or anal sex.

Use Condoms

Condoms are a form of barrier protection that can help to lessen the risk of STI transmission.

However, some STIs, such as herpes or HPV, can still be contracted just from contact with a partner’s skin, so it is still possible to contract an STI even when using a condom.

Still, using a condom correctly is a significant way to reduce the risk of infection.

Have Fewer Partners

Being in a monogamous relationship where you have sex with only one person who also only has sex with you is another way to help prevent STDs. It is crucial for both you and your partner to be tested for STDs before having sex, though, to ensure that neither of you has an infection before entering this relationship.

Get Vaccinated

There is a vaccine for HPV, which is the most common STD. By getting vaccinated, you can protect yourself from this infection and its possible disease symptoms, such as genital warts and cancer.

When to See a Doctor?

When you are sexually active, it is important to be aware of the signs of an STD so that you are able to notice them.

The most common symptoms include:

  • changes in the color, amount of, or smell of vaginal discharge
  • unusual vaginal bleeding or spotting after sex or between periods
  • sores, bumps, or rashes around the genitals, buttocks, anus, or thighs
  • penile discharge
  • painful or swollen testicles
  • painful or burning urination
  • pelvic pain
  • swollen and painful lymph nodes in the groin and neck
  • rectal bleeding
  • itching or tingling around the genitals

Additionally, it is recommended for anyone who is sexually active to undergo a yearly screening, but the following scenarios are a good rule of thumb to get tested for those who do not get a yearly screening:

  • having multiple sexual partners
  • having sex without a barrier method (e.g., condom)
  • being pregnant
  • having had or planning to have sex with a new partner
  • are worried about being exposed to an STI
  • sharing injection drug equipment

However, STIs have an incubation period, which is the time between when you contract the infection and when your body recognizes it and begins producing antibodies. Because of this incubation period, getting tested too soon may come back as a negative test, even if you have been infected.

If you think that you have been exposed to an STI, your doctor can help you determine when a good time to be tested is.

Get Help From an Online Doctor

If you think that you have been exposed to an STI, meeting with an online doctor is an easy and convenient way to gain more information. In just 15 minutes, you can meet with a doctor on DrHouse who can help you determine when you should be tested or what your treatment options look like.

Key Takeaways

STI and STD are two acronyms that are often used interchangeably, yet in most cases, STI is the appropriate term, with STD only being used for infections that have started to develop symptoms. Additionally, all STDs begin as STIs, whereas not all STIs develop into STDs.

When it comes to STIs and STDs, taking steps to prevent their transmission is important for having safe sex. If you think that you have contracted an STI, though, there is no need to worry as all STIs are treatable, and many are curable.

An online doctor is an excellent resource for those who think they have an STI to discuss when they should receive testing or, if they already have a positive diagnosis, what treatment options are available.


Content on the DrHouse website is written by our medical content team and reviewed by qualified MDs, PhDs, NPs, and PharmDs. We follow strict content creation guidelines to ensure accurate medical information. However, this content is for informational purposes only and not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. For more information read our medical disclaimer.

Always consult with your physician or other qualified health providers about medical concerns. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking it based on what you read on this website.

If you are experiencing high fever (>103F/39.4C), shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, chest pain, heart palpitations, abnormal bruising, abnormal bleeding, extreme fatigue, dizziness, new weakness or paralysis, difficulty with speech, confusion, extreme pain in any body part, or inability to remain hydrated or keep down fluids or feel you may have any other life-threatening condition, please go to the emergency department or call 911 immediately.



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