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STI Basics

Updated: Feb 1

What is an STI?

STIs (sexually transmitted infections) are pathogens transmitted primarily through sexual contact. While it varies depending on the specific STI, this can include anal, vaginal, or oral sex.


You may notice that PRISM uses the term STI instead of the more commonly used term, STD. This isn’t just our preference: there are important reasons for this.

STI stands for sexually transmitted infection, while STD stands for sexually transmitted disease. One of the main differences between infections and diseases is that an infection is an actual pathogen (like a virus or bacteria) entering your body, whereas a disease disrupts your body’s normal functions (i.e., symptoms).

All STDs start as STIs.

If and when an infected person develops symptoms, it is considered an STD. For instance, HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is an STI. When left untreated, you can develop AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome), which is characterized by an extremely suppressed immune system.

Not all STIs show symptoms.

STIs that do show symptoms may take months or even years to do so. For example, part of why chlamydia is the most common STI in the United States is that it often doesn’t show symptoms.

The word “disease” is also stigmatizing.

PRISM is very deliberate about how we discuss STIs: they are preventable, easily treatable, and nothing to be ashamed of. Contrary to popular belief, fear does not aid in prevention; it just makes it harder for us to talk about safe sex.

Getting Tested

One of the most important parts of maintaining your sexual health is getting tested regularly.

If you've had unprotected sex (sex without using a condom, dental dam, or another barrier method), you could be at risk of contracting an STI. Some STIs don't cause symptoms right away (or at all), and some common symptoms of STDs (bumps around your genitals, vaginal/penile discharge, itching, or pain in your genitals) can have other causes completely unrelated to sexual encounters.


The most effective protection against STIs is abstinence.

Abstinence is the practice of not having sex. If you don't have sex, you limit your exposure to STIs. However, this isn't the best solution for many people.

If you plan on having sex, wear protection.

Condoms and dental dams are extremely effective in preventing STIs. If you're in an at-risk group for HIV, such as MSM (men who have sex with men), consider taking PrEP.



Sabour, J. (2022, February 25). The Difference Between STD and STI. Verywell Health. (2021, April 8). What are HIV and AIDS?

What is Chlamydia?: Causes of Chlamydia Infection. Planned Parenthood. (n.d.).

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021). Sexually Transmitted Disease Surveillance 2019. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Internal Condoms | Female Condoms. Planned Parenthood. (n.d.).


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