Meeting People Where They Are At

For many, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) is a term that is important to use instead of  sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). The idea of an infection is much less scary than that of a disease, and considering how many STIs do not necessarily turn into a disease, many feel that this term is more accurate. There have been numerous times throughout this year where I have met with community members and those in academia to discuss the services offered at Allegheny County Health Department’s STD/HIV Program, and I have been corrected and told that I should be using the term “STI” instead.

The main push behind switching from STD to STI is to help eliminate some of the stigma surrounding STDs. Though I completely understand and agree with the need to eliminate this stigma, I do not know that this is always the best way to approach the situation. It is important to consider your audience when deciding what term to use. Many have never heard the term STI, and might be confused about what you are referencing. For others, hearing the term STD could be overwhelming and cause a lot more anxiety and despair when receiving a diagnosis.

It seems to me as if there is no clear answer as to which term is better to use, especially considering that the two terms are not truly synonymous. Not all STIs are STDs, but all STDs started from STIs. I am sure that those in academia have the best of intentions in regard to eliminating stigma surrounding STDs. However, especially when doing community health education, it is important to realize how little is known about STDs in general, let alone the ability to distinguish between the terms STD and STI. It is important to consider how, regardless what term you use, it does not change the outcome of a patient’s experience. Whether you say STI or STD, encouraging routine testing and treatment is more important than semantics. It is vital to meet people where they are at, and in my case, that means using the term STD, as it is more accessible to the majority of the population.

This post was written by NPHC member Gigi DeWeese.

Gigi serves at the Allegheny County Health Department as an Outreach Coordinator in the Sexually Transmitted Diseases & HIV/AIDS Program