Battle of the Acronyms: STD vs. STI

A Doodle competes in "Wheel of Fortune", considering their next move. The board reads "ST_"

Today we’re tackling a common question: when writing about sexual health, is it best to use “STD” (sexually transmitted disease) or “STI” (sexually transmitted infection)? Sexual health is one of those sensitive topics that health communicators often encounter, so it’s especially important for us to choose our words carefully when discussing it.

“STI” has gained traction in the medical community because it’s more technically correct. By definition, a disease has a set of symptoms, but many STDs/STIs can exist with or without symptoms. That makes “STI” the clear winner, right?

Not so fast, dear readers. It doesn’t matter how medically accurate a word or phrase is if it leaves your readers scratching their heads. Since “STD” is still a much more familiar term, make it your go-to acronym when you’re writing for a general audience.

Instead of bogging your readers down with a technical term that they don’t really need to understand, get right to what matters:

  • Do I need to get tested?
  • What symptoms do I need to watch for?
  • How can I protect myself and my partners?

The bottom line: Stick with terms people know — for now, that’s “STD.”