STD Awareness: STI vs. STD … What’s the Difference?

When it comes to sexually transmitted diseases, the terminology can be confusing. Some people use the phrase “STD,” some people insist “STI” is the proper set of initials, and every once in a while you might catch someone using the term “VD.” Over the years, the parlance has changed. What’s the deal?

VD: Venereal Disease

Blaming women for STDs (aka VD) is an age-old tradition.

“Venereal disease” has been in use since at least the 1600s (the Oxford English Dictionary cites a 1667 publication referring to a “a lusty robust Souldier dangerously infected with the Venereal Disease”). Around a century ago, Americans flirted with heavily euphemistic expressions, such as “social diseases,” but mostly, “venereal disease” was the terminology of choice for the better part of four centuries — slightly less euphemistic, as “venereal” was derived from Venus, the Roman goddess of love, sex, and fertility. Additionally, since at least the 1920s it was frequently shortened to “VD.” Those of us of a certain age might still remember hushed talk of VD among our grandparents, parents, or peers.

Around the 1930s, public health experts started wondering if referring to VD as a separate category of disease stigmatized these infections and those who carried them, dampening motivation to fight them with the same fervor with which the community battled other infectious diseases like influenza, smallpox, and scarlet fever. In 1936, Nels A. Nelson proposed replacing “venereal disease” with “genito-infectious diseases,” but that never caught on — you haven’t heard of GIDs, right? Continue reading

Pro-Choice Friday News Rundown

  • For the last month and a half, the cruel degenerates of the Trump Administration have tried to block Jane Doe, a pregnant, undocumented 17-year-old, from obtaining an abortion. This has honestly been such a heartbreaking story to follow. A little background on her story: Jane (from Central America) attempted to cross the U.S. border into Texas by herself. Before she left, according to reports, she allegedly watched her parents beat her older sister after learning she was pregnant, hitting her with cables and firewood until she miscarried. After being apprehended by immigration officials and taken to a refugee shelter, Jane Doe learned she, too, was pregnant. Unfortunately, because she’s a minor without parental consent, she needed to petition a judge in order to terminate her pregnancy. With the help of an attorney, she obtained permission from the judge but was then refused transport to the medical facility by the Office of Refugee Resettlement — now run by a controlling, anti-choice zealot installed by the Trump Administration. For the last seven weeks, she has been at the mercy of these cretins, with her pregnancy advancing against her will. After myriad legal steps, she was finally granted an abortion on Wednesday morning. In summing up this story, I must highlight the words of the author of this piece: “It’s sickening that a helpless teenager, who traveled unknown miles seeking safety, has been denied medical treatment because the U.S. government sees her fetus — and not her — as ‘a child in our care’ deserving of full legal protection.” Sickening indeed. (Broadly)
  • Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) let Scott Lloyd (the current director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement) have it on the matter of Jane Doe. Get ’em Pramila! (The Opposition)
  • Speaking of Scott Lloyd, this utter asshat has suggested in multiple opinion articles that women receiving contraception through federal funding should have to sign a “pledge” promising not to have an abortion and that the Supreme Court’s rulings on abortion infringe on men’s “right to procreation.” Is this punk serious?? (Buzzfeed)
  • Vice interviewed Jane Doe about her ordeal and what it’s been like to have her body be at the mercy of the U.S. government. (Vice)
  • Jane Doe also wrote a powerful open letter that I think should be required reading for everyone. I hope with every fiber of my being that this brave girl will have a bright future. (Jane’s Due Process)
  • This list of the “most sexually diseased states in the U.S.” puts Arizona at No. 19. Obviously it’s not great to be in the Top 20 but at least we’re not No. 1. That distinction goes to Alaska! (Backgroundcheck.org)
  • I have to be honest about how personally devastating it is to type this sentence: “Never in its history has the nation’s family planning safety net been in such jeopardy as it is today.” (American Journal of Public Health)
  • And to compound upon that, please be aware that the GOP is now looking to potentially ban abortion at 6 weeks — which is well before many women even KNOW they’re pregnant. Ugghhhh! (Refinery 29)
  • Speaking of the GOP, ever wonder when they’ll just cop to the fact that they just plain don’t think women should be sexually active? (Marie Claire)
  • I’ve talked about maternal mortality quite a bit in these rundowns over the years, but this even surprised me — “Data collection on maternal deaths is so flawed and under-funded that the federal government no longer even publishes an official death rate.” (ProPublica)
  • I’m not sure if we have any readers in Massachusetts but if so — beware of the fake clinic trying to trick you into believing they provide abortions. It’s a cruel trick and they must be stopped. (Rewire)

Pro-Choice Friday News Rundown

  • Earlier this week, the tools in Congress voted to ban abortion at 20 weeks. They totally, ignorantly ignored the fact that many fetal anomalies cannot be discovered until past that period in a woman’s gestation. Alexis Miller, who was overjoyed to be pregnant, is one of those women and her story of needing a late abortion is powerful. (Time)
  • More Congressional tomfoolery to report on this subject. These morons justified their vote to criminalize abortion after 20 weeks by using the awful mass shooting that took place a few days ago in Las Vegas to illustrate how much they value life and “have” to protect it. Really? How about passing some restrictions on guns, then? How many 5-, 6-, and 7-year-old children died in Sandy Hook? Why do these lawmakers value an unborn fetus the size of a kidney bean more than they do living, breathing human beings??? (Think Progress)
  • Studies indicate that black women have fewer sexual partners and are more likely to use condoms than white women from similar economic backgrounds. And they are not members of the highest-risk demographic: gay and bisexual men. So why are black women in Philadelphia at a higher risk of contracting HIV than their white counterparts? (Philly.com)
  • One thing I never hear anti-abortion folk (who cling to the term “pro-life”) cry over? The fact that the U.S. infant mortality rate among black babies is more than twice as high as it is for white babies. How can you be “pro-life” and never put your advocacy efforts toward helping born children survive? It’s baffling, isn’t it? Luckily, some people DO care, and many cities are turning to doulas to help these babies survive. (WaPo)
  • Anyway, while the folks in the House were passing an abortion ban because they care so much about babies, children, and “life” … they let the Children’s Health Insurance Plan expire, potentially leaving millions of poor children without any health insurance. I guess it’s OK if already-born children suffer and die since technically they’re out of the womb? (HuffPo)
  • Republican hypocrite Tim Murphy, who is SO pro-life he’s never fostered or adopted any children in need, is resigning from Congress after the news that he urged his mistress to have an abortion became public. Murphy, a House Pro-Life Caucus member, voted this week to restrict abortion AGAIN and has a lengthy record of similar votes. The hypocrisy, while not at all stunning, is infuriating. This wretched human being has done everything in his legislative power to take away women’s choices and dominion over their bodies under the guise of valuing life. Yet when a life that HE helped create threatened to disrupt his double life, he was all too willing to terminate it. Good riddance to this trash legislator. Pennsylvania deserves better. (Politico)
  • Could male birth control finally be on the horizon, like, for real?! Maybe! The creators of a male birth control gel (which will be applied on the shoulders, of all places!) designed to inhibit sperm production — while maintaining healthy testosterone levels in the bloodstream — will soon start recruiting 420 couples from around the world to enroll in a new clinical trial. (Scientific American)
  • Rewire has a heartbreaking write-up on the first victim who lost her life due to the Hyde Amendment. Rest in grace, Rosie Jimenez. (Rewire)
  • STDs are at an ALL-TIME HIGH in this country right now! (Time)
  • The Ontario government has introduced groundbreaking legislation that will create protest-free buffer zones around abortion clinics, the homes of doctors and staff, and even pharmacies and offices that provide pills used to terminate pregnancy. Yasss Canada! Kudos to you! (Toronto Star)

STD Awareness: The Curious Case of Chancroid

Haemophilus ducreyi arrange themselves in parallel rows, which researchers have called “railroad tracks,” “schools of fish,” and “fingerprints.” Image: Mike Miller, CDC

Earlier this year, I asked a room full of scientists and medical professionals to raise their hands if they’d ever heard of chancroid. Everyone sat there, motionless, confused by the odd syllables I had uttered — shan kroyd. If you’ve never heard of chancroid, you’re not alone.

Chancroid is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) brought to you by Haemophilus ducreyi, a type of bacteria that can pass through microscopic tears in the skin during sexual contact. When one partner is infected, there is a 1 in 3 chance the other will become infected. An infection can cause painful sores and swollen lymph nodes, most often in the genital region. About half of people with chancroid infections will experience “buboes,” or swollen lymph glands that might rupture. Before it could be cured with antibiotics, a persistent infection could cause permanent skin damage.


Humanity can make chancroid the first STD to go extinct.


One reason you probably haven’t heard of chancroid is that, in the developed world at least, it has mostly disappeared. In fact, researchers believe chancroid can be completely wiped off the planet — which would make it the first STD ever to be forced into extinction. How amazing would that be?

Chancroid has been hopping from loin to loin since at least the days of the ancient Greeks, and was common until the 20th century, when rates began to decline. Thanks to antibiotics, U.S. chancroid rates decreased 80-fold between 1947 and 1997, all but vanishing by the late 1950s. It was virtually unheard of until there was another spike in the 1980s, correlating with the crack epidemic. But, since 1987, cases have been steadily declining. Continue reading

STD Awareness: Is Gonorrhea Becoming “Impossible” to Treat?

Image: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease

Health authorities have been worried about it for a long time now, and we’ve been following it on our blog since 2012. The boogeyman? Antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea, a strain of the sexually transmitted bacteria that is becoming more and more difficult to treat. Higher doses of the drug will be needed to cure stubborn cases of gonorrhea — until the doses can no longer be increased. Then, untreatable gonorrhea could be a reality.


“Little now stands between us and untreatable gonorrhea.”


The World Health Organization (WHO), in a press release last month, finally used the word “impossible” when describing treatment of antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea, referring to documented cases of gonorrhea that were “untreatable by all known antibiotics.” Worse, these cases are thought to be the proverbial “tip of the iceberg,” as there aren’t good data on antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea in many developing countries, where gonorrhea is more prevalent and epidemics could be spreading under the radar. Adding to this problem is the fact that gonorrhea rates are climbing worldwide, which is thought to be due to a number of factors, including the decline in condom use, the frequent absence of symptoms, inadequate treatment, and increasing urbanization and travel.

What will happen if gonorrhea can’t be cured? Your infection could clear up on its own, after a lengthy battle with your immune system, but we don’t know a lot about how long this could take (weeks? months? never?). Unfortunately, despite your immune system’s best efforts, gonorrhea doesn’t go out without a fight. Gonorrhea can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, which can cause tissue damage to the reproductive organs resulting in infertility, ectopic pregnancy, and chronic pain. It can also cause scarring that blocks sperm’s movement out of the testes, resulting in epididymitis, which is associated with infertility, chronic scrotal pain, and testicular shrinkage. Furthermore, gonorrhea increases risk for HIV transmission and can be passed to a baby during childbirth. The CDC estimates that, in the United States alone, untreatable gonorrhea could cause 75,000 cases of pelvic inflammatory disease, 15,000 cases of epididymitis, and 222 extra HIV infections over a 10-year period. Worldwide, where gonorrhea and HIV disproportionately affect developing countries, these problems could get even more out of control. Continue reading

STD Awareness: Do IUDs and Implants Prevent STDs?

Highly effective birth control methods, namely intrauterine devices (IUDs) and implants, have received a lot of well-deserved attention in recent years. They are as effective at preventing pregnancy as permanent sterilization, but can be stopped at any time, and can last from three to 12 years. They are the contraceptive of choice for female family-planning providers, who should know a thing or two about choosing an optimal birth control method. They are fantastic options for teenagers and others hoping to delay pregnancy for at least a few years. And the best news is that, for now anyway, these pricey birth control methods are still available at no cost to Americans covered by Medicaid or health insurance.


For the best protection against unintended pregnancy and STDs, combine condoms with IUDs or contraceptive implants.


If IUDs and implants prevented sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), they would pretty much be perfect — but, alas, like most forms of birth control, they don’t protect you from viruses, bacteria, and other bugs that can be passed from person to person through sex. To reduce their risk for STD exposure, sexually active people must employ other strategies, including (1) being in a mutually monogamous relationship with a person who does not have STDs; (2) being vaccinated before becoming sexually active to receive protection from hepatitis B virus and human papillomavirus (HPV), two sexually transmitted viruses; and, last but definitely not least, (3) condoms, condoms, condoms!

A study published this month looked at college students using IUDs and implants and found that most of them didn’t use condoms the last time they had vaginal sex — 57 percent of women who were not using IUDs or implants used a condom, compared to only 24 percent of women who were using IUDs or implants. That’s not too surprising if pregnancy prevention were the only concern, but condoms are an important addition for anyone seeking to reduce their STD risk. Continue reading

STD Awareness: Prevention vs. Punishment

Before antibiotics, syphilis could kill and gonorrhea was responsible for most cases of infertility. Both diseases could spread from husband to wife to baby, potentially destroying families. So you’d think medical breakthroughs in prevention and cures would be welcomed with open arms.

The actual history, like the humans who create it, is much more complicated.


Compassion, rather than fear and guilt, should guide medical practice.


During World War I, sexually transmitted diseases were a huge problem — second only to the 1918 flu pandemic in the number of sick days they caused (7 million, if you’re counting). The Roaring Twenties saw a sexual revolution, and by World War II, the military was once more fretting about losing manpower to debilitating infections that drew men away from the front lines and into the sick bays.

The armed forces did what it could to suppress prostitution and distract soldiers with recreational activities. But the human sex drive could not be contained: The vast majority of U.S. soldiers were having sex — even an estimated half of married soldiers were not faithful to their wives during WWII. Victory depended on soldiers’ health, so during both WWI and WWII, the military provided its sexually active soldiers with “prophylaxis,” medical treatments that could reduce risk for venereal disease — or VD, as sexually transmitted diseases were called back then.

Anyone who thinks condoms are a hassle or “don’t feel good” should read medical historian Allan M. Brandt’s description of a WWI-era prophylactic station, which soldiers were instructed to visit after sexual contact: Continue reading