Abstinence: Choosing not to have sexual contact with a partner—including intercourse and oral sex. Abstinence is the only 100% effective pregnancy and STD prevention method.
AIDS: AIDS stands for acquired immunodeficiency syndrome. An HIV-infected person receives a diagnosis of AIDS after developing specific illnesses, or on the basis of certain blood tests that measure the strength of their immune system. A positive HIV test result does not mean that a person has AIDS.
Antibiotics: Medicine that cures a bacterial infection like chlamydia or gonorrhea by killing the bacteria that causes the infection.
Antibodies: The body's natural defense against infection. Antibodies are manufactured by the immune system and help destroy germs (e.g., bacteria, viruses) or toxins.
Antiretroviral medication: A type of medication that stops or inhibits a type of virus called a retrovirus from multiplying. HIV is a retrovirus. Use of anti-retroviral drugs in combination is a recent development in the treatment of HIV. Most health care providers recommend a combination of three drugs because studies have shown that with only one or two drugs, HIV can continue to multiply. Antiretroviral medication is only appropriate and effective in certain circumstances and is not a cure for AIDS.
Bacterial infection: Any kind of infection caused by bacteria, which are microscopic germs. Bacteria are found everywhere in our bodies and in the environment, but only some kinds cause infections. Bacterial STDs include chlamydia and gonorrhea. Drugs that kill the bacteria causing an infection are called antibiotics.
Birth Control Pills (the "Pill"): Short for birth control pills, or oral contraceptives, which are taken by women to prevent pregnancy. The Pill is made of hormones like the ones a woman's body produces. Different Pills work in different ways: by preventing release of an egg from a woman's ovary (ovulation); by increasing cervical mucus to block sperm; or by creating a thin uterine environment preventing implantation of a fertilized egg in the uterus. Used correctly, the Pill is very effective in preventing pregnancy, but offers no protection against STDs.
Cervical cancer: A form of cancer in women that infects the cervix, which is located in between the vagina and the uterus. Cervical cancer has been linked to infection with certain types of Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). Regular Pap Smears are the most effective way for women to detect this form of cancer, which is highly curable when caught early.
Chlamydia: A bacterial infection of the genital area, spread through unprotected vaginal, oral or anal intercourse. This STD often has no symptoms but can lead to infertility in men and women if left untreated. Chlamydia is a bacterial infection and can be treated with antibiotics.
Cold sores: Small blisters around the face or mouth caused by HSV-1 or HSV-2 –the herpes virus, spread by direct contact with an infected area, or having unprotected vaginal, oral or anal intercourse.
Condom: A polyurethane or latex barrier that fits over the penis, preventing sperm from entering the vagina during sex, to prevent pregnancy. If you are sexually active, the consistent and correct use of condoms is the most effective way to prevent STDs, including HIV (human immunodeficiency virus), which causes AIDS.
Dental dam: A six-inch square piece of thin latex placed over the woman's vulva (outside of the vagina) to prevent getting (or giving) an STD during oral sex. A polyurethane or latex condom cut in half will work the same way.
Genital warts: Soft, sometimes itchy warts in and around the genitals (vagina, penis, testicles, anus, etc.) caused by HPV (human papilloma virus). Genital warts are usually spread by direct, skin-to-skin contact during unprotected anal, oral or vaginal sex, or by touching or rubbing an infected area.
Gonorrhea: A bacterial infection of the genital area that, untreated, can lead to PID (Pelvic Inflammatory Disease) and sterility among women, and increases the risk for HIV infection among both men and women. Gonorrhea is spread through unprotected sexual activity and is treated with antibiotics.
Herpes: One of the most common STDs. Herpes is a virus that can cause cold sores or blisters to appear around the mouth, face, or genital area. Once the virus is present in the body, it stays there, causing outbreaks to occur every so often. During the first attack, it can also lead to flu-like symptoms: fever, headaches, and swollen glands. Herpes is most contagious when a sore or blister is present, but may also be contagious when no sores are visible.
Herpes Simplex Virus-1 (HSV-1): Herpes Simplex Virus type 1, the form of herpes virus that usually causes cold sores or fever blisters around the mouth or face.
Herpes Simplex Virus-2 (HSV-2): Herpes Simplex Virus type 2, the form of herpes virus that usually causes sores or blisters to appear in the genital area.
Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV): The virus that causes AIDS and the most dangerous STD. HIV damages the immune system, making the body unable to fight off disease. HIV is spread through contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person (blood, semen, vaginal secretions, breast milk), primarily through sexual contact or using contaminated needles for intravenous drug use (shooting up). HIV can also be transmitted through transfusions of infected blood products or from mother to infant at childbirth.
Human papilloma virus (HPV): One of the most common STDs. There are over 30 forms of HPV, some of which cause genital warts. Other types have no symptoms at all. Some types of HPV have been associated with cervical cancer.
Intercourse: Insertion of the penis into a partner's vagina or anus during sexual activity.
Oral sex: Using the mouth, lips or tongue to stimulate a partner's genitals.
Ovulation: The release of an egg from a woman's ovary.
Pap test: AKA a “pap smear”, this is a procedure used to examine the cells of a woman’s cervix in order to detect infection, hormonal conditions, and cancerous or pre-cancerous cells. Women should have this test once a year (it's usually a routine part of a gynecological exam) starting at age 18 or when they become sexually active.
Sperm: Microscopic organisms contained in a man's semen. Sperm contain the genetic information necessary to create an embryo when joined with a woman's egg.
STD (sexually transmitted disease): An infection that is transmitted through sexual contact.
Syphilis: A bacterial infection that can lead to brain and organ damage if left untreated. Syphilis occurs in several phases, some of which have no symptoms, and is spread through unprotected sexual activity, including kissing if there is a lesion present on the mouth.
Uterus: The organ in a woman's body where a pregnancy develops, and where menstrual blood comes from during a woman's period. Located above the vagina and cervix, the uterus is about the shape and size of an upside-down pear.
Viral infection: Any kind of infection caused by a virus, the smallest of all germs. STDs caused by viruses (like herpes and HIV) cannot be cured and stay in an infected person's body. Viral STDs can be treated with medication, reducing the symptoms and frequency of outbreaks.