Sexual health glossary: A-D

Sexual health glossary: E-I

Sexual health glossary: J-Q
Sexual health glossary: R-Z

A    B    C    D


Abstinence: Choosing not to have any kind of sex. Someone who practices sexual abstinence does not run any risk of contracting an STI or having an unwanted pregnancy. See also selective abstinence.

Acute: Not lasting a long time. For exmaple, a cold that lasts only two or three days could be referred to as acute.

Anal sex: When a man puts his penis inside someone's anus. This is also called anal intercourse.

Antibody: A disease-fighting protein in the blood created by the immune system.

Antibiotics: Medicine that kills bacteria and some other germs, but not viruses.

Anus: The small opening ("butt hole") in a person’s rear end.

Asymptomatic infection: A state in which the person is infected by a virus or bacteria but does not have any signs or symptoms. A good example of someone with an asymptomatic infection would be a person who has herpes who never shows any signs or symtpoms of infection.


Bacteria: Bacteria are one kind of microscopic (too small to see) germ. Many types of bacteria can make people sick or cause infections, and can be exposed to some of these when they have unprotected sex. There are medicines called antibiotics that kill bacteria. Some sexually transmitted infections caused by bacteria include chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis and trichomoniasis.

Barrier: Something that stops or blocks things from going past it. Condoms act as a barrier between one person's body fluids and another person's skin. Dental dams (sheets of latex) or plastic wrap can also be used as barriers for oral sex.

Biopsy: Removal of tissue from the body for a diagnosis.

Birth control: A method used to prevent pregnancy. Another phrase for contraception.

Birth control pills: One form of contraception. Birth control pills are hormonal pills that a woman can take every day to keep from getting pregnant. Once inside the body the hormones tell the ovaries not to release eggs, so a woman doesn't get pregnant. Birth control pills do not prevent STIs or HIV--they only prevent pregnancy. Most people simply call it "the pill".

Bisexual: A person who is sexually attracted to both males and females.

Blood borne virus: A kind of germ that lives in blood and can't live outside of the blood stream for very long. Air, heat and chemicals can easily kill this type of germ. There are many blood-borne viruses, inclduing HIV and hepatitis B.


Casual contact: Everyday things that we might do with other people. Hugging, holding hands, kissing with a closed mouth, wiping tears, playing games, drinking from the same glasses, eating from the same plate, or borrowing soap or clothes are examples. These are NOT ways someone can get sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, from another person.

Cervical secretions: These fluids come from a woman's cervix and out of the body through the vagina. They are usually a whitish color. If a woman has HIV or another STI, her cervical secretions can transmit (give) the STI to another person.

Cervix: The lower part of the uterus, with an opening into the vagina.

Chancre: A sore that appears at the place where infection with syphilis takes place. The sore is generally not painful for women, however it can be very painful for men.

Chronic: Happening for a long period of time.

Circumcison: A procedure that removes the foreskin of the penis. While not all males are circumcised, when they are, the procedure is usually done soon after a boy is born.

Clitoris: An organ above the opening of a female's vagina and above the opening of the urethra. It is located where the folds of flesh come to a point in the top front part of a female's pubic area, between the labia. It is a very small, sensitive bump, that feels good when it is rubbed or touched. Slang terms: clit.

Coitus interuptus: Oral, vaginal or anal intercourse that stops before ejaculation inside the receptive partner--also known as "pulling out." It is not effective as a means of preventing pregnancy or the transmission of STIs.

Colposcope: An instrument that uses a special magnifying lens to examine the tissues of the vagina and cervix. An examination using a colposcope (called a colposcopy) may be used to detect any abnormalities on the cervix.

Communicable: Something, like a germ or virus that is spread from one infected person to another.

Conception: The moment that a man's sperm successfully fertilizes a woman's egg. The sperm and egg fuse to form a zygote, which will eventually grow into an embryo and then a fetus.

Condom (male): A cover for a male's penis. It can be made out of thin latex (rubber), polyurethane (soft plastic) or natural membranes (animal skin). Condoms are used to prevent pregnancy and to prevent STIs, although natural membrane condoms do not prevent STIs.

Confidential testing: If you get a confidential test for HIV or another STI, then only you and the healthcare provider who performed the test can see the results. If someone wanted to see the results they would have to get your permission.

Congenital: A condition that occurs at or around the time of birth; a congenital condition may be acquired (as an infection), or may be hereditary. STIs may be acquired at or before birth, but no STI is genetically transmitted.

Contraception: A term for ways to prevent pregnancy. Some types of contraception prevent ovulation (releasing of an egg), fertilization (meeting of egg and sperm), or the implantation of a pre-embryo in the uterus. Some ways are permanent and others let a woman get pregnant when she or her partner stops using them. Birth control pills, spermicide, diaphragms, sterilization and condoms are some examples of contraception. Not all contraception stops people from getting HIV and other STIs. Only latex condoms stop pregnancy and HIV from happening. Abstinence is the only 100 percent method for preventing both STIs and pregnancy.

Cum: Another word for an orgasm or ejaculated semen/sperm.

Culture: A special substance that is used to grow germs. It may also mean the process of taking a specimen from a person and putting it into the special substance. Cultures may be used to diagnose certain STIs, such as chlamydia, herpes, and gonorrhea.

Cunnilingus:: When a person kisses, licks or sucks on a female's genitals. This is one way to have oral sex. People can get STIs this way. If they are doing it to someone who has an STI they can get the germ if infected blood or sexual fluid gets inside their mouth. If someone is doing it to them, they can get infected if blood from the infected person's mouth gets inside their vagina. A moisture barrier such as a dental dam or plastic wrap stops this from happening either way.


Deficiency: Something lacking or missing. A person's body that cannot fight germs doesn't have a strong immune system. In other words, they have a deficiency-- not enough germ fighters.

Dental dam: A sheet of latex that can be used to cover the vagina or anus during oral sex in order to prevent body fluids from passing from one person to another and prevent skin-to-skin contact. Use of a dental damn can help reduce the risk of STIs during oral sex.

Diagnose: To tell when a person is infected or sick with a specific disease or illness.

Diaphragm: A form of contraception. A diaphragm is a soft, rubber cup that fits over a woman's cervix to prevent sperm from entering the uterus and prevent pregnancy. It does not stop the male or female from getting STIs from each other.

Dildo: A sex toy that is either in the shape of a penis or another rounded shape. It can be made of plastic or another material and put inside an anus or a vagina. Sharing sex toys like dildos can be risky if they have vaginal fluids, blood, or feces on them. Sharing sex toys without cleaning them or using a condom can potentially expose a person to STIs. The safest practice is not to share sex toys. If sex toys are shared, a condom should be used.

Discharge: When used in talking about STIs, it means a fluid that is sometimes runny, thick, or lumpy. The fluid can come out of the vagina, penis, or anus. A discharge can be a sign of a STI or some other infection.

Douching: Using water or other solution to clean the vagina and cervix. Douching won't prevent the transmission of STIs and can't prevent pregnancy. Douching can even encourage certain infections of the vagina. For most women, douching is unnecessary because the vagina is self-cleaning.

Dysplasia: A change in the size, shape, and organization of cells. One potential cause of dysplasia of the cervix is human papillomavirus (HPV).

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