Sexual health glossary



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).


Ectopic pregnancy: Pregnancy that happens outside the uterus and usually refers to pregnancy occurring in the fallopian tube. An ectopic pregnancy cannot turn into a normal pregnancy. In some cases, if an egg keeps growing in the fallopian tube, it can damage or burst the tube and cause heavy bleeding that could lead to death. An ectopic pregnancy may be the result of pelvic inflammatory disease (PID).

Egg: A woman’s sex cell, stored in the ovaries. A female is born with all the eggs she will ever have–about 1-2 million. The ovary typically pushes out one every month, about two weeks after a woman has her period. An egg can live only two days after this happens. If a sperm enters the vagina and finds the egg a woman can become pregnant.

Ejaculation: The act of semen coming out of a male’s penis during an orgasm. This can happen during sex, masturbation, or even when he is asleep (wet dream). If a male doesn’t ejaculate during sexual contact, there is no physical harm. A male can ejaculate with or without having an orgasm.

Embryo: When a fertilized egg grows to be a certain size and sticks itself to the inside of the uterus, it it called an embryo.

Erection: When a penis gets stiff and hard. This happens because blood flows into it. This might happen because someone is sexually excited, but it can also happen at other times. A hard penis will get soft again after ejaculation or orgasm. It could also get soft before these things happen.

Exposure: Being exposed to a STI means that you were in a situation in which you had a chance to “catch” it. You can be exposed to a STI by having sex with an infected person. It is possible to become exosed to an STI but not infected. You can lower your chance of being exposed to a STI by not having sex or by using a condom correctly and consistently.


Fallopian tubes: The tubes that eggs move through to go from the ovaries to the uterus. An egg leaves the ovary and rides along the tube until it gets to the uterus.

Feces: The solid waste that comes out of the anus. It comes from material/food that the body cannot use.

Fellatio: Oral sex, performed on a man (when a person kisses, licks or sucks on a man’s penis).

Female condom: A condom designed to fit inside the vagina. Made out of polyurethane, the female condom consists of a soft pouch that is inserted into the vagina before sexual intercourse to help prevent pregnancy and protect against STIs.

Fertile period: The time of a month duirng which a woman can become pregnant. It is usually a period of eight days during her menstrual cycle. Up to five days before ovulation (because sperm can live this long inside the body), the day ovulation happens, and two days after (the lifespan of an egg).

Fertilization: The joining of a man’s sperm cell and a woman’s egg cell. If the fertilized egg gets to the uterus and sticks inside, then pregnancy begins.

Fetus: Eight weeks after fertilization, an embryo grows into a fetus.

Fluid: Any kind of liquid, usually used to describe one on the outside or inside of a person’s body. Examples of body fluids are: semen, vaginal secretions, saliva, and blood.

Foreskin: Loose skin that covers the tip of the penis on an uncircumcised man. When an erection occurs, the foreskin will pull back.

French kissing: A kiss in which both people open their mouths. One person puts their tongue into the other person’s mouth. Most STIs are not passed this way.

Frottage: When two people rub their bodies together so that they feel good for some type of sexual pleasure. Another phrase for it is dry-humping.


Gay: Another word for homosexual.

Gender: (from the World Health Organization) Refers to the socially constructed roles, behaviours, activities, and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for men and women.

Genitals: The sex organs on the outside of the body. A female’s genitals are her vulva and clitoris. A male’s genitals are his penis and testicles.

Glans: Another word that means the tip or head of the penis.

Groin: Another word for the pelvic area on a person.


Hereditary: A trait or characteristic that is genetically passed from either the mother or the father to a child. No STI is passed genetically from a parent to their children.

Heterosexual: A person who is attracted to someone of the opposite sex. Males that are attracted to females and females that are attracted to males are called heterosexual.

Homosexual: A person that is sexually attracted to someone of the same sex. Males that are attacted to males and females that are attracted to females are homosexual. Female homosexuals are also referred to as lesbians.

Hormones: Chemicals that a body makes to help other organs do their job.

Hymen: A thin piece of skin that stretches over the opening of the vagina. There is a small opening in it to let blood flow out of the vagina during a period. People used to think that a hymen that wasn’t broken meant a girl was a virgin. Now we know that it has a small hole in it that can get stretched more just from running, playing or using tampons. Some girls are even born without a hymen.


Immune: To be protected or safe from something. Most people who get chicken pox as children are immune to chicken pox for the rest of their lives. There are vaccines that can make you immune to certain infections, like hepatitis B.

Immune system: A group of cells inside the body that all work together to keep a person healthy by killing germs. These cells can tell the difference between the cells that are part of the body and those things that don’t belong inside someone. They defend or protect the body from invaders like viruses, bacteria and other germs. Lymph nodes and white blood cells are two parts of the immune system.

Incubation period: The time period that goes from the first day a person gets an infection until the time he or she starts to show signs or symptoms, if symptoms appear at all. Depending on the infection, this can be as short as a few days or more than 10 years. With some infections, including many STIs, a person may never show any signs or symptoms of disease. Even though an infected person may feel perfectly healthy and show no symptoms, they still can still give the infection to another person.

Infected: Another way to say that someone has “caught” a germ is to say they are infected. If a person is infected with a disease-causing germ there is a certain amount of time (called an incubation period) between the time you get infected and the time that you show signs or symptoms of the disease.

Injecting drug users: People who use needles to put drugs into their bodies. Drugs like heroin, cocaine or speed can be injected into a person’s veins. Steroids are usually injected into someone’s muscles. People who share needles to inject drugs can get HIV or other blood borne infections like hepatitis B. The blood that gets into the needle from one person’s body can then get into another person’s body when they use the same needle. The risk of catching an STI through needles can be eliminated by either not sharing needles or sterilizing them between uses.

Intercourse: Any type of activity that involves the sharing of body fluids, or the penetration of an oriface (the mouth, vagina, or anus) between two or more people. Sexual intercourse also includes oral sex and anal sex. People can get STIs, including HIV, if they have sexual intercourse without a safe barrier that prevents the fluids from getting from one person to another. Other STIs, like herpes and HPV, can be transmitted during sexual intercourse, even when using a barrier, because these are transmitted through direct skin-to-skin contact.


Labia: The inner and outer folds of flesh that cover a female’s vagina. Sometimes called the “lips” between a female’s legs. The outer pair is larger and hair grows on them, while the inner pair is smaller and made of a mucous membrane. These folds of skin help cover and protect the vagina and the urethra.

Lambskin condom: A type of natural membrane condom. These condoms are not recommended for preventing the spread of STIs. Natural membrane condoms have holes called pores in them that are too small to see but are large enough for germs to get through.

Latex: A thin type of rubber. Dental dams and most types of condoms are made of latex. If used correctly and consistently, condoms that are made of latex can prevent pregnancy as well as STIs.

Lesbian: A female who is homosexual (sexually attracted to other women).

Lubricant: A wet and slippery product used during sexual intercourse. Lubricants can be used with condoms, or inside a woman’s vagina or a person’s anus to make it slippery. This can keep a condom from getting dry and breaking during vaginal or anal sex. There are two kinds of lubricants: water-based and oil-based. A water-based lubricant is best to use with latex condoms because it doesn’t make holes in the condom.

Lymph nodes: Round little bumps found under the skin, part of the immune system. Lymph nodes are found in the neck, armpits and groin. They clean the blood by catching and stopping germs and dead cells. One way doctors and nurses sometimes check for an infection is to feel a person’s lymph nodes. If the nodes are swollen, then it means the person’s immune system is working to kill whatever is infecting the body.


Masturbation: Touching a person’s sex organs for pleasure. This could be a male rubbing his penis or a female rubbing her clitoris because it feels good. People can do it alone or with another person. Masturbation is not harmful. It does not cause acne or blindness, make people crazy or cause any other awful things to happen. Most people masturbate at some point in their lives.

Menstruation: The periodic discharge of bloody fluid from the uterus occurring at more or less regular intervals during the life of a woman from age of puberty to menopause. Also called a period. During pregnancy, a woman will not menstruate. A missed period is often the first symptom of pregnancy a woman will notice. If a female is sexually active and misses a regualr period, she may be pregnant.

Monogamy: Choosing to have sex with only one other person. One way to prevent STIs is to have a mutually monogamous relationship (where both partners agree only to have sex with each other) where both partners have tested negative for STIs.

Mucous membrane: The soft, pink tissue that lines all of the natural openings in the body. The mouth, eyes, nose, throat, vagina, anus and the hole in the penis (the urethra) have these linings. Mucous membranes have small holes in them. If a virus or bacteria that can cause an STI gets on a mucous membrane, then that virus or bacteria can go inside someone’s body.


Natural membrane condom: A condom made from the skins or parts of animals. Natural membrane condoms can help prevent pregnancy, but not STIs. This is because natural membrane condoms have microscopic holes called pores in them. Germs that cause STIs can go through these holes and then inside the body of other people during sex.


Oil-based lubricant: A lubricant made from something that has oil in it, like Vaseline®, mineral oil and lotions. The oil in oil-based lubricants can eat holes in a latex condom, allowing germs that cause STIs, including HIV, to go through it. To prevent STIs, only use water-based lubricants with latex condoms.

Oral sex: When a person kisses, licks, or sucks another person’s genitals to make them feel good. People can get STIs this way if blood or sexual fluids got inside someone’s mouth, or if there is contact with a sore from an infection such as herpes or syphilis. Also, STIs can be transmitted if infected blood from someone’s mouth get inside another person’s penis, anus, clitoris or vulva. Barriers and latex condoms can be effective in stopping someone from getting infected.

Orgasm: A strong, intense, good feeling that happens in someone’s genitals during sex. When a male has an orgasm, he usually ejaculates. For a female, it typically involves spasms that can last for a few seconds or a minute or longer. Someone can have an orgasm just by thinking about sex, while masturbating, or when having sex with another person. Orgasms don’t always happen every time someone has sex. Females can get pregnant even if they do not have an orgasm.

Ovaries: The part of a female’s reproductive organs that store eggs. After puberty, the ovaries push one egg out each month. Ovaries also make hormones that help the menstrual cycle work. Most females have two ovaries, one on each side of the uterus at the ends of the fallopian tubes.

Ovulation: When an egg is pushed out of the ovary. After ovulation, the egg moves down one of the fallopian tubes toward the uterus. This usually happens about 14 days after a female has her period.


Pap test: An exam of a female’s cervix. During a Pap test, a healthcare provider scrapes cells from the cervix and then looks at them under a microscope. Cells that look abnormal could be a warning of a cervical infection or cervical cancer, but not always. According to the American Cancer Society, a girl should get her first Pap test by age 21, or within three years of having sex – which ever happens first.

Penis: The male sex organ outside the body between the legs. It is made of soft spongy tissue and blood vessels. The tip of the penis is very sensitive and gives the male pleasure when it is touched.

Period: The time at the end of a female’s menstrual cycle when blood comes out of the vagina. This is the blood that would have lined the uterus for a fetus to use to grow if an egg had been fertilized by a sperm. When this doesn’t happen the blood lining the uterus isn’t needed and it is released from the body. A period typically lasts between 3-7 days. It is possible for a female to get pregnant while having a period, and a girl could get pregnant even before she has her first period.

Plastic wrap: Household plastic wrap can be used as a barrier during oral sex. A piece large enough to cover the vulva, vagina, anus or clitoris can be used as barrier. Plastic wrap does not work as an effective barrier on the penis and should not be used instead of a latex condom.

PMS (Pre-Menstrual Syndrome): Physical pain or emotional difficulties that a woman might have up to two weeks before she has a period. This could be things like cramps, sore breasts, bloating or holding extra water inside the body, or headaches. Sometimes people feel sad, angry or depressed. Not every girl or woman has PMS.

Polyurethane condom: A condom made out of a plastic called polyurethane. Polyurethane condoms are an alternative for people who are allergic to latex.

Pre-seminal fluid: Fluid released from a man’s penis before he ejaculates. Most men do not know this happens because they cannot feel it coming out. Pre-seminal fluid can get a woman pregnant and can also transmit STIs. Also called pre-cum.

Pubic area: The area between the legs in both males and females where the genitals are located. After puberty, this area is covered with pubic hair.

Pulling out: When a man removes his penis from another person’s vagina, anus or mouth before he ejaculates. Also called withdrawal. It does not keep a person from spreading an STI, and it will not keep a woman from getting pregnant.


Rape: Forced sexual intercourse. Any person who makes someone have sex with them when they don’t want to do it–a husband, friend, date or stranger–makes rape happen. This is against the law. The person who is raped might feel guilty, like they did something wrong, or even ashamed. This is not true. Rape is not about sex, it is about violence. It is important for the person to find someone they trust to talk to about it.

Reproduction: This is the whole process involved in making a baby.

Reproductive organs: The parts of a human body that do things to help make babies. Each part has a different job to do. In a female these parts would be the fallopian tubes, ovaries, uterus, cervix and the vagina. In a male the parts would be the penis, scrotum and testicles.

Rhythm method: A way that some people use to keep from getting pregnant. People try to do this by not having sex on the days that a woman would usually get pregnant. This is usually a few days before, during and after ovulation. Because it’s hard to figure out when this happens in each woman, it usually doesn’t work very well. It also doesn’t stop germs that cause STIs from getting into people’s bodies when they do have sex.

Rimming: Contact between the mouth, lips or tongue of one person in or around the anus (butt hole) of another person. It is one kind of oral sex. People can get STIs from doing this. It doesn’t matter if someone is doing it or having it done to them. A person can place a barrier around the anus to prevent the spread of an STI during rimming.

Risk: Taking a chance. Having any kind of sex without a condom presents a risk for getting STIs. Sharing drug needles can put you at risk for getting HIV and other bloodborne infections including hepatitis B. Abuse of drugs and alcohol can also lead to risky behavior.


Safer sex: Ways to have sexual contact that allow little to no chance of getting a sexually transmitted infection. These include properly using condoms and other barriers, mutual or self-masturbation, and abstinence from sexual contact.

Saliva: Another word for spit. It is the fluid in a person’s mouth. Most STIs can not be spread by a person’s saliva.

Scotum: The soft sac of wrinkled skin that covers and protects a man’s testicles.

Selective abstinence:Someone who chooses to be selectively abstinent might have some kinds of sex but not others. Many people are sexually active but limit what they do to avoidSTIs and/or pregnancy or because they do not feel ready to do some sexual things. Someone who practices selective abstinence may or may not run the risk of contracting an STI and/or having an unwanted pregnancy, depending on the activities in which he or she does.

Semen: The clear, whitish, sticky liquid that squirts out of a man’s penis when he ejaculates. There are about one million sperm inside one drop of semen. Semen gives the sperm something to swim in, otherwise they couldn’t move around.

Sex toys: Speciality toys that people might buy to use during sex with themselves or with another person. They could be dildos, vibrators, or other items. Sharing sex toys 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.

Sexual abuse: When someone mistreats another person in a sexual way. This “someone” could be someone the person knows, someone the person loves, or a stranger. Sexual abuse often involves physical contact, including forced, unwanted sexual activity such as fondling or genital contact. Not all sexual abuse involves physical contact, though. Exposing one’s genitals to another person, forcing someone to watch pornography, or pressuring someone for sex can all be forms of sexual abuse.

Sexual desire: A strong sexual interest or attraction for another person. People can have sexual desire with or without love.

Sexual fluids: The wetness that comes out of a man or a woman’s genitals. For men it is semen and pre-seminal fluid and for women it is vaginal and cervical secretions. These sexual fluids transmit STIs (like HIV, chlamydia and gonorrhea) if a person is infected.

Sexual intercourse: Any type of activity that involves the sharing of body fluids, or the penetration of an oriface (the mouth, vagina, or anus) between two or more people. Sexual intercourse also includes oral sex and anal sex. People can get STIs, including HIV, if they have sexual intercourse without a safe barrier that prevents the fluids from getting from one person to another. Other STIs, like herpes and HPV, can be transmitted during sexual intercourse, even when using a barrier, becuase these are transmitted through direct skin-to-skin contact.

Sexual orientation: Describes whether a person is homosexual, heterosexual or bisexual. A person cannot choose their sexual orientation. Their body chooses it for them.

Sexual pleasure: A good feeling that people get when they engage in sexual activity with another person, or through masturbation.

Sexuality: Everything in our daily lives that makes us sexual humans. It is made up of gender, sexual desire and feelings, and sexual contact.

Sperm: A male’s sex cells, tiny living things that are made in a man’s testicles. When a man ejaculates, semen squirts out of his penis. This semen contains millions of sperm cells. If this happens in or near a female’s vagina, the sperm can swim around and try to find an egg. If a sperm gets inside a woman’s egg, she can become pregnant. Sperm can live in the vagina up to five days. If a male doesn’t ejaculate then the sperm is soaked up by his own body.

Spermicide: A chemical that kills sperm, used to help prevent pregnancy. Spermicide is available as a foam, cream or jelly and can be bought at a drug store. It can be placed on the outside of a condom or inside a woman’s vagina. It cannot be used by itself to stop HIV from getting into someone else’s body. Some people may be allergic to one or more chemicals in spermicide.

Sponge: Birth control that kills sperm, used as a form of contraception. A woman puts it into her vagina before vaginal sex. Sponges can help prevent pregnancy but do not protect a man or a woman from getting STIs.

Sterilization: A permanent kind of contraception. It invovles a simple operation that stops egg and sperm from meeting each other. Usually older people do this when they do not want to have any more children. Sterilization can be done to a man or a woman.

Straight: Another word for heterosexual.

Symptoms: Medically speaking, a symptom is something that a person can notice about himself or herself that is a sign of a disease. Common symptoms for STIs include bumps, blisters, or warts near the genitals, a burning sensation when a person urinates, or an unusual discharge or drip from the genitals. Many people with STIs may not have any signs or symptoms. There is no sure way to tell if someone has an STI from symptoms. Only a medical test can tell a person for sure.


Testicles: Two small egg-shaped male organs that hang behind the penis. They are soft and are covered and protected by the scrotum. The testicles are what make sperm.

Transfusion: Donated blood from one person given to another person when a loss of blood has occurred through surgery, an accident, or other medical needs. The donated blood supply in the U.S. is tested for HIV, hepatitis, and other types of blood diseases before it is used by others.

Transmission: The ways that any kind of infection, including an STI, can be spread. Having unprotected oral, anal, or vaginal sex, are the main ways STIs are transmitted. Blood, semen, pre-seminal fluid, vaginal and cervical secretions and breast milk are all fluids that can transmit STIs. Some STIs can also be transmitted through skin-to-skin contact.


Urethra: The small tube that carries urine (pee) from someone’s bladder to the outside of his or her body. The opening to the urethra for a male is the hole at the tip of the penis. The opening to the urethra for a female is just above the opening to the vagina, and just below the clitoris. Germs that cause STIs can get inside someone’s body through the urethra.

Urine: The liquid waste that comes out of a person’s urethra when they urinate (pee).

Urethritis: An infection of the urethra, the tube that urine (pee) goes through to leave the body. Urethritis is often caused by an STI. A person with urethritis often feels a burning sensation when urinating. Urethritis can be cured with antibiotics.

Uterus: A hollow organ that is found inside the lower pelvic area of a female’s body. It is connected to both of the fallopian tubes and to the vagina. This is the place where a fetus grows if a woman gets pregnant. Each month, during a part of a woman’s menstrual cycle the uterus gets ready to help a baby grow by making thick walls of blood. If a woman doesn’t get pregnant then this blood flows out of the body.


Vaccine: A mixture of killed or weakened virus or bacteria, injected into a person to help prevent disease. Since the virus or bacteria in a vaccine is either killed or weakened, the body can easily defeat it. If a person is exposed to the virus or bacteria, the body’s immune system can respond, since it has already been prepared by the vaccine. There are vaccines to prevent STIs, like HPV and hepatitis B.

Vagina: The place in a female that leads from the uterus to the outside of the body. It is also called a birth canal because when a woman has a baby it comes out through here. The vagina is the place where an erect penis goes during vaginal sex. Mucous membranes line the vagina, making it easy for germs that cause STIs or other germs to get inside the body of a female. This could happen even if the penis doesn’t get inside but is near the vagina.

Vaginal secretions: A clear and slippery fluid that comes from the walls of the vagina. It is a natural lubricant that comes out before and during sex. This helps the penis get inside the vagina easier and also protects the lining of the vagina and the skin on a man’s penis. It is also a fluid that can give STIs to another person.

Vaginal sex: When a man puts his penis into the vagina of a woman. This can make a woman pregnant if they don’t use birth control. A person can also get STIs this way if their partner is infected. Correct and consistent use of condoms can prevent pregnancy and transmission of STIs.

Virgin: A person who has never had sex. Some people think it means someone who has not had oral, anal or vaginal sex. Other people feel that a virgin is someone who has had oral sex but nothing else. The word virgin means different things to different people. Sometimes it is good to ask a boyfriend or girlfriend what they mean when they say that they are a virgin. Depending on what their definition of a virgin is, they might have already contracted a STI.

Virus: A kind of germ that can cause disease. An STI caused by a virus, like herpes, HIV, or HPV, can not be cured, but can be treated to help make the symptoms disappear.

Vulva: The sex organs outside of a female’s body. They include the labia and the clitoris.


Water-based lubricant: A lubricant in which the main ingredient is water. Use only water-based lubricants with latex condoms, not oil-based ones.

Wet dream: When a male has an erection and then ejaculates when sleeping. It can happen to someone without that person knowing about it. Wet dreams are perfectly normal and can happen at any age. These are sometimes called “nocturnal emissions.”

Withdrawal: When a male takes his penis out of another person’s vagina, anus or mouth before ejaculation to try to stop semen from getting inside the person. This is also known as pulling out. Withdrawal is not effective at preventing pregnancy or at preventing the spread of a STI.

Womb Another word for uterus.


Yeast infection: An infection due to candida yeast. A woman can get a yeast infection in her vagina when small amounts of yeast that normally grow there go out of control. Yeast infefctions are treatable with medicine. Yeast can grow faster if a person takes antibiotics or birth control pills for a long time, has an allergy to yeast, or changes their diet and eats a lot of sugar.


Zygote: A zygote is formed when a man’s sperm fertilizes a woman’s egg. It is the first step in what will later develop into an embryo, and then a fetus, and finally a baby.

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