Why is it that the term venereal disease has been dropped in favour of sexually transmitted infection, or 'STI' for short? The change seemed to date from the advent of AIDS.

Was it that the word 'venereal' was associated uniquely with heterosexual relationships?

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    I think the current en vogue initialism is STI (Sexually Transmitted Infection). – Matt E. Эллен Apr 4 '14 at 8:22
  • I may be wrong, but I don't think hepatitis B was ever classed as a venereal disease. – Edwin Ashworth Apr 4 '14 at 8:23
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    When did social disease become venereal disease? – choster Apr 4 '14 at 16:00
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    I was curious when they stopped being STDs (diseases) and became STIs (infections). Or is that a British vs Americanism. – David M Apr 4 '14 at 19:38
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    @WS2 it seems to be more related to the chronic asymptomatic states that are still infectious … – David M Apr 4 '14 at 20:43

Per Wikipedia: the nomenclature changed in the 1990s to STD. It has only been in the last few years that STI had come on the scene. (I'm a physician and I still routinely see and say STD.)

I think the AIDS epidemic made a lot of headway in causing the change to STD. First, because of the uptick in homosexual spread -- the original (unfortunate) name for AIDS was GRID: Gay Related Immunodeficiency. (Venereal wouldn't be as appropriate for men.) And, second to emphasize the sexual spread of the disease without euphemism.

Prior to AIDS, VD was a dirty secret never addressed in polite society. It was something that "only soldiers, sailors, and prostitutes could get." It was this sort of thinking that promulgated the rapid spread of HIV through the world.

While STDs and more broadly STIs (seemingly preferred because of the asymptomatic nature of certain types of chronic STDs) are more openly discussed than in prior decades, education is still lacking on proper prevention. Many diseases are making comebacks: gonorrhea is starting to show signs of multiple antibiotic resistance, for example.

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A Google Ngram shows a rise in sexually transmitted disease over venereal disease starting in the mid-1970s, starting in medical and public health circles and gradually becoming mainstream by the 1990s. Venereal disease remains the most common term in print, but it may be displaced before too long.

Historically, gonorrhea and syphilis were the most prevalent, and considered the only diseases transmitted through sexual contact. The 1873 Smith's Family Physician flatly defines these venereal disease as these two and none other. But by the 1970s, other conditions and infections such as HPV, genital herpes, and hepatitis C were growing in concern. A 1981 paper in The American Journal of Nursing entitled "VD to STD: Redefining Venereal Disease," did not invent the term STD, but did declare venereal disease obsolete, as it was too restrictive.

Some of these were conditions were not only not traditional venereal diseases, but they could also be spread by non-sexual mechanisms. Some, such as HIV/AIDS required different public health approaches. Venereal could also be seen as a needless euphemism, with sexually transmitted disease being more clinical. So in the U.S., not only did middle school health class change its jargon, but names of some government offices and terminology of some public health laws adopted the new terminology in the mid- to late 1980s. (VD does persist.)

The UN notes that

STD and STI may be thought of as modern terms for "venereal disease" (VD), a term initially used to refer to syphilis and gonorrhoea, which were once thought to be a single disease. The term "venereal" emphasizes the part played by sex in the spread of diseases that would not otherwise be considered as a single group. …

N.B. Although one might think that there are two distinct terms here -- STI for infections and STD for diseases -- the two seem to be used interchangeably, and without particular attention being paid to whether the focus is on infection or disease.

The World Health Organization's International Classification of Diseases 10th revision (ICD10), adopted in 1994, reflects the shift. What in ICD9 was Syphilis And Other Venereal Diseases has been redesignated in ICD10 as Infections with a predominantly sexual mode of transmission (though it explicitly excludes HIV and some other conditions).

But as noted, venereal disease is arguably the most widely understood term, especially among older generations.My generation was taught in health class (early 1990s California) to say sexually transmitted disease, but we still understood the Friends episode how VD was a bad thing to be associated with.

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This answer is probably correct one. I was going to elaborate on how VDs and STDs are not really just diseases, but couldn't phrase it right. The main culprit is the D word. Disease.

EDIT: I missed the second half of the question. For this, I apologize. AIDS certainly did assist in the propagation of STI because a person could be HIV positive, meaning they are infected, but not suffering from AIDS, the disease.

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    That answers STD vs STI not venereal disease. – David M Apr 4 '14 at 19:40
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    @Tucker I find that difficult to believe. I well remember the 1960s, long before AIDS and HIV came on the scene. It was well-known that both men and women got VD. – WS2 Apr 4 '14 at 21:30
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    @WS2 Yes, something like that. I am trying to find where the term VD originated and how old it goes. Suggested by its origin in the form of a Latin name (Venus, goddess of all good things), I am going to place it in the early to mid 1700s. Therefore I am looking for old medical manuscripts from that period to see what they would have called it. In the meantime, there is this resource that may shed some light on this topic. – Tucker Apr 5 '14 at 7:27
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    @WS2 I've found something quite interesting (Source). Of course it isn't definite proof of the origins, but it helps guide from where the form of the word could have come from -- although I might be a century late from my previous estimates (17th century as oppose to 1700s). I still need to hunt for a more definitive answer, but at least we know we're looking in the right places. – Tucker Apr 5 '14 at 7:51
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    @WS2 I think you're right. I think we need to go further back than the 1600s and dip our toes into the 1500s to find the source of this, but it was nice to find a reference to the term dating back to the these period. I will see if I can find something. So, to recap, the advent of the acronym STI came about in the 1990s after AIDS and HIV and people were found to have the ability to have an infection without having a disease. STD was the standard prior to this changed during the 1960s to be more gender neutral. All that's left is to find out where VD came from and we'll have our answer! – Tucker Apr 5 '14 at 8:26

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