I was browsing through the October issue of an expat magazine recently when I chanced upon an article entitled, “Well-being and Sex”. Intrigued, I read the piece, only to come upon the sexual terms: ‘sexual transmitted diseases’, ‘impotence’ and ‘frigidity’. The author is obviously not a sexologist because these terms are passé.

In the same week, a client asked why I used the term ‘STI’ to refer to ‘sexually transmitted infections’ instead of STD. I have also dealt with journalists who have on occasions admitted that they were unfamiliar with the terms I used. Hence, I thought this is a good time to address how sexual terms have evolved with time.

Use “STI” not “STD”

Before the term “sexual transmitted disease” (STD) was used, all diseases related to the genitals were called “venereal disease” (VD). “Social disease” was another euphemism. In recent years, the term “sexually transmitted infections” (STIs) has been preferred, as it has a broader range of meaning; a person may be infected, and may potentially infect others, without showing any signs or symptoms of disease.

Also, not all STIs are transmitted through sexual intercourse. Some STIs can also be transmitted via the use of drug needles after its use by an infected person, as well as through childbirth or breastfeeding. Sexually transmitted infections have been well known for hundreds of years. “Infection” is a more encompassing word, in that it can also refer to a germ: be it a virus, bacterium, or parasite, that can cause disease or sickness in a person’s body – whether with or without symptoms. On the other hand, a disease means that the infection is actually causing the infected person to feel sick, or to notice something is wrong. For this reason, the term STI is a much broader term than STD.

Say “Erectile concerns”, not “Impotence”

The word “impotence” is a venerable term that dates back to the fifteenth century. Its literal meaning is “powerlessness” and so it possesses obvious pejorative connotations. The advent of sildenafil (Viagra), which is the first oral medication approved by the USFDA for the treatment of impotence, popularized the more recent term “erectile dysfunction” (ED).

ED is actually a common men’s health problem characterized by the consistent inability to sustain an erection sufficient for sexual intercourse, or the inability to achieve ejaculation, or both. This problem can be occasional as well as periodical. The word “dysfunction” means “function incorrectly or abnormally”.

A sexologist, such as myself, would use the words “erectile concerns” or “erectile difficulties”, as they are much gentler on the ear. Clients who come before me are distressed as it is about their condition, and there is no need to stick the knife in by telling them they are “abnormal”. Most men will have erectile concerns or difficulties at some point in their lives.

Who are you calling ‘frigid’?

In the early versions of the DSM (The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders published by the American Psychiatric Association), there were only two sexual dysfunctions listed: frigidity (for women) and impotence (for men). Since then, we know that there are more to the sexual difficulties a woman can experience than the failure to have vaginal orgasms.

As such, “female sexual dysfunction” is now the blanket term that replaces the word ‘frigidity’ when referring to the inability of a woman to function adequately in terms of sexual desire, sexual arousal, and/ or orgasm. The term ‘frigidity’ continues to be used but like ‘impotence’, it is seen as an insult or a derogatory term for women. As explained above, I might use the words ‘sexual issue’, ‘sexual concern’ or ‘sexual condition’ when speaking with a client because we all have them from time to time.

You might say sexual terms are just words. What difference do they make? Indeed it does not make that much of a difference to the sexologist who is expected to know them all and reflect only positivity and support during sessions. Yet it does to the person who has that sexual condition. Also knowing and keeping up to date with the sexual terms also means you have the vocabulary to communicate clearly what you intend when you wish to.


Sources :

Sexual transmitted disease.


Female sexual dysfunction.

Author's Bio: 

Dr. Martha Lee is Founder and Clinical Sexologist of Eros Coaching. She is a certified sexologist with a Doctorate in Human Sexuality. She provides sexuality and intimacy coaching for individuals and couples, conducts sexual education workshops and speaks at public events. For more, visit www.eroscoaching.com or email drmarthalee@eroscoaching.com.