The Body: Anatomy and STIs

Anatomy

Human anatomy is extremely beautiful and diverse.

Understanding general anatomy helps us understand a lot about our body – particularly about taking care of our sexual and reproductive health!

It should be noted however that the traditional model of teaching anatomy is inherently flawed in its assignment of particular anatomy to a gender or sex assigned at birth.

Sex assigned at birth should be seen as spectrum or a gradient and not a binary. There are more than two genders, they all matter and they all deserve representation! 

Intersex

Intersex people are a part of this spectrum we spoke about earlier. Intersex is an umbrella term for variations in sex traits and reproductive anatomy such as within genitalia appearance, hormones chromosomes, and so many other factors that are different from the binary “female” and “male”.

About 1-2 in 100 people in the US are born intersex yet this identity is something we don’t hear much about! Being intersex is not a medical problem and usually medical interventions are not necessary. Because of stigma and intolerance, intersex has been pathologized as an issue and people born intersex have been subject to mutilating surgeries at young ages without their consent for decades. These surgeries have resulted in damaging physical ailments as well as psychological distress.

Intersex activists are doing great work to bring awareness to intersex identities as well as create community. Check out these resources and their work to learn more:

Learning more about anatomy allows you to better understand your physical health and provide you with the autonomy to make informed choices.

Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs)

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)- also commonly referred to as STDs- are commonly spread from person to person during unprotected sexual or genital contact (vaginal, oral, anal, and skin to skin). Common STIs include gonorrhea, chlamydia, genital herpes, and human papillomavirus (HPV). If left untreated, there can be severe health complications including infertility, some forms of cancer, and damage to other organ systems.

Getting Tested

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), nearly half of the 20 million new STIs diagnosed are among the 15-24 age group. Of this same age group, only 12% had been tested within the past year. Getting tested is extremely important!

Most STIs often go unnoticed so that is why it is important to get tested! Getting tested protects your health as well as any The CDC has a number of guidelines regarding the frequency of testing but these guidelines are not inclusive of trans, non-binary or gender nonconforming folks.

It is recommended that if you are sexually active:

  • EVERYONE should be tested for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) at least once in their lifetime.
    • If you are considered at higher risk, you should be tested more frequently (every 3 to 6 months).
  • If you have a uterus, you should be tested for gonorrhea and chlamydia every year.
  • If you are pregnant, you should be tested for syphilis, HIV, and hepatitis B as early in pregnancy as possible.
  • If you display any symptoms, you should get tested (see common symptoms graphic).
  • You should get tested every time you have a new partner.
  • Getting tested at least once a year is a good way to stay on top of your sexual health.

What to Expect When Getting Tested

There is no general STI test that covers every STI. Don’t worry, you and your healthcare provider will determine what tests are necessary based on: any symptoms you have, how often you use protections, what kind of sexual contact you have had (oral, anal, vaginal, etc.), as well as if you or your partner have ever been diagnosed with an STI. There are some tests that you will get instant results and some that will take days or weeks to process.

Depending on your needs, your healthcare provider may conduct any one or all of these tests: 

  • Discharge swabs
    • They may use a swab to test any discharge or cells from your throat, anus, vagina, cervix, penis, and/or urethra
  • Testing sores
  • General physical exam
    • A provider will take a look at genital areas for any visible symptoms like discharge, warts, or irritation. 
  • Blood test
  • Mouth Swabs
  • Urine Tests

How to Prevent STIs

Using condoms and dental dams (properly!)

Getting Vaccinated

  • Anyone between 9-45 years old can get the HPV vaccine.
  • Also known as Gardasil (the brand name), the vaccine protects against types of HPV that account for 80% of cervical cancer cases, 90% of genital warts, and types that lead to cervical, anal, vulva/vaginal, penile, and throat cancers.

Talk openly with your partners about getting tested

  • Getting tested regularly is best for you adn any partner(s) you may have!

Stigma

There is a lot of stigma associated with having an STI and STIs in general. You should know that many STIs are curable and ALL are treatable! If you or a partner is diagnosed with an STI, you both should seek treatment to make sure there is no reinfection or continuing health issues. Seeking testing and treatment for STIs ensures that you stay healthy and protects the health of others too.

Find out more about where to get tested on our Resources and FAQ page.