In this day and age of oversharing everything, one thing that is arguably still taboo is disclosing that one has genital herpes.
Despite the fact that an estimated 1 in 6 Americans alone have the virus, which was formally known as herpes simplex 2, and the probability is good that all of us know at least one person who has it, chances are this probably hasn’t come up in conversation even amongst close friends.
However, one woman has decided to go public about her experiences with this common virus.
College student Ella Dawson was 20 years old when she was diagnosed with genital herpes. Dawson contracted it despite always having taken precautions and practicing safe sex. Like many in her situation, she felt like she had been “punished” for her sexual behavior and worried about the effect it would have on her future relationships.
“I wasn’t the sort of person STDs happened to. I was a Planned Parenthood volunteer, a sexuality studies major, and everyone’s go-to friend when they had questions about losing their virginity. How could I have caught something when I had always been so careful? It felt like an ironic sitcom plot twist that would wind up being a huge misunderstanding: the episode where Ella convinced herself she had herpes. Har har.” ~ Ella Dawson
Six months after her initial diagnosis, though, Dawson decided to go public and started to share her story with others in the hopes of raising awareness. Much to her surprise, she found a lot of support and discovered she was far from alone.
Indeed, a recent article she penned for Women’s Health about dating with herpes went viral and received press coverage in several countries including the UK and Australia.
“Stigma is what keeps people from chatting about herpes the way they discuss allergies—we associate herpes with liars, cheaters, and the rampantly promiscuous.” ~ Ella Dawson
A visit to Dawson’s blog not only dispels common myths about herpes—such as herpes spelling the end of one’s sex life—but she proves that it’s possible not to just live with herpes, but actually thrive.
While she may not have set out with the goal to be a herpes educator, there is no doubt that by speaking out, Dawson is helping many.
In addition to Dawson’s work, there is also a helpful video which explains all about herpes. Watch and pass it on—even if you happen to believe you will never be afflicted. You may not, but chances are, someone you know will be.
Author: Kimberly Lo
Editor: Emily Bartran
Photo: Helga Weber/Flickr