ella dawson, What's Underneath
She Got Herpes, But Herpes Didn’t Get Her

Breaking down the barricade of shame, guilt, and feelings of isolation that surround STIs, Ella Dawson, the undaunted feminist and sex-writer, bravely lifts her voice in our new What’s Underneath: “The more I talked about herpes, the more power I felt over it. I realized that herpes would only decide my fate if I let it.” With the fortitude of an undeniable leader, Ella went public and wrote an article on Women’s Health (which immediately went viral) about how she contracted herpes. As Ella tells us, "There are so many stereotypes about herpes. You're either a slut or you're a victim who got cheated on.

But Ella was no victim. She was an empowered, confident Wesleyan student who was having consensual sex with her boyfriend: “I met him at a party. He was super charismatic and sexy and funny and brilliant and I fell really hard for him.” But three weeks later, she woke up to her first outbreak.  “My brain went into panic mode,” Ella reveals. “I felt disgusted and revolted by my own sexuality. I was thrown into a real identity crisis, but my mom and dad smacked me out it.”Her boyfriend, however, became emotional abusive, telling her, “This is what I get for falling for a girl like you.”

Propelled by her irrepressible self-worth, Ella left her slut-shaming boyfriend and started on her mission to fight herpes stigma. She now sees herpes as  “the ultimate douchebag detector,” because, if a guy rejects her due to her infection, she shouldn’t be getting involved with him in the first place. “Herpes is a part of me. It’s my teammate, and I’m proud of it,” Ella announces.

For the full story on how Ella became the unrepentant face of herpes, watch her video above, then help fight STI stigma yourself by sharing this post with your friends and loved ones.

Follow Ella on Twitter: @brosandprose
Ella's video was edited by Andrea Cruz

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  • Mathilde

    Powerfull soul. Lots of love, Mathilde

  • K

    Can you blame a guy for not wanting to get with her because of herpes? Jesus... it has nothing to do with "slut-shaming" or feminism (the same thing happens in reverse roles... girls won't want to get with guys with STIs... that's just how it is). Go be proud of your herpes, I have nothing against someone being proud of their past experiences, but do not be surprised if someone is upset when they find out you have an STI. Yes, there's ways to handle the situation, but I don't know what you expected. Why is this girl being praised as some sort of hero? It's not the first time someone has stated they have an STI.

    • Jazmine

      K, if you listened to the whole thing, her boyfriend was the one who gave her herpes. Instead of getting himself checked out and being responsible he just blamed her because of her past experiences without taking his own into account.

    • Learning64

      Since at least one out of five people have genital herpes, there would be a huge reduction in your pool of potential partners. But frankly, I think that your pool has already been reduced because of your attitude. My guess is her douche-o-meter would be going off quite loudly right now.

      • michaelrios

        It's actually closer to half. And if you include Herpes 1, which can be both genital and oral, it is *way* over half. Most of the people who have Herpes don't have symptoms--unless they have had a blood test, you cannot know who is a carrier.

        • 2 in 3 people under the age of 50 in the WORLD have the same strain of herpes that I do (HSV-1). Dat shit cray.

        • Learning64

          Depends on the population. For black, American women, it is way over 50%. For type one (regardless of where it appears), it is over 90%. People, everyone has herpes. Get over it, it is NOT a big deal. I've been with several men who have it, and it was never, ever an issue. There are so many other "real" things to worry about in a partner...like are they kind to you?

    • michaelrios

      Your attitude is exactly why Ella is a hero. As others pointed out, she probably got it from the guy. So, yes, I can blame *any* guy who is so superficial that they would let a manageable and (for 99% of the people who have it) trivial disease decide whether a person is "worthy" of their consideration as a partner. Fortunately for people who do have Herpes, it acts as a valuable "filter" to remove clueless people from their dating pool.

      For the record, I have Herpes 2. I have never been turned down by a potential partner because of it, and because I am careful about sexual hygiene, I have never infected anyone else,

  • John R Villesvik

    First of all, I want to say kudos to Ella for being brave, articulate, intelligent, compassionate and just plain awesome about this whole thing. I admire her honesty and willingness to be so vulnerable as she seeks to encourage others who struggle with this guilt and shame. Now with that said, it must be recognized by anyone watching and hearing her, that all of this pain, abuse, heartache and emotional turmoil could have been completely avoided if she had chosen to be abstinent until she and her partners were ready to commit to a healthy, responsible monogamous relationship. I just don't understand why she labels abstinence as unrealistic/unreasonable in the beginning of her talk. It could have saved her so much pain. There's a reason abstinence is promoted by some people. When it is done properly, it can set young couples up for success, rather than pain and heartache.

    • michaelrios

      The record of relationships with people who were virgins when they married is not a pretty one. Some work out--many do not. If the first person someone winds up in a relationship with happens to satisfy a particular person, that's great--but every indication is that this is true only for a small minority of people. There is nothing "hard-wired" about monogamy for humans, and monogamy as the only acceptable relationship style dates from hundreds of years after the time of Jesus. It was actually imposed by emperors for the purpose of social control.

      A minor disease, essentially genital zits, that has no symptoms for most people, and is easily managed for the vast majority, is hardly a reason to hold back from the banquet that is a life filled with intimate connections, sensory delights, and ongoing experiences inviting us to grow, change and develop our highest self.

      As Auntie Mame put it: "Life's a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death!"

      A person who has had many relationships, if they have been doing so consciously, can offer a lot more wisdom, power, intensity, and depth. Starhawk describes it like this:

      My love, you are a river fed by many streams
      I bless all who have shaped you,

      The lovers whose delights still dance patterns on your back,
      Those who carved your channels deeper, broader, wider,
      Whitewater and backwater lovers,
      Swamp lovers , sun-warmed estuary lovers,
      Lovers with surface tension,
      Lovers like boulders,
      Like ice forming and breaking,
      Lovers that fill and spill with the tides.
      I bless those who have taught you
      and those who have pleased you
      and those who have hurt you.

      All those who have made you who you are.

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