Ella Dawson was diagnosed with genital herpes over a year ago, just before her 21st birthday, and since then she's become one of very few women who have spoken openly about their experience with an STD.
Although genital herpes is incurable, it is extremely easy to live with. Like a standard herpes coldsore, it can break out at any time and can be spread easily from skin-to-skin contact, but otherwise it does not affect sufferers' lives in any drastic way.
Something else interesting? Around 1 in 6 people have it – whether or not they have any symptoms.
Ella realised that "the math didn't add up" when it came to the number or people with genital herpes versus the number of people actually talking about it. "If one in six people had genital herpes, how was I the only person I knew to do the ultimate walk of shame from the student health center clutching a stack of STD pamphlets?" she asked in a recent no-holds-barred essay for Women's Health magazine.
Since then, Ella, now 22, has done her best to help break down the stigma attached to certain sexually transmitted diseases by talking openly about her experience with herpes.
"I was sick of making myself small because I had herpes," she wrote. "I didn’t feel like the woman that my friends knew me to be—a bold and outspoken campus badass."
The solution? "Six months after my first outbreak, I started dropping the 'herpes bomb' into conversations casually," writes Ella.
"My logic was that every time I told someone, 'I have herpes,' the words would get easier to say."
Herpes is often seen as a marker of someone promiscuous or careless, but the reality is, unless you've never had sex, you could be at risk.
Ella says that she has never gotten a negative reaction to her admission – quite the opposite in fact. "Most listeners were surprised, curious, and oddly excited to hear someone’s experience with a disease about which they knew nothing," she says.
She has also opened up to her potential sexual partners about the disease – with mixed results. One decided he didn't want to face the risk, but in most cases it's been "a conversation topic instead of a problem."
We love this refreshing and honest take on an under-reported health issue. Inspirational!