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Feminists: 'End the Shame' of Having STDs, No Worse Than Common Cold


Feminists are on a mission to help “end the shame” associated with having a sexually transmitted disease.

In a new episode of Style Like U’s “What’s Underneath,” sex writer Ella Dawson publicly divulged her herpes status.

“For me, the work I’m doing is so shaped by my feminism, and by my personal experience, that I don’t know how you can talk about STI (Sexually Transmitted Infection) stigma and herpes stigma without talking about slut-shaming,” Dawson says as she begins to remove articles of clothing.

After her herpes diagnosis, Dawson states she initially thought, “'Maybe this is what happens when you are empowered and write about sex and care about these things.'”

However, Dawson is now writing about her herpes status on her website.


While speaking to Style Like U, Dawson jokes that having herpes is the “ultimately douchebag detector.”

“If somebody rejects you for this, chances are, it wouldn’t work and you’re dodging a lot of unhappiness,” Dawson claims.

In order to reduce the stigma associated with herpes, Dawson conflates genital herpes with oral herpes. She tells Style Like U, “Chances are, you already have it [herpes].” She continues, “Something like 80 percent of the population between ages 15 and 49 have the strain that causes oral herpes usually.”

Dawson’s video received a glowing review on the MTV website. Kristina Marusic praises Dawson’s efforts to “de-stigmatize” herpes and other STIs.

MTV uses Dawson’s video in order to advertise its own “It’s Your Sex Life” website, which is designed to “support young people in making responsible decisions about their sexual health.”

Part of MTV’s “It’s Your Sex Life” campaign involves GYT, or “Get Yourself Tested.”

According to MTV, “GYT encourages testing as an act of pride, not shame-and promotes an open dialogue about STDs by encouraging young people to spread the word about the campaign.” The GYT movement involves using celebrities in order to promote its mission.

Teen Vogue, the magazine known primarily for appealing to teens, also published a favorable take of Dawson’s video.

In her Teen Vogue article, Sade Strehlke lauds “Ella’s bravery.”

“Ella's bravery in speaking up is doing volumes for other young girls and women who are also struggling with herpes,” Strehlke writes.

Strehlke instructs individuals who believe they have herpes to see a medical professional and “speak up about it.”

Speaking up about having herpes, Strehkle asserts, is “the only way to break the stigma.”

Dawson, MTV, and Teen Vogue are not the first to criticize what is known as STD or STI shaming. Psychology Today, which is intended to make scientific literature more accessible to the general public, published, “STDs are Normal” in 2010.

In the Psychology Today piece, Hunter College professor and practicing therapist Kathryn Stamoulis writes, “STDs are a normal part of human sexuality.”

Stamoulis compares catching a STD to the common cold: “The reality is that there always exists a chance of contracting an STD through sexual contact, even with the use of a condom and even when there is no intercourse. Similarly there is a high chance of contracting a cold or the flu during the winter when one is in close contact with others, such as on a bus or in a classroom. Illnesses and infections are part of life.”

Stamoulis ultimately makes the point that, “We need to counteract the stigma associated with STDs.”



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