Why We Need Clicky, Accessible Herpes Writing Too

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Another piece for Women’s Health, another amusing stock photo choice.

The real title for this piece should be “How to Not Be a Fucking Asshole,” but this was the headline they pitched me. It was harder to write than the other articles I’ve worked on for Women’s Health—having herpes isn’t like being an out queer person or a person of color. There are no obvious comments and questions I get all the time, and several of the items included here I only heard once in bizarre, frustrating moments. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to write the piece at first, not wanting to freak out the newly diagnosed with horror stories of disclosures gone wrong.

Clearly I wrote the piece despite my initial hesitation, and I’m glad I did. It’s an interesting intersection of new media content and stigma reduction activism—accessible, clicky, with an actual message between its numbered points. It’s hard to fight stigma without acknowledging that it exists, without pulling apart its catch-phrases and exposing why they are hurtful. The average person doesn’t know why asking how someone got herpes is inconsiderate, and “oh gross” is the gut reaction we all have to mention of the STI before we learn about it. How many shock pieces have you seen online about copies of Fifty Shades of Grey carrying traces of the herpes virus? How many gossip rag items about celebrities suing each other over STIs?

Someone in the tumblr herpes community reblogged the link to my article and added this commentary: “I hate these things because I don’t feel that everyone experiences this – and I don’t want anyone reading this garbage and being scared off about being open with having herpes.” I see their concern, and I love getting criticism from people who actually know what they’re talking about! But to me the question is: does it do more harm to recognize and call out ignorance, criticizing it from a place of agency and experience, or to intentionally ignore stigma in the hopes that the newly diagnosed won’t know it exists? 

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At the end of the day, I write for a few different audiences. Posts on this blog assume more personal experience and a higher level of interest than the average reader on Women’s Health. I tend to know who finds their way here, whereas a random teenager might stumble across my WH pieces on Facebook and click out of morbid curiosity. They’ve probably never thought of herpes stigma before. They’ve probably never thought of how to talk about herpes respectfully before. And maybe that kid will smirk and think gross, or maybe they’ll absorb it and be less shocked the next time a friend or a date discloses being herpes+. This isn’t an article for herpblr—it’s an article for the masses. The less informed, curious, well-intentioned masses. The same ones saying the dumb shit I included in the list.

This weekend I’m uploading a very long and meaty conversation I had with my friend Gabe Rosenberg about the potential and pitfalls of herpes journalism. I’m really excited to share it with you; it’s nerdy and detailed and unapologetic. It’s everything that herpblr, sex education activists, and media geeks will appreciate. Every publication has its style, voice and audience. There are many roads into the herpes experience and there are many voices we need to hear.

Even the clicky ones.

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Ella Dawson is a rowdy millennial who cares too much about The Bachelor. Her passions include sexual health and education, feminist erotica and social media.

One thought on “Why We Need Clicky, Accessible Herpes Writing Too

  1. I’m a male but I can relate to the hurtful comments people make. At the end of the day, they’re just insecure people looking to put others down to inflate their own self worth. Having herpes and dealing with the challenges it presents instead of running away from them makes you a stronger person at the end of the day. Keep writing!

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