I, Ella Dawson, Am a Slut with Herpes

It started, as most things do, with a tweet. Way back in April 2016, I started a hashtag with some of my friends for STD Awareness Month. I’ve already written about how #ShoutYourStatus was co-opted by anti-feminist trolls and the group now known as the Alt-Right. But one of the tweets I published at the time was recently embedded in an article about me on InfoWars (headline: HILLARY CLINTON SENDS THANK YOU LETTER TO “SLUT” WHO IS PROUD OF HER SEXUALLY TRANSMITTED DISEASE). Here is the tweet in question:

I could write a blog post about why I called myself a slut in response to the wave of genuine tweets in the #ShoutYourStatus conversation about how you don’t have to be a slut to get herpes. I could write a post about the respectability politics I see all the time within the STI community about how some of us deserve more sympathy than others. I could write about how people with more than one STI are often shunned by other community members because they should have “learned their lesson” and “been more careful” despite the fact that some STIs cannot be prevented. I could write about how I was trying to use my position as a community leader to shut that shit down and redirect the conversation in a more productive, less shaming direction.

But that blog post wouldn’t be fun. Instead I’m going to talk about why I, Ella Dawson, am a slut.

I lost my virginity at eighteen, because real sluts wait until they can also vote and buy lottery tickets. I often forget how many people I have had sex with and need to reference the list I have written down somewhere in order to remember. I think the number is currently less than twenty, but I have plenty of years ahead to improve upon that.

I’m bisexual, and everyone knows bisexual women are total sluts. We’re attracted to both genders: we are greedy and slutty. At least until we enter a monogamous relationship with a man, in which case we immediately revert to back being straight. HAPPY BISEXUAL VISIBILITY WEEK, EVERYONE!!!!

I am currently non-monogamous, because being able to date any gender is not enough for me. I also need to date everyone. One of these relationships is primarily sexual—we do weird shit to each other and I call him “daddy” because in addition to being a slut, I am also a bad feminist. I often give my phone number to cute bartenders and flirt with YouTube celebrities on Twitter because not all of my needs can be met by one person, or even two people. I have a lot of needs as a twenty-first century career woman and slut. Everyone knows non-monogamous people are wild as fuck. Sexual exclusivity is so 2013.

I’m a feminist, which makes me a huge slut, but also a prude, which confuses me! I also look like a pretty nice person, which makes me a slut according to Men Going Their Own Way HQ user all_in_chocolate, who says, “To me, that herpes hotel doesn’t have an innocent look at all. She looks like the fake-nice, bible-banger type. Besides being skin-crawling obnoxious, they are also the biggest sluts, which is probably why she has herpes.” In other news, I am listing myself on Airbnb!

I have anxiety, so I feel all the emotions. All. Of. The. Emotions. I am an emotion slut.

During college, I was the editor-in-chief of Wesleyan’s “art and sexuality magazine,” better known as Unlocked Mag. During my tenure, I did two semi-nude photo shoots and was Miss May in our 2014 calendar. I used the line “So how does it feel to fuck the editor of the sex magazine?” at least four times.

I wrote my senior thesis about the activist potential of feminist erotica, and I made a ton of jokes about what kind of research my thesis would require. I fucked my college boyfriend in my thesis carrel at least once. I didn’t receive honors on the thesis, but I’ve had short stories published in four erotica anthologies since then, including the forthcoming Best Women’s Erotica of the Year: Volume Two, which you can pre-order here. As noted by user Honeybunny on the anti-feminist troll forum KiwiFarms, “For something called feminist erotica it has an awful lot of getting fucked up the wall by hunky dudes, you know what I’m saying.” I do indeed write often about being fucked against brick walls. It’s a kink of mine. Again, I am a slut.

I have dated seven members of the same fraternity, which is both objectively a bad idea and classic slut behavior. I then blogged about one of them being an abusive little asshole, which means I am also a “crazy slut.”

I absolutely love social media and tweet many, many times a day because I love attention, like all good sluts do. I love being praised for my wit and cultural relevance because I clearly need the constant validation of strangers in order to feel good about myself. I do everything for attention! I take so many selfies and I love Snapchat and I gave a TEDx Talk a few months ago because I need everyone to listen to me and my cute face at all times. I only talk about herpes and its powerful social stigma for attention, not to help the hundreds of thousands of people who live with it anonymously and are often in abusive relationships, struggling with depression, and terrified of rejection. I only talk about being the survivor of an abusive relationship for attention, because I’m not at all afraid of facing retaliation from my ex or his friends, or getting sued for slander, or him showing up at my office with a gun someday (which would also technically be “attention,” so yay!!). I love having hundreds of strangers tell me what a fucking slut I am and how I should kill myself so as to not pose a risk to society!! I LOVE THE ATTENTION, GIVE ME MORE ATTENTION.

Sorry, I got worked up there for a moment. I’m just really, really horny for attention, everyone. I fucking love it.

I’m sarcastic, and sarcastic girls are always slutty as hell. It’s because we don’t respect ourselves enough to be honest, or something.

I’m voting for Hillary Clinton, which is a big slut move right there. You see, I care about things like equal pay for equal work, and access to affordable healthcare to treat my disgusting venereal disease. I want a President who believes in a woman’s right to choose so that if I ever get knocked up during all my slutty pre-marital sex, I can make the right decision for myself and abort that tiny clump of cells. I want real sex education for all the baby sluts out there who don’t know how to properly put on a condom and aren’t aware that the clitoris exists. I want the next generation of sluts to value female sexual pleasure and consent. Mostly I want a President who knows first hand the intense emotional trauma of fucking up your eyeliner. Sluts love a good cat eye.

I share my Netflix account with Gabe, which is classic slutty millennial behavior. I also have access to my ex-boyfriend’s Hulu account and occasionally mess up his recommended shows section by binging Bachelor In Paradise (sorry!!!). My subscription service usage is deeply promiscuous. I do not practice safe Netflix and chill.

Oh my god, you guys, I almost forgot the most important reason I am a slut: I HAVE A SEXUALLY TRANSMITTED INFECTION. Never mind the fact that plenty of people get herpes from their parents orally when they’re little kids, or that you can get herpes through oral sex, or from old fashioned “rubbing your junk against someone else’s junk but not actually putting anything inside anything else because JESUS IS WATCHING” dry-humping favored by teenagers. Also forget the fact that plenty of folks get herpes as virgins from their monogamous partners because someone was asymptomatic and didn’t know their status. Forget all that. I have herpes and thus I am a degenerate slut.

You heard it hear first. Slut. Me. Ella Dawson. Disgusting. And also not half as funny as I think I am.

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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.

10 thoughts on “I, Ella Dawson, Am a Slut with Herpes

  1. You are certainly loved by many – including me -for what you are doing. What you share meets the hearts of people who have experienced similar pain, but maybe couldn’t even name it. You are giving them words skillfully.     
    I would say that sometimes anger leads us to decisions we eventually regret and that also happens when it comes to sexuality. Sometimes anger or sorrow doesn’t let us see the whole picture. I hope it doesn’t happen to you as it has happened to me. And I hope you feel the love from people who support you on your way.   

  2. Don’t ever call yourself a slut you are a beautiful woman you made a mistake having herpes ain’t the end of the world 🌎 you are so beautiful and brave thank you for your story

  3. I’ve lived in denial of my diagnosis for quite some time now and I’ve had poor experiences telling people and their reactions. I can’t thank you enough for taking the time to speak your mind and for helping me better understand my body and worth. You’ve empowered me to be more honest and aware of myself and those I want to care for. In short – you’re the shit.

  4. Love, love, love! I’m so glad I found your website. I was recently diagnosed with genital hsv-1. I’m in a married, monogamous relationship. Hubby didn’t know he had oral hsv-1 from his mom. Thanks so much for having this blog!

  5. Ella, you are doing great work to destigmatize what is really just an extremely minor medical condition. Herpes is like really, really infrequent acne or something. Truly no big deal. And you are reclaiming your dignity and saying that having a harmless virus like this does not give anyone the right to disrespect you. I agree and bravo. You have given me confidence, strength, and perspective.

    One thing I’d love to hear your thought on is the next step. In life, it’s not enough to just be tolerated or respected, we deserve to be embraced. It sounds like you are happily in relationship with two people at the moment, which is great. What I’m wondering about is the marriage question. And not just for you, but for me and every woman in our position.

    How should we feel about the fact that some men have a preference for “non-sluts” without herpes? In my dating life, I have felt hurt and rejected sometimes by people who have what I consider to be an irrational fear of herpes. But I tend not to feel angry at them. Maybe that’s just me internalizing society’s shame tactics and taboos. But some of it is me respecting other people’s preferences even if I don’t agree with them.

    The problem is that I have met some amazing men who I would want to be with long term who are understanding and kind and non-judgmental and respectful and feminist but who ultimately decide that when it comes to marriage they want someone less experienced and with less tangible “evidence” of experience. Part of me thinks they are ignorant or shallow, part of me thinks I have to just accept their hurtful preference, but part of me think that maybe I did devalue myself a little bit in the eyes of some guys by being promiscuous in my early 20s. And not all of those guys who judge are necessarily bad guys overall. Some of them are “good catches.”

    How should I think about this? As a feminist, should I only want to be with a man who embraces my sexual past fully and without any double standard? Would it be wrong of me to tell a potential boyfriend that I regret my past and would change it if I could if it would make him consider me more “eligible” for the long-term? I don’t want to compromise my values but I don’t want to disqualify myself either.

    I just don’t know. I feel a bit conflicted and confused. I’m happy to shout my status online, to both supporters and haters. But in the love and marriage game, I find it harder to shout. I can dismiss the haters easily and embrace the really open-minded guys easily. But I’m conflicted when a guy who is otherwise perfect judges me for this. I don’t know whether to be mad at him or try to change his mind or to just cry.

    Anyway, sorry to ramble. I would love your advice on this question.

  6. So many people want down with slut shaming, but only for the one’s who aren’t “really” sluts. I got herpes losing my virginity missionary style. Would it be different herpes if it were my 12th partner fucking me up a brick wall?

    Herpes isn’t really bad except for that it tells people you’ve had sex. And it pops up to remind you that you have to remind everyone that you’re about to have sex with that you’ve had sex and they should be careful because they may have to tell people that *they’ve* had sex.

    You’re pursuing something you find fun with an enthusiastic partner while taking step to guard physical and emotional safety? You go, girl. There’s nothing wrong with being a slut. It didn’t give you herpes. Herpes is a part of life. The risk of injury isn’t worse than football or skiing.

    Estimates are as high as 90-100% for HSV1 but it isn’t symptomatic in a lot of people. Move it from the mouth to the genitals and it’s a big whoop. People need to understand that diseases are a thing and it’s just a part of living. Herpes is way better than having a cold, IMO. It is not good karma or hashtag blessed that makes you not have herpes. It ain’t worth ridiculing.

  7. All humans, and frankly all life on earth for that matter, deserve respect.. It is true that it’s a beautiful and complicated world, but we’re all just people trying our best for the most part.. Of course, your work is above and beyond and I believe you’re making a difference in the world’s of so many. At the end of the day, you should continue to hold your head high and do whatever it is that makes you most happy…

  8. I have herpes 2 and as a man in Albuquerque it makes it very difficult to try to find a real relationship, and even a FWB or fuck buddy is difficult. I know by statistics that there has to be thousands of women, sluts or not, in Albuquerque with herpes doing without sex or feeling depressed without any kind of relationship. One goes on the herpes websites and realizes most non-sluts are too embarrassed to be there, and i find one or two ads on Craigslist of a women with herpes seeking “friends first” really looking for a quick husband to save themselves. I even post my email jonathanwilkerson3 of gmail on my own Craigslist ads for FWB herpes and only those that have it, but with too cold feet to meet respond. There has to be the awareness you are building to get past this stigma of shame of something millions have whether they admit it or not. I have also found a mixture of herbs keeps outbreaks years apart if recurring at all. Despite those that label, you are exposing the hipocracy of a goody better than others society.

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