Ella Dawson is a sex and culture critic who drinks too much Diet Coke. She is represented by Jamie Carr at The Book Group, and her debut novel, The Reunion, will be published by Dutton Books. In her writing, she digs into topics we usually avoid in polite company: from our dehumanizing culture of casual sex, to how shame keeps us silent about our mental and sexual health. She is reader-supported via Patreon, where she shares exclusive essays, videos and pop culture recommendations each week.
Ella’s short fiction has been published in seven erotica collections, most recently The Big Book Of Orgasms, Volume II, edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel. You can purchase many of her published works on Amazon here. You can read Ella’s nonfiction work in ELLE, MTV, Bumble, Vox, Women’s Health, and more. Her TEDx talk about fighting STI stigma has been viewed over 800,000 times, and her patient advocacy has been featured in the Washington Post, HuffPost, TeenVogue, and New York Magazine. Her work was even recognized by Hillary Clinton.
Ella has a BA from Wesleyan University, where she majored in Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies with a concentration in feminist pop culture criticism.
You can follow her on Twitter, Instagram, Mastodon, and Facebook. Read more of her work and support her advocacy when you join her Patreon community.
Gabe Rosenberg is the editor and braintrust behind this blog. Find him on Twitter as @GabrielJR.
For press, publishing, or speaking inquiries, contact email@example.com. [Please do not email Ella for advice, as she is not the only person who reads this inbox due to harassment. If you’ve just been diagnosed with herpes and are freaking out, here’s all of the advice she would give you if you were buddies.]
A note on comments: All comments are approved by a moderator before they are published on this website. Comments that are disrespectful, hostile, or have the potential to harm readers will not be posted. Ask yourself this: Would my comment be dangerous to a potentially suicidal teenager? If yes, then it won’t appear here.
59 thoughts on “About Ella”
I was diagnosed with Herpes 3 1/2 years ago. He was the second guy I ever slept with. Soon after I started dating this awesome guy that had been very accepting about it. About a month later I realized I had gotten a low risk hpv strain as well, from that same sexual partner I got herpes from. Nonetheless my boyfriend and I kept going strong.
Fast forward to the present, my now ex-boyfriend and I recently broke up after 3 and some years of dating.
I am at a loss now. I’d like to meet new guys just like any 26 y.o. woman would, but I have 2 Std’s and can’t even begin to think on how to express this to a potential sexual partner. Even for people with herpes, the additional hpv seems like a deal breaker.
Also I can’t seem to find many articles online that deal with this specific situation. I’ve been feeling lost lately and a bit depressed. Is there any piece of advice you can provide me with?
I love your blog and you already help me so much! Thanks for that.
I’m sorry for your diagnosis. As a young woman, it can feel overwhelming to think about dating with 2 STIs and to believe that your future partners will consider this to be a “deal breaker”.
But here’s the good news. Herpes + HPV is not a deal breaker to any worthwhile partner. Reading Ella’s site will tell you that a herpes diagnosis should not prevent you (or anyone) from engaging in a consensual and pleasurable relationship. And having HPV shouldn’t change that. The fact is that most of your future partners have already been exposed to HPV,and that almost sexually active person under the age of 30 either has it already or was vaccinated. HPV is *incredibly* common.
Here are some facts: https://www.cdc.gov/std/hpv/stdfact-hpv.htm.
And here’s a truth: Any relationship that ends because of your HPV and herpes status is a relationship that wasn’t worth having. Herpes and HPV should not be a deal breaker for any knowledgeable person, and if a person doesn’t know this already, you have the chance to educate them.
From your post, I think that your biggest issue is not “having 2 SDIs”, but thinking of yourself as somehow “damaged”. You are not damaged. In fact, you have a new power — the power to detect ignorance early in any relationship. Try this: tell your next partner about your STI status on your 2nd date. Tell them this without embarrassment or shame. If they run, then you know you’ve identified an ignorant jackass. If they stay, then then you have a potential partner.
You don’t need to waste time with ignorant jackasses. Your status now gives you a wonderful new power: the ability to detect them early. Embrace the power!
I love when people can make the best out of a bad situation. I asked my doctor to tell me more about the different types of Herpes and he basically told me he couldn’t remember and for me to look it up on the internet. I was like well gee thanks doc, I am glad I came to the VA for your expertise lol. I just had to laugh, I am looking on the bright side here. I was on a website and they listed your Ted Talk, I had applied to a Ted Talk last summer but didn’t make the cut but I think now I want to talk about this as well from the male point of view maybe. Either way thanks for the laughs! If you are ever in Wisconsin I’ll buy you a beer or two! Keep up the great work!
Ella, thank you for your incredible advice and expertise. I have been in love with a man for a year who has herpes. We have kept in touch ever since but about a month ago we began speaking again and have begun dating. Although we haven’t been intimate yet I have been trying to educate myself more for a better understanding of him. Your blog has given me the straight forward answers I have felt I needed and has given me piece of mind. I haven’t doubted for a second he is the right guy for me but I couldn’t help but be nervous because I was uneducated. The more I read, the better I feel. I will be following you and your story forever! Thank you, thank you, thank you.
I recently have had to have some difficult conversations and I did what a lot of people do when they want to know how to do something. I googled it. I came across a TEDx Talks video on YouTube with you speaking about your herpes. I also have herpes. No, I wasn’t running all over God’s creation with every man I could find but here I am. I have felt bad about myself over the years because of my herpes status. I obviously still have some self-accepting to do but I want to thank you because I think what you are doing is so admirable. Just that one short video has helped me a lot!
I was very moved by reading your essay on Hillary and the Alt Right. I’m really sorry this kind of abuse is going on. It feels like we have so much work ahead of us. I’m writing because I saw on twitter that you’re going to talk e a motorcycle class. My daughter is an amazing person who rides and also has a clothing line mostly directed at the women bikers community. Enjoy and be safe! http://www.hinterlandempire.com
Awesome, thank you for the tip Teresa!
Don’t know where else to post this, but I read an article about how Ella Dawson revealed she has genital herpes on the DailyMail or something… which led me to here. Aaaand your website is amazing. I am 20 years old, I did my first sexual *thing* a year ago. I liked a guy this summer and we did some more sexual things. Fast forward to a hectic beginning two weeks at uni and developing tiny little bumps on my lip. I discovered that it’s most likely herpes simplex virus 1 (extremely common), and I tell this guy I like. He proceeds to call me nasty and disgusting and that he doesn’t want anything to do with me anymore.
Sucks for him! 🙂 Seeing as this virus is just as common as a cold, he either has it (and is in denial, seeing as he treated me like the jackass he is – I couldn’t see his true character BEFORE this happened. I guess getting le herp is a blessing in disguise!) or will contract it in the future. I could’ve gotten it from this jackhole or the guy I did stuff with a year ago. Who knows! Physically, it’s not a big deal at all. It’s just some bumps that I put cream on. It just looks like zit on my lip (and I have lots of zits). I agree that the biggest part is accepting it and dealing with the psychological side effects of saying, “Hey, I got le herp from someone.”
Keep writing! I love it. Definitely helping me come to terms with having le herp 🙂
I want to definitely reach out to you and thank you for your amazing writing. You are an amazing person, and an extremely talented writer. You have helped millions with your work, and have really inspired me.
I got HSV2 from a man who had not had an outbreak for 7 years. Apparently he was contagious during viral shedding. I test between partnets and have the man do the same. I’ve never had an outbreak; but I have not had sex in over two years because I don’t know when shedding happens. Plus, in the over 60 age group, most men run when I mention I have an STI… Well they run after telling me I am immoral. 🙂
Isn’t it interesting a 20 something woman can be so upfront and open minded but the older (but not necessarily wiser) 60 something crowd is not as well informed. I have not had an outbreak for 5 years until this month so I thought I needed to review the basics. If you have never had an outbreak what prompted the initial testing? Congrats for the responsible disclosure.
Bill (a 60 something crowd member)
I am a 26 year old woman with HSV-2 and the person that I contracted it from was the guy I lost my virginity to. It has been three years now. I was very depressed, and I still feel my love life will never return back. I have dated but I haven’t had sex. Everytime I feel the guy is about to want to have sex I get anxious, cause how do you tell someone you’re meeting that you have herpes? Will he tell everyone he knows? How can I explain it to someone without them feeling bad for me?
So yeah ever since I got diagnosed I haven’t been in a stable relation. My mom doesn’t even know I have herpes, it will devastate her so much and I know she will probably want to look for the guy that gave it to me. My trigger for outbreak is my period so I get it every month. Taking Valtrex daily doesn’t even help me a bit. So every month I get frustrated, depressed and feel disgusted at myself and ask everytime why did it happened to me? So when I saw what you did…wow, I was crying a river cause I still haven’t met someone that has herpes and I keep it so secret only my two long-life best friends are the ones that knows of it. All I want to say with tears in my eyes is thanks. Making fun of herpes in movies and the social stigma is not nice, it’s actually pretty awful and for me to find in the internet someone that went through the same fear that I went through is heartwarming, it makes me comfortable cause I know I am not alone. And even though I haven’t got over it, pass three years, I am looking forward to that day and embrace it as brave as you did. Thanks again Ella.
I was dating my current bf for 9 months before I trusted him enough to have sex and to also of course let him know of my situation. Every time things got a little too much, I would always back off and he never understood why. But he understood and we are still together. It won’t happen over night but your love life will come back to you. Just remember you can’t have sex during outreaks or even the slight feel that you might be getting one. Maybe talk to your Dr about the outbreaks. My Dr had said to take double during bad times. But like I said talk with your Dr to see what is a better option for you. I’ve read on something called L-Lysine. It is a vitamin that many people have said it has helped subside herpes. I haven’t tried it yet, but maybe look into that too. I also read that chocolate can trigger it as well. I’ve noticed trying to stay away from chocolate during my period has helped mine not be so bad as before. Many people have herpes and a lot of people don’t even know and they are just spreading it around. Think of it like a skin rash that temporarily comes and goes. You are ok. There are worse things out there. Just keep taking care of yourself even more than ever. You are beautiful and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. It is not your fault. Stay positive.
Hi Ella, I was diagnosed with genital herpes about 2 months ago and I’ve been having a really hard time with myself. I have fears about people judging me, and I have this constant fear that no one will ever love me with herpes. The thing that scares me the most is telling someone if I ever get close to a partner again that I have herpes. I was wondering if you could shed a little bit of light on my situation and refer some ways to cope with this. Thank you.
Hi 🙂 I was diagnosed 2 years ago now. And honestly I think the hardest part of it all has been the effect emotionally. I ended up having to go to counseling because I got depressed. A large percentage of the world has it but it is just not talked about. Know that you are not alone and you are still a beautiful wonderful person. I thought I was never going to be able to be in a relationship ever again because I was embarrassed. My current bf is well aware of the situation and of the possible that it could always pass to him too, but he fell in love with me as a person so it doesn’t bother him. He told me that as long as there was medicine for it, it didn’t bother him. There are caring people out there who will still see you for you and look beyond a small minor flaw. You have to be more picky now on who you get close with and it will be hard but you just remember that you need to advise them of all risks beforehand. The 1st year will be hard because you will learn what causes outbreaks, once you get that under control, you’ll be ok. Best wishes
Just want to ask how do you prevent your outbreaks? Do you use something as a feminine wash or just the acyclovir? thanks in advance
Hi! I don’t use anything to prevent outbreaks other than a small dose of Valtrex when I know I’m traveling internationally — changing timezones is one of my outbreak triggers.
Valtrex will be your best friend. I take it everyday now to help prevent things from happening. I’ve read that stress, chocolate, your period, change in hormones, your body being in hot water, and some other things can trigger outbreaks. You just need to take care of yourself even better than before. It may take awhile for you to know what will trigger it, everyone is different. I read somewhere that there is a vitamin called L-lysine that has also helped people but I have never personally tried it before. Good luck!
Hey Ella! I just wanted to tell you that when I was diagnosed 2 years ago with herpes I thought my life was over. Sex wise and relationship wise. Even though I was dating the guy who gave it to me I thought no one would look at me the same again. That I’d be a whore. But, now 2 years later I’m 6 months into an amazing marriage to a guy who doesn’t even care about it. And I wanted to thank you for helping me cope with the diagnosis and help me get to the point of dating and sex again. Which led me to my amazing husband. So thank you.
🙂 I’m so happy to hear that you’re well, Autumn. If I played even a small part, that makes me very proud.
You are an amazing woman.
Matching diagnosises aside, I just want to be your friend. Lol
You inspire me on a feminist level. On an intelligence level. On a boss lady doing so much for mankind, level.
Thank you for being you.
For keeping a lot of us off the ledge of diving into insanity.
For reminding us that we aren’t a fucking statistic or a status, we are still PEOPLE. With brains and personalities and jobs and lives.
I’ve only been diagnosed for about 5 months, and the roller coaster of emotions is all too real.
I’m sure I speak for everyone here when I say thank you. From the deepest part of my soul. THANK YOU.
You give us all an indescribable level of comfort and assuredness in sharing our diagnoses and, almost a green light to continue to celebrate our lives.
For every jerk who throws you hate, there are hundreds of us thanking the universe for you.
Thank you for being open enough to discuss this STI with grace and humor.
I am a 56 year old woman with herpes. I was diagnosed with HSV-2 when I was 19 years old. That was 37 years ago in 1979. Who wore condoms I the ’70’s? My mother took me to the doctor when my first outbreak occurred, I had a bladder infection on top of that, so assumed that was the reason for the pain and possible flu like symptoms. I never, ever expected to be diagnosed with HSV-2. Hell, I didn’t even know what herpes was. My mother said, well you have ruined your life. Later in her life my mother was also diagnosed with HSV-2. I consider that God’s little joke. I have been married twice and have a teenage son. Yes, I will have herpes until there is a cure, but my life didn’t end. I have been sexually cautious but not celibate. It’s a condition, not a life sentence.
Thank you for your courage. You’ve helped me a lot. I have a ways to go with my shame but you’ve helped lift much of it.
You are amazing! I am more than twice your age and didn’t handle my recent diagnosis as courageously as you did. Your TED talk was awesome……poised, professional, funny and spot on! I had tears in my eyes because I want your level of courage. Having worked a lot on mindfulness helped me handle the diagnosis (not slut shame myself as Dan Savage would say) but……I am still grappling with how forthright I”ll need to be with new sex partners. Keep going….your work is making a difference.
I have been diagnosed in the last two weeks and okay my worst outbreak is (hopefully) out of the way now and I do feel better emotionally than even 4 days ago but finding your blog has given me both the facts and also hope so I am better prepared for whatever the future brings. Reading your post about losing your post-herpes virginity I realise how similar you and I were pre-H but since the diagnosis. Until reading your site and talking with a close friend I now realise that actually I don’t have to be forever alone and I can still live any lifestyle I wish as long as I take a few precautions. Thank you so much, your site is a life saver.
I was diagnosed today after finding out that the man I have been with for several years has cheated on me. I am so glad I found your posts, I really needed this. You made me feel like I am less alone.
I felt so awful when I was diagnosed this week. I felt like my life was ruined. Upon all of my constant research, I stumbled upon your blog and articles of yours that have been published. YOU ARE AMAZING. You have given me hope. This virus is NOT who I am and my love life is not over forever. You are so courageous and I don’t know if I’ve ever looked up to someone so much. Being famous for writing is my dream and I also have always wanted to make a difference in the world somehow. You are doing both and I think its the dopest thing ever. The world needs people like you to end the herpes stigma. Never stop being you and thank you for being a voice for us all.
I have been waiting 20 years for someone with your bravery. Keep doing what you are doing.
Thank you for helping me not feel so alone. I found out yesterday and honestly feeling a lot of shame and guilt. On top of a number of other not so great feelings. Again thank you for giving me HOPE
You are not alone ❤️
Your blog is amazing! I am someone that has herpes also, I’ve had it for almost four years now. It was the hardest thing ever! It affected my schooling, my life, and my dating life. The guy that gave it to me told everyone that I knew that I was a whore or a slut. He even went with me when I found out and refused to take a test to see if he had it. Later he told me he has it and he gave it to me. This was the hardest thing to tell my mom, me and her did so much research on it. I now am dating a wonderful guy that is okay with the whole thing. He is there by my side! Ella I’m so glad you take about you having it, I have been thinking about doing the same I just haven’t been able to do it!
Just want to reiterate what has already been said – I discovered your Ted Talk and was blown away with your honesty, frankness and humour. You’re an inspiration!
If there is anything I can do to help you, then please let me know. You’ve helped me so much already with just being you. Thank you ❤
Ella, It probably does not mean much to you, but I am sorry that you have experienced the pain that you have. Both from this STD, and from hostile men and women who have judged you. I disagree with some things you say, but my heart goes out for you! You are in my prayers!
Ella – Thank you for standing up and being you when thousands of [mostly white, male, asshole] people are screaming in your face to stop. Thank you for not being silenced. Thank you for teaching me that I probably have herpes. You are a total badass!
Great blog – I really enjoyed your medium article. I’m sorry you have had to go through so much harassment but I’m not surprised. Practically half or more ( i’d say way more) of the adult population has herpes of some sort so all those Neanderthal males telling you to jump off buildings got to get them self tested and then follow their own advice. Thanks for being so honest and helping others protect themselves!
I adore reading your blog, and you really hit it out of the park with the lexapro post. I too have been on lexapro for about eight months and it has for sure been quite the ride. How you described anxiety (as well as the unique anxieties that come along with it..:) was perfect and it echoed my thoughts entirely. Something that really startled me was how my close friends were startled when they found out I took it. It was so taboo, my best friend of ten years only then confessed she was on Prozac for the past two years. It shouldn’t be like this! But I understand it is hard to open up…and it is so refreshing to have someone who is so brave and fearless to share their stories and make others not feel alone. I wish I had an ounce of your courage to be myself, fearlessly. Hopefully with reading your blog and learning from you I one day can be. and I’ll stop before I get too sappy! Keep on keeping on, girl.
This morning I attended a HIPPA training for my workplace. I am a hospital employee and was completely astounded when it included shaming of a Herpes positive person. First talking about how an imaginary patient had herpes and everyone had a good laugh about it, followed later by the line “You wouldn’t want it to get out that you have Herpes simplex two, would you?” As someone that has long ago been diagnosed with both simplex one and two, I was sincerely hurt and considering quitting the job.
On a completely different subject thank you so much for your TED talk and your blog. It has done wonders for me as someone that has recently had to wonder about disclosing to someone again after a very long relationship. I never expected to have to have this discussion with a partner again. It was so comforting to read your words and I have been reading them over and over.
I was recently diagnosed and I’ve really been struggling. The only thing that has help to hold back the tears, and remind me that I am not herpes, that I have herpes, is your articles and videos. I am so thankful that there is someone out there, that has gone through the same thing I am going through right now to offer some guidance. I still haven’t decided how I am going to let my diagnosis impact my life, but I feel it won’t be so negative with the help of your blog. Thanks Ella!
Jenny, there are so many people, especially women, who have also experienced the pain that you are going through, myself included! I just thought I would share another great online resource that I use as well- http://www.pinktent.com. Its specifically geared towards women with herpes, and has some additional resources on top of the ones that Ella has provided that could be useful in your journey towards healing!
Hey I don’t know any other way to get in contact with you, but can you please email or Facebook message me, ella. I received some pretty strange messages from somoene that seems to have found me from your Facebook page and is now asking me if me or any of my friends with herpes will go to the middle of nowhere in India to spread awareness of herpes….. I just wanted to know if you had heard from this person before or if he’s harassing other people or if there really is an organization..
I’m not sure how to contact you, other than this. I would like to know what I can do to spread awareness and break this stigma that surrounds our diagnosis. I was self diagnosed less than two months ago and I haven’t been dealing with it very well. I know that I can do small things, like talk about it and have those one on one conversations. The thing is, I want to do more. I don’t want to make a small change. I want more than that, I want to make an impact. If you have any advice on the steps I can take to do this, please let me know.
Well, let me say as a 45 year old man without herpes that your blog makes perfect sense to me. I don’t have HSV1 or 2. The stigma around herpes is way out of proportion. HSV1 and 2 are essentially the same type of virus. Nobody freaks out about HSV1 (cold sores) because it’s usually above the waist. Suddenly we get the same thing on our genitals and there’s a whole bunch of stigma because society in general has all sorts of hangups with sexuality.
Just think about HPV. Just about everyone sexually active has gotten HPV at one point. There are a huge number of strains. HPV causes cancer some of the time, but there’s not even a test for it for guys. So even the more dangerous, more widespread disease has far less stigma than a more isolated, slight annoyance disease. Yeah. That makes sense…not.
While I may incorporate HSV into my evaluation process, it’s way lower to me than who people are in more important areas.
I’ve known for a couple of years of my diagnosis but have been avoiding it. I’m ashamed to have had partners in that time and not confided in them about it due to fear and I’m so sorry. But reading this has given me so much hope. I’ve been so scared and depressed about it and googled everything under the sun and still found little peace. Finding your blog today has made such a postive effect I no longer feel so alone and excited to start on my journey of acceptance. You are a truely inspiring woman Thankyou
You’re not alone at all!! I have had the exact same problem, probably something to do with denial making us feel “””””normal.”””” If it’s any consolation, its a minuscule chance you gave them herpes, so don’t worry! You’ve done nothing wrong to get herpes either, these things happen to everyone and luckily herpes is extremely manageable! Lots of love to you
Wow. You are so courageous. I applaud you on being so open, when people are so close minded. I was diagnosed at the ripe age of 16, fell into drugs to cover up the pain I never dealt with because I was raped by my boyfriend at the time. Today I am 28 years old, a mother, wife, established career woman and never thought I would end up like this because i too, have herpes. I wish people could understand that we are not dirty, sluts, promiscuous people. I could go on and on but ANYWAYS, you are amazing and please keep doing what you’re doing.
Anyone ever call you Ella Dawsome? I just did.
I was diagnosed recently aged 21. I promised myself to stop researching herpes as it would drive me mad & make me over-think it. However, it’s a good job I came across your video & blog before I did. Thanks for providing such a positive outlook & (in a way) personifying herpes – considering it is something portrayed as ‘alien’/ ‘other’ rather than something many of us HUMANS have (wuut?!).
Thank you for your integrity and the support that I’m sure you are providing so many people, including myself. Keep it going, you’re truly an inspiration to fellow humans!
All the best 🙂
Thank you so much Ella.
I was diagnosed 4 years ago during a loving relationship with a man who did not realise he had herpes. Since then I have kept this hidden as much as possible. It is the source of much negative self talk and fear regarding future relationships. You are starting a wonderful change and it is so nice to read through a blog that i can 100% relate to, on a topic that i have tried, until recently, to detach from.
You have a lovely way of writing and you are putting your skills and vibrancy to wonderful use.
Thank you for the inspiration and congratulations on being you.
Your blog is an inspiration and I’m so glad you’re bringing this to light. It’s so hard to talk about something that’s so common yet so not talked about. I felt so ashamed when I got it and could not see how I could live the rest of my life but I realize that there are many worse things out there that could take my life literally. So I applaud you for your work and your time. Bravo my sister!!~
I’m 58. Acquired the virus 40 years ago. Had a successful marriage and two kids. I am healthy in every way. It’s not a curse or affliction. It doesn’t make you a bad person. It makes you human, and frankly I wouldn’t trade it for the hundreds of other possible diseases that others carry.
I just wanted to let you know that you are an inspiration and I truly commend you for what you are doing. I’m a 27 year old guy who has been living with this in silence for 3 years and I sympathize with everything you write about. I wish you the best!
I just found out today by my doctor’s result and I feel depressed and devastated…a couple days shy of my 27th birthday. I feel lost and your post and this site, gives me a little comfort. I don’t know where to turn and I feel embarrassed for my situation. 😦 I wish you the best
❤ Feel all the things and cry and be angry. Lean on the people you love (heavily). Be strong. Love yourself as fiercely as possible. It's going to be okay. This birthday will probably suck, but the next one… the next one is going to be amazing, I promise.
Things have gotten better. Your comment alone truly helped me in a dark time. And birthdays have been getting better ever since. I appreciate you and for all the hope you give all of us.
Fab to meet a little sister. Yep. <3!
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