Hi there! My name is Ella Dawson, and I’m a sex & culture critic. I also happen to live with genital HSV-1. As a patient advocate for people living with herpes, I explored the social stigma of STIs and how our sexual health is shaped by politics, culture and shame. My work has been recommended by sex educators, school teachers, medical care professionals and therapists. In 2016, I even received a letter from Hillary Clinton.

You can find my writing and public speaking about herpes all over the internet. To stay up to date about my work and be among my first readers, please consider joining my Patreon community! When you join my Patreon, you will also get access to LIFE RUINER, my micro-memoir about my experience getting diagnosed with herpes.

Watch my TEDx talk about herpes stigma.

Read the transcript here.

Read my book about herpes.

LIFE RUINER. In 2020 I self-published a micro-memoir about my experience getting diagnosed with herpes and how STI stigma makes us vulnerable to abusive relationships. It is available to my Patreon subscribers here. You can read a free excerpt here.

Read my micro-memoir about my herpes diagnosis.

Explore more resources.

So You’ve Just Been Diagnosed With Herpes. I cover all the basics in this post: what you need to know, who you need to tell, how to protect your partners, where to find community, and the pep talk you definitely need right this minute.

Why I Love Telling People I Have Herpes. I wrote this essay for Women’s Health way back in 2015. Imagine my surprise when it went viral! It’s still the best distillation of my attitudes toward herpes, and it’s damn funny.

Getting Herpes Made My Sex Life Better. My hottest, truest take.

ASK ELLA: How Do I Tell Someone I Have Herpes? Practical advice to read before you have That Conversation.

ASK ELLA: Should I Date Someone With Herpes? I answered the question that brings people to my website the most.

ASK ELLA: I Have Herpes and I’m Afraid of Rejection. The realistic, no-bullshit pep talk everyone needs.

ASK ELLA: Are Herpes Jokes Ever Funny? Short answer: it depends on who is telling the joke. Send this to your friends who don’t get why you’re so offended by Saturday Night Live’s constant herpes jokes.

Herpes Two Years later: On Sex Without Condoms. Shockingly, I don’t always use condoms now. This essay is about why (and how).

Why I Will Never Support Herpes or STI Dating Sites. I get a lot of questions about STI dating apps like PositiveSingles and similar services. Here’s my hot take on why I don’t use or support these sites. 

Herpes deep dives.

My characters care about safe sex because I have to. This was the first time I put in print that I have herpes. This essay was my take on a debate about whether or not characters in erotica should have to use condoms.

What happened after I told the Internet I had herpes. This is how everyone I knew reacted to me going public, from my parents to my exes.

Why I Celebrate the Day I Was Diagnosed with Herpes. Living with herpes can be absolutely brutal — not necessarily because of the virus, but because of its stigma. We should celebrate ourselves for getting through it.  

TIME Magazine Ruined Herpes Journalism. Here’s How to Fix It. My site editor Gabe Rosenberg and I read the infamous 1982 cover story about herpes so that you don’t have to. 

Should you publicly disclose your herpes diagnosis? Herpes+ sexologist Emily Depasse and I talked about how public disclosure has impacted our personal and professional lives, and how to decide if it’s right for you.

How I became internet-famous for having herpes — and why I’m retiring. In 2017, I decided to take a step back from herpes activism to focus on other work and on my mental health.

To the teenage girls who have herpes. This world tells teen girls they’re worthless. Don’t listen.

Why should I date someone with herpes? I wrote the rant that everyone with herpes needs to read from time to time.

Why I don’t call herpes a “gift.” The herpes community doesn’t have great language to capture our experiences yet.

Why having a boyfriend doesn’t cure herpes. Please stop publishing essays about how you finally found someone who would love you despite your herpes diagnosis. There are other ways to heal, and there are better ways to challenge stigma.

Like to watch? Here are some of my press appearances.

Listen to me on podcasts.

Savage Lovecast: I talked about herpes stigma and answered listener questions with the one and only Dan Savage.

Just Between Us: Authors and podcast geniuses Gaby Dunn and Allison Raskin chatted with me about my experience getting diagnosed with herpes and how I became internet famous.

Doing It! With Hannah Witton: Sex and relationships YouTuber Hannah and I had a great conversation about herpes stigma, disclosure, and what it’s like to publicly talk about sex education as a female content creator.

Friends 2 Lovers: Lily Herman and Mackenzie Newcomb interviewed me about the abysmal state of STI representation in romance novels.

138 thoughts on “Herpes

  1. I’m in love with you Ella. Thankyou for bring change in my life.
    Love you…….. from Indonesia. I was attacked by right wingers & after getting diagnosed + using contraceptive pills + going threw cumbersome litigation, i felt like trash & lost my self.
    Your TED talk inspired me & helped me get out of it. Thankyou so much.
    Love you.

  2. I watched it this afternoon before getting tested for herpes (it came positive………. shitt). It made me less scared and more prepared for what I was pretty certain I would have to face coming up. I did have a question for you (or perhaps some other people on this site): I found on the CDC website that the first outbreak usually happens about 4 days after contracting it. If I am pretty certain I know when this happened, and I have already talked with the guy I think this happened from and he is getting tested, should I still contact all of my past partners to get tested? It’d be great to minimize the number of conversations I have to make, but if I still need to have them, I will.
    Thanks again for your testimonials and writing about your experiences! It is such a blessing to know I’m not alone and that this can be manageable.

  3. Have you ever transmitted to someone, even after telling them and taking precautions? If so, how did you deal with that?

  4. Hi Ella
    I have had herpetic whitlow for nearly 6 years, I would get blisters in the top of 2 of my fingers and they would hurt really badly. I never thought it was herpes, I thought it was some kind of fungus well One day with blisters in my fingers I played with my self not thinking what I had on my finger was herpes and shortly after 2 weeks, I wake up with so much pain in the exact place I had “played” with my self. I went to the doc and the doc tested me and diagnosed me with HSV1 Herpetic whitlow and HSV1 Genitally and told me that it was highly likely that by touching myself with a few blister sores on my fingers I transferred my virus down there and it is very localized, not inside just outside on the right part but here I am nearly 3 years later and still consider wanting to die. Obviously suicide is not something I have the courage to do but definitely something I think often, how I’d rather be dead than to live knowing I spread herpes from my fingers to my genitals that one day that I thought nothing of it. I remember the specific day this happened and I play it in my mind, just crying telling my self to not be so stupid. I know a vaccine is a long ways, but we need to push for a vaccine. I did not have sex with a guy to get genital herpes. I literally touched my self with sores on my fingers and spread it that way. How can this be an STI? I can’t even live with my self sometimes. We need a vaccine because the psychological drain is extremely heavy. I’ve only had 2 ob since I got it and I think of this nearly everyday of my life. The burden is unbearable.

    Thank you for reading my story
    Much luv

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