If You're Sexually Active, Getting Herpes Is Practically Inevitable


For Teen Vogue, by Lauren Duca.

Photo: UIG via Getty Images

We need to stop pretending STIs are a punishment.

We treat herpes as a punishment or a punchline, when really it’s a simple fact of being a sexually active person. Two-thirds of the world has herpes, and one in two teens will be diagnosed with an STDs by the time they are 25.

It’s ridiculous that there is such confusion around something so common, and Ella Dawson is here to help dismantle the stigma. In a recent TEDx talk, she took on the obstacle of misinformation with facts and observations from her own experiences living with genital herpes. These 16 minutes should really be required be required viewing for all college freshmen.

In hopes of spreading her already-impressive platform, Teen Vogue caught up with Ella to help further explore her mission of spreading sexual health. Here’s what she had had to say about being diagnosed and her mission to help young people — especially young women — be able to explore their sexuality, while staying safe and informed.

Teen Vogue: What made you get into spreading awareness about herpes and other STDs?

When I was diagnosed with genital herpes during my junior year of college, I was really disappointed by how little information I found when I Googled my diagnosis. There were a lot of scary statistics but very few personal stories. All I really wanted was someone to tell me honestly how having an STI would impact my life, and to reassure me that I was going to be fine. Now I try to be the resource and the source of hope I needed so much when I was diagnosed: a friendly big sister on the Internet who has herpes and is willing to write about it unapologetically, with humor.

TV: What kind of responses have you gotten from your work? Are there any special reactions that stand out to you?

I usually get two reactions to my work: either someone is startled but excited to find themselves reading about STDs for the first time without the usual “sex will kill you!” message, or they’re STD-positive and are thrilled and grateful that I’m sharing my experiences. I’ve gotten hundreds of emails from people all over the world who want to thank me for the work I do and share their stories with me. My favorite messages are the emails from young women who have successfully used either my blog or my TEDx talk to tell their partners that they have genital herpes too.

TV: What can teens, especially young women, do to help protect themselves against STDs? (As you mentioned in your TEDTalk, condoms don’t prevent herpes. Does that meant there’s no way around it?)

Condoms don’t completely prevent the transmission of herpes, but that’s usually only the case when the person carrying the virus doesn’t know that they have it. Herpes is transmitted through skin contact, so even some classic naked spooning with a partner who is having a herpes outbreak could theoretically transmit the virus. It’s also often transmitted through oral sex, where someone with a cold sore goes down on their partner and gives them genital herpes that way. Cold sores are oral herpes! The best way to protect yourself from STDs is to get tested regularly and to know which STDs you have and have not been tested for. Knowing your status and discussing it with your partner can help you make decisions together about the best way to practice safe sex. I use consistently condoms with my sexual partners and have never had an issue.


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