In a conversation with HuffPost Live on Friday, writer Ella Dawson opened up about the "tidal wave of shame" she felt when she first found out she had genital herpes. But through the support of her family and friends, she's gained the strength to speak out and combat the stigma of the sexually transmitted infections.
Dawson, who recently wrote about breaking the stigma of herpes for Women's Health, told host Nancy Redd that when she was diagnosed two years ago, her "first instinct was panic and shame" and certainty that it was going to ruin her life. But she immediately did her research, and when she found out how common genital herpes actually is -- one in six people have it, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention -- her fear started to dissipate.
"As I met more people and learned that herpes is incredibly common, I became less afraid of it and less ashamed of it and sort of immune to the nastiness that I had always seen," Dawson said. "And I also understood that with the crazy statistics and numbers, it doesn't make sense to associate herpes with people who are liars or cheaters or rampantly promiscuous. All of these myths I had seen were completely inaccurate and not based in lived experience."
When she first started talking openly about having herpes, she was expecting "a really intense negative backlash." But the complete opposite happened, and she's had people reach out to her from all over the world.
"People are really ready to have this conversation and they're so excited to be able to talk about it with their partners," Dawson said.
On May 9, Dawson will celebrate her "herpiversary," marking two years since she was diagnosed. While such an anniversary might seem unexpected, Dawson said she's not celebrating having the infection, but rather her triumphs.
"With my herpiversary, I like to celebrate the fact that I've survived the stigma," she said.
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