Although STD Awareness Month has ended, keep in mind that the fight against stigma and the push for more effective treatments and cures is still ongoing.
However, the stigma against sexually transmitted diseases may be slowly going away, with many women now sharing their stories publicly.
For example, 22-year-old Ella Dawson wrote an essay on her herpes diagnosis for Women’s Health Magazine that quickly went viral.
In her essay she discusses how she actually enjoys telling people she has herpes now, as part of her fight against stigma.
“I don’t know what made me decide enough was enough,” Dawson said in the essay. “I didn’t feel like the woman that my friends knew me to be—a bold and outspoken campus badass—but I was sick of making myself small because I had herpes.”
“Six months after my first outbreak, I started dropping the ‘herpes bomb’ into conversations casually,” Dawson added in her essay. “My logic was that every time I told someone, ‘I have herpes,’ the words would get easier to say.”
Liz Crokin, a journalist and author of “Malice,” got herpes from her ex over two years ago, and it actually progressed into herpes meningitis and then meningoencephalitis, a life-threatening condition.
As a result of her ex’s deception in knowingly spreading herpes without telling her, Crokin went public with her story over a year ago.
She ultimately filed a personal injury lawsuit against her ex-boyfriend, Mallory Hill.
“He told me we were in a committed and monogamous relationship and told me he had no STDs,” she said in an email. “When I got ill he continued to tell me he had no STDs.”
But this just wasn't true.“I later found out that he had had herpes for at least two decades and later found out that he had also infected his ex-wife and other women.”
She experienced many emotions and mood issues during that devastating time, including anxiety, depression, frustration, resentment, humiliation, shame, anger and loneliness.
“I have found ... the best way to minimize breakouts is by keeping your stress level minimal,” Crokin said. “I do this by working out every day, eating healthy, a lot of sleep and I try my best to stay positive and to keep negativity out of my life.”
As a result of her rare medical conditions linked to herpes, she suffered brain damage.
Crokin lost her memory and ability to read and write at the same level, and was bedridden for weeks. She lost her job due to her condition and had to move, went into debt and had to go on welfare and disability.
However, she still has a positive outlook on life.
“I want women to know that herpes is not the end of the world,” Crokin said. “Since I went public with my disease, I get messages from women all over the world telling me that they haven’t dated for years because they have herpes.”
“That makes me sad,” she added. “I’m in a happy and healthy relationship. My boyfriend has known I have herpes before he asked me out on our first date (this is because my story had been made public).”
Jenelle Marie Davis, the founder and executive director of The STD Project, has lived with genital herpes for 15 years.
Her diagnosis experience was terrible, she said in an email.
Her doctor diagnosed her at 16 years old only with a visual exam, and he handed her a prescription without providing any additional information on how to manage her condition or avoid transmission.
He didn’t offer any assurances on living a normal life with a common virus, which left her scared to disclose her condition to anyone else for fear of further stigma.
Marie Davis is also the tri-chair of the National Coalition for Sexual Health’s Communications Action Group. She wants women to realize that although herpes is not usually brought up in daily conversation, many people have the virus and you’re not alone.
“Herpes isn't the end of your world, and it doesn't have to be the end of a healthy sex life,” she said. “While no one wants a long-term infection, herpes is manageable, and when being sexually responsible, the risk of transmission is quite low.”
“It does not define a person or dictate someone's character, just like catching the flu does not mean someone is a bad person,” Marie Davis added.
Dawson, Ella. Women’s Health Magazine online. Why I Love Telling People I Have Herpes. Web. April 30, 2015.
Paquette, Danielle. The Washington Post. Meet the woman who tells everyone, ‘I have genital herpes.’ Web. April 30, 2015.
PRNewswire.com. Slovak Baron Empey Murphy & Pinkney LLP Announces Sexually Transmitted Disease Lawsuit On Behalf of Renowned Journalist. Web. April 30, 2015.
Crokin, Liz. Email interview. March 25, 2015.
Marie Davis, Jenelle. Email interview. March 19, 2015.
Reviewed May 1, 2015
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith