Writer and activist Ella Dawson has something to say about sexually transmitted infections: They are nothing to be ashamed of.
Last month, Dawson gave a TEDx Talk at Connecticut College, where she discussed being diagnosed with genital herpes three years ago. During her talk, Dawson spoke out about the social stigmas associated with STIs, and how we shouldn't be afraid to discuss our statuses with our partners.
"In the world that I want, and in the world that I'm hoping all of you help me build, telling someone that you have an STI should not be brave or shocking," Dawson said in her talk. "It should be normal, and kind of boring."
In a phone interview with Mic, Dawson said that ever since she was diagnosed with genital herpes three years ago, she's been open with her partners about her experience, which has helped her overcome the social stigmas associated with the condition.
"It was almost unthinkable when I was diagnosed that life would go on," Dawson said. "Quite frequently I tell someone I'm talking to on Tinder [that I have herpes] and they say, 'It's cool, I already know, I Googled you... I have been rejected once or twice for having herpes, but for the most part people are really open-minded because I'm honest and knowledgable about it."
Recently, Dawson celebrated the three-year anniversary of her diagnosis with a handful of friends at a Brooklyn, New York, bar. "One of my friends brought cupcakes. I had a little number three candle," she said. "[The anniversary party] is a way to thank my friends who have been so supportive."
In 2015, the World Health Organization estimated that 67% of the global population under 50 (or around 3.7 billion people) already have the type one herpes virus, which is transmitted primarily through oral contact. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in the United States 15.5 % of people ages 14 to 49 have type two herpes, which is transmitted via genital contact. Both types can lead to genital and anal sores, although it's more common in the latter, which is what Dawson has.
Although herpes is shockingly common, there's still stigma associated with the virus, which is why Dawson thinks we need to change the way we teach teenagers about STIs in sex education curricula.
"The conversation shouldn't end with prevention," she said. "When you create an environment where sexual health is clouded with fear, suspicion and judgement, people are less likely to ask questions and also less likely to get tested... I do know people who have STIs and don't disclose because they are scared of being judged. That [judgment] is all they know."
You can watch Dawson's full TEDxTalk below.