Watch My TEDx Talk: STIs aren’t a consequence. They’re inevitable. [With Transcript]

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity.

I’m going to start today by asking you guys to do me a small favor: I would love it if you could raise your hand if you have allergies. [Lots of hands go up] Okay, I can relate. I have a tiny nose so I’m always congested. Okay, thank you.

Second question: I would love it if you could raise your hand if you have herpes. [No hands go up] I see no hands and a lot more confused faces, and that’s what I was expecting. In the time that I have with you today, I want to talk about why it is that it is so socially unacceptable to talk about herpes, despite the fact that almost everyone in this room either has herpes or will encounter it at some point in the next few years. I’ll let that sink in for a sec. Continue reading

Why Having A Boyfriend Doesn’t Cure Herpes

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We’ve all read that essay: the woman who gets herpes because she caves to temptation just once and has a regrettable one-night-stand, but goes on to find happiness because she meets that one man who loves her just as she is, STI and all. You can find it in glossy women’s magazines and anonymous chat rooms across the web, the inspirational packing popcorn of sex writing. It’s the Boyfriend Narrative, and it needs to die.

Continue reading

How I Lost My Post-Herpes Virginity

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I was eighteen when I lost my virginity. A few weeks into my freshman year of college, I met a hipster with gorgeous blond hair and an obscure instrument slung over his shoulder, and a few weeks after that, we had sex. It was not altogether a memorable experience. What stuck with me weren’t any romantic details or awkward moments; I mostly remember thinking is that it? Not because the entire affair was over in a few minutes—we were kids, who can blame us—but because I expected to feel changed afterward. For all of my young adult life, friends and teachers and television shows had told me that my virginity was one of two things: a precious gift I should save for the love of my life, or the only thing of value that I had, the loss of which would ruin me. Instead I just felt sore…. and eager to have sex again to figure out what the fuss was about. After all, it was my first time, the first of many times, and that realization was more exciting than the sex itself. This was the beginning of something. Continue reading

It’s STD Awareness Month 2017. Please Show Up For Us This Year


This is the story of a little hashtag that turned into a big shit show.

STD Awareness Month 2017 has only just begun and I am already exhausted. Still exhausted, to be accurate, because of what happened last year. Remember early April 2016? Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton were squabbling over the Democratic nomination. Donald Trump had a lock on the Republican nomination but was dismissed as a wildcard with no real hope of winning by most mainstream publications. Prince was still alive. It was an innocent time, relatively speaking, and a small group of herpes-positive writers decided to start a hashtag campaign called #ShoutYourStatus. Continue reading

The First Time I Had Sex After Getting Herpes

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The first time I had sex after getting diagnosed he was wearing that black blazer I loved over a white v-neck shirt. We tasted like beer and early summer sweat, finals over, medication finished. Sunlight spilled through my bedroom window and my back was against the plaster wall. I think my roommate was out; otherwise she was right on the other side listening to One Direction and worrying about me like the sister the universe knew I needed that year. Continue reading

Milo Yiannopoulos, Bill Maher, and The Voices We’ve Lost Since The Election


Over the summer, I wrote an essay on Medium about Donald Trump, the rise of the Alt-Right, and my experiences enduring vicious harassment campaigns on social media. It was a risky essay for me to publish. I wrote it knowing it would lead to a new onslaught of abuse and vitriol, because addressing the behavior of figures like Milo Yiannopoulos, Mike Cernovich and Paul Joseph Watson is like waving red meat in front of Ramsay Bolton’s hounds. But the stakes were too high to remain silent in the midst of the most vicious election in my lifetime, and I knew it was worth sharing my personal experience with a phenomenon most were still dismissing as Internet fringe hatred. Continue reading

I’m Going to Listen to “Fight Song” on Repeat to Raise Money for Planned Parenthood


By the fourth time a co-worker asked me when I was leaving for DC, I was upset. It made sense for people to assume I would be attending the Women’s March on Washington: I was one of the biggest Hillary supporters at the office. Friends and strangers alike ask me for advice about taking political action, and several people went to me for information about the marches in DC and NYC as if I knew the organizers personally (I do not). It’s flattering to be seen as a leader in these messed up, politically charged times. But when it comes to in-person protest, I’m at a loss. I have anxiety, particularly when it comes to crowds, loud noise, and feeling trapped. I’m not a march person. Continue reading

10 Essays I Wrote In 2016 That Taught Me Who I Am


What a goddamn year. I don’t want to write a big essay about 2016 and the lessons we should learn from it—if you’re interested in that, go read my closing thoughts on Femsplain, or just throw yourself into the sea. What I do want to do is celebrate myself and everything I accomplished in the midst of the dumpster fire, in true Ella Dawson fashion.

The original headline of this blog post was “Important Shit I Wrote This Year.” Some of these essays were personally important, while others needed to be written for the simple fact that no one else had done so already. Some of them met a backlash, and others were written to respond to a backlash from some other project. But what these essays all share is that they helped me untangle who I am, or that I’m not who I thought I was.

10. How News Genius Silences Writers

Remember that time I picked a fight with one of the most well-funded and catty digital start-ups around? Yeah, me neither! 2016 was fucking nuts. Calling out the product failings and faulty concept of a tool that lets people annotate literally any page on the Internet was a battle I’m glad I picked, and Genius established a better reporting system for abusive annotations as a result (or so I’ve heard). My blog post even wound up earning me my first ever Gawker takedown article (RIP). Months later, I’m still shell-shocked by how quickly that situation spiraled out of control and the amount of vitriol I attracted for requesting a way to opt-out of having my blog about sexual health and trauma scrawled on by arrogant, entitled strangers. Yikes, man.  Continue reading

How to Create the Social Media Life You Want in 2017

As a social media manager, I spent most of 2016 plugged in and over-informed. Trump tweeted something stupid? I read it within 30 seconds.A one-night-stand from my sophomore year shared a Bernie meme? Ugh, that too. A celebrity passed away? I was the first to know, and I’m still not sure what the etiquette is if you’re in a meeting and no one else is aware yet that their beloved childhood celebrity has died.  Continue reading

Hillary Clinton Should Host A Reality Show: “Are You America’s First Female President?”

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I know what Hillary Clinton should do next. She should host a reality TV show.

Hear me out. “Are You America’s First Female President?” would be a weekly, hour-long program hosted by our girl Hill and a crew of her favorite lady politicians and operatives. Think Michelle Obama, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elizabeth Warren offering advice and feedback to the next generation of activists and organizers. Imagine Robby Mook talking how to build a campaign staff, and Sarah McBride on being an effective surrogate.

Each episode would have a different challenge to boost the cast’s presidential skills: drafting legislation, wrangling congressional support, writing their State of the Union address, practicing interviews and debates. The contestants would be women, non-binary and trans folks from diverse backgrounds. No one gets eliminated and no one goes home: the winners of each challenge get a vote, and whoever has the most votes at the end of the show wins a donation put toward their future campaign. But everyone leaves with a mentor matched to their specific goals and needs, and a fierce crew of fellow cast members to strategize with and support for the rest of their careers. Continue reading

What Herpes Activism Looks Like In Trump’s America


I still remember the day I wrote my first blog post about having genital herpes. It was January and it was cold and I was sitting in my childhood bed with my laptop, wondering if I was seriously going to do this. The essay poured out of me in a rush, the words ready to be written after months of holding on, collecting, coming together into something worth the risk. I expected to be afraid when I hit publish, but I was overwhelmed by relief. I cried a little bit. I was out.

That was nearly two years ago. Writing about herpes ceased to feel scary, or even risky, at some point in 2015. That first initial confession about my STI led to the discussion of other topics, buried deeper, even more shameful: my history of abuse, my mental illness, my sexuality. There are a few topics left that I haven’t gotten to yet. I know that my boredom when it comes to talking about herpes—and let’s call a spade a spade, it is boredom—is a rare accomplishment underlined by success and privilege. I’m over it, y’all. I’m not ashamed of it, I’m not surprised by it, and while I still get angry about stigma, I don’t have much left to say about stigma either. Stigma is bad. People and publications and pop culture that perpetuate it is bad. Herpes itself has become pretty whatever. Continue reading

In Trump’s America We Wear “GRAB HER BY THE PUSSY” Wristbands


Someone is selling “GRAB HER BY THE PUSSY” wristbands on Shopify. Someone thought it would be a good idea, a funny idea, to put Donald Trump’s words about sexual assault on a wristband. Someone thought it might even be profitable. That person is a man named Kyle and he has two small children with his wife. That person has nearly 300,000 followers on Instagram. He has 5,408,163 page likes on Facebook. I don’t know why I’m surprised by this when the man who said the quote is now the President Elect of the United States. I don’t know why I’m surprised that this quote is turning into an edgy rallying cry by actual humans who actually exist. I don’t know what to say. I haven’t known what to say all week. Continue reading