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

It’s STD Awareness Month 2016. Why Aren’t We Celebrating?

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In case you hadn’t noticed from the month-long party I’m throwing on my Twitter feed, it’s STD Awareness Month. April is the most wonderful time of the year: publications are popping out STD-related content, weird billboards are pasted up encouraging us to get tested, and there are not one but two hashtags for me to use when sharing my blog posts (not that they are the most interesting hashtags of all time, but still, THERE ARE HASHTAGS). This is the one opportunity that we get to mention STDs constantly, and I’m so goddamn excited. Continue reading

The Herpes Interviews: The Guy From The Bar

Herpes Interviews

A few weeks ago I crashed a party at a dive bar in Brooklyn. I’d just gotten back from a business trip and I hadn’t seen my friends in a while, so I promised myself I would have one drink and then go home and catch up on sleep. But Brooklyn had other plans for me: I met someone. Five weeks later, he let me interview him about what it’s like to fuck someone with herpes, how much texting is too much texting, and how he feels about me live-tweeting our relationship. 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

Bachelorella: The Bachelorette Gets Real About Online Harassment

Source: @BacheloretteABC

Source: @BacheloretteABC

The producers of The Bachelorette made an interesting choice during tonight’s “Men Tell All” episode. Between the awkward reunions and desperate attempts to rebuild reputations, Kaitlyn Bristowe and Chris Harrison had an honest conversation about the tidal waves of harassment this season’s Bachelorette has received online. In a controversial move, Harrison read out several real tweets and emails sent to Kaitlyn over the last few months in all of their violent, slut-shaming, expletive-laden glory. The studio audiences’ jaws dropped, Kaitlyn struggled not to cry, and her men winced and grimaced in sympathy and horror. Twitter lit up like a switchboard. Was The Bachelorette actually addressing the harassment women receive online?

Yes. Yes it was. Continue reading

6 Things To Read While I Get Over Writer’s Block

This photo is what comes up when you Google Image Search “writer’s block”.

So I have writer’s block. That’s a lie, I’ve been writing a lot. My journal is hella packed with lyrical meditations on my feels. But in terms of polished essays and pop culture reviews, or wacky interviews about my vagina with ex-boyfriends, I am fried, dudes. Ella got nothin’.

But that’s okay! Because the rest of the world has plenty to say, and holy shit have I read a lot of amazing pieces in the past few weeks. In the interest of signal-boosting the work of other badasses doing cool shit, I’m keeping a running tab of posts worth promoting. Below are some of my recent favorites on sexuality, health and activism. ENJOY.

1. The Color Change Condoms Aren’t Real, But the STI Concern Trolling Is — I thought about writing something in response to the color change condoms, but then I got tired and cranky. Thankfully, Rebecca Hiles crushes it. She just crushes it, guys.

More than once, I saw someone praising these kids for creating something that would allow people to know if they were infected (after the fact). They talked about how it was so great that people who were irresponsible would be held accountable for their ways. In reality, it is more likely that people would be less likely to use condoms if they haven’t been tested and are concerned about their status. The “we’re so concerned that people are passing on STIs knowingly” bullshit is just that. Bullshit.”

Continue reading

Herpes, Two Years Later: On Sex Without Condoms

Condoms also make great party hats, just FYI.

Condoms also make great party hats, just FYI.

I had to write an awkward email a few weeks ago. A journalist wrote a piece about me (and my genital herpes) for a very prominent, respected publication in the United Kingdom, and she included a line about how I’ve never had sex without a condom. It was a reasonable assumption; in my essay for Women’s Health, I discussed how shocked I was to get diagnosed with herpes when I had never had “unprotected” sex in my life. Had never. Past tense. I sucked it up and sent the author a short note, she made a quick correction, and no one was the wiser. But the exchange stuck with me, if for no other reason than for how self-conscious it made me feel. There was a strange shame in telling this relative stranger that I have had unprotected sex. More than once. Despite having genital herpes. Continue reading

5 rules for better herpes journalism: or, I wrote about dating for Women’s Health!

Life goal completed: write about herpes for a major publication.

Life goal completed: write about herpes for a major publication.

I learned quickly after getting diagnosed with genital herpes that no one writes about having an STI. There are no memoirs about herpes. There are no academic studies about the literature of herpetic authors. There is a gigantic gaping hole on the Internet where herpes blogging should be, other than the herpes support community on Tumblr (which, let’s be honest, most people doesn’t know exists). No one is writing about the everyday, practical experience of having herpes. And there are definitely no articles about dating with herpes that don’t position the herpes+ as wounded, terrified, unlovable freaks.

According to the media, there is only one herpes story (and some people tell it better than others). You can find it on websites like Cosmo, Rookie, and The Hairpin. Occasionally there will be a good, meaty piece about how herpes testing is bullshit, but for the most part herpes journalism is a blandly inspirational, predictable place: I got diagnosed. It sucked. I learned to love again. Now everything’s great. No one uses their real name, and no one ties it to the rest of their career. These pieces exist in a vacuum, about as motivational as packing popcorn.

When Women’s Health Magazine reached out to me to write about what it’s like to date with herpes, I found myself at a loss. How do you neatly tie up two of the most chaotic years of your life? I had no idea what that story should look like. But I knew what I didn’t want it to look like.

1. I didn’t want to start at the beginning.

Almost every piece about herpes starts in a doctor’s office, with someone getting terrible news. The patient? Horrified, disgusted, afraid, and confused. The doctor? Sometimes supportive, sometimes a total dick. The patient emerges forever changed on Day One of the rest of their life. While not talking about my diagnosis—and how much it sucked—would have been dishonest and narratively foolish, I didn’t want my story to start there. The beginning of an article sets the tone for the rest of the piece, and I wanted to begin somewhere completely unexpected: a softball field, about to bone an attractive bro. I wanted to make it clear that trauma does not define my life, and that my relationship with my body and my virus is not a painful one. Besides, that day in the doctor’s office at Wesleyan wasn’t the start of my new life—I left the health center different, maybe, but still me. I was the same flesh and bone and brain, and I get to choose my narrative.

Continue reading

The Herpes Interviews: that wrestler I dated

I boned a wrestler. He talked to me about what it was like dating someone with herpes (me!)

I boned a wrestler. He talked to me about what it was like dating someone with herpes (me!)

When I discovered April was STD awareness month, I immediately knew I wanted to do a series on my blog to celebrate it. After all, I am a human lady person living with genital herpes, and the fun of publicly decimating STD stigma has yet to wear off (if it ever will). But what do people really want to know about living with herpes? What would be informative but not dull, personal but not self-serving? What did I still want to know about herpes?

The first fear most people have when they get diagnosed is that having herpes will devastate their love life. I remember wondering what dating would be like from now on. Would anyone find me sexually desirable? I learned quickly that my love life would require some potentially awkward conversations, but hell yes people still wanted to bone me. But what was going through their brains? Were they scared? Were they ashamed to be sleeping with someone who had herpes? How did it change the way they saw me?

Why not ask them?

Continue reading

Bachelorella Recap Week 7: Deal breakers (Iowa vs. Playboy)

Chris and Jade watch a football game because that's the only thing to do in Iowa.

Chris and Jade watch a football game because that’s the only thing to do in Iowa.

The Bachelor franchise graced us with five hours of television this week, thanks to back-to-back episodes on Sunday and Monday nights. This is far too much Bachelor for me to process. In a nutshell: Britt continued to be super fake, Carly ratted her out to Chris, and when provoked Britt self-destructed in an “I need to be your first priority if we’re dating” hissy fit that would have been appropriate in real life but definitely was not on this television show—let alone in front of two of Chris’s other girlfriends. And then there was this whole other weirdness with Becca and her never having loved anyone before and how she’s not into physical intimacy, which would be interesting if it were about asexuality but isn’t because, again, this is The Bachelor. And then Kaitlyn made Chris rap. It was uncomfortable.

But. BUT. Two things worth talking about went down in this crazy marathon of rose-giving and back-stabbing. It turns out Chris and Jade both have dirty little secrets: Iowa sucks, and Jade revealed her “nude modeling” past, aka posing for Playboy. Continue reading