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Seven months after Ella Dawson says she was diagnosed with genital herpes, she remembers a young man at a college party offering her a sip of his beer. “I don’t have herpes or anything.” Dawson, 22, was just learning to shed the shame that came with her infection, which affects one in six Americans.

She could already tell this sense of isolation was worse than any outbreak. Not because I grossed him out — I could practically see the wheels turning in his brain as he realized he’d made an ignorant joke at someone else’s expense. Dawson, who graduated last year from Wesleyan University, didn't take offense.

"I had seen in the flesh what a simple 'I have herpes' could do when said fearlessly, without shame," she wrote.

"Because when a real person — a woman you know and respect — casually mentions having herpes, it stops being a punchline and starts being someone's reality.” About 17 percent of people 14 to 49 in the U. have genital herpes caused by the HSV-2 infection, the CDC reports.

Skin-to-skin contact, even when no sores are present, can spread the virus.

[] Herpes, the infection, is not new—but the stigma is.

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The Women's Health piece hit the Internet on Monday.

Dawson, a social media assistant for, said she has since received dozens of Facebook messages from friends and strangers.

Sex should be seen as part of being an adult, a healthy thing you can do and just part of your routine healthcare." Memories of early sex education intensify the indignity, Dawson told the Washington Post.

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