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Here at Ladybud Magazine, we are also all about harm reduction and education. It should come as no surprise, then, that we’re major fans of The STD Project and its founder, Jenelle Marie Davis. Although Jenelle is not a cannabis activist, she is a rockstar sex-positive feminist whose work is helping slay the (often sexist) social stigma attached to STIs (sexually transmitted infections).
Jenelle Marie Davis of the STD Project may be one of the most powerful, innovative voices for harm reduction in the modern debate about human health. Her organization, The STD Project, is absolutely groundbreaking in that it advocates an open, rational discussion of STDs and STIs on interpersonal, cultural and national policy levels. Janelle is open about the fact that she has herpes and once had scabies (given to her by her ex-husband). She aptly uses that as a means to encourage those who are struggling with shame and stigma over their diagnosis and to encourage those who are scared to get tested to do so.
Janelle has written beautifully about the cultural and personal social influences that lead to her contracting herpes while still in high school. She was diagnosed when she was 16, and it was crushing. She felt judged and shamed by everyone around her and was bullied by her peers who spread rumors. Like many people who struggle with a STI or STD, Jenelle felt like she deserved the way people treated her, at least for a while. She struggled with real depression as a result of her diagnosis and its social fallout.
Eventually, she realized that her diagnosis did not, in fact, define her. She moved on her with her life, got two degrees and found someone who loved her that she loved back. Eventually, she knew that she had to harness all the pain and difficulty she had experienced after her diagnosis and use it to help others who were struggling as well. Thus, the STD Project was born.
The STD Project advocates an open societal discussion of STDs and STIs, which are incredibly common. Instead of making people feel shame for their sexual decisions and sexual history, our culture should move toward speaking openly about sex and all that comes with it (from pregnancy to herpes). With open access to unbiased, non-shaming information, more young people will be encouraged to make intelligent personal health choices such as using condoms and getting tested regularly once becoming sexually active.
Breaking down social stigma can have a lot of meaningful impacts. It can lead to more young people asserting themselves while they are experimenting sexually and ensuring they are use harm reduction techniques, like condoms and birth control. It can result in more people with STDs or STIs speaking openly and honestly with their partners about their status and how they can best remain intimate while reducing the risk of infection. Jenelle talks to people and writes passionately about all of these topics, reaching out to people in a very vulnerable place.
Jenelle speaks out in person, online and in print to give a positive face to the relatively large population of Americans with STDs and STIs. She often communicates directly with people while they are in crisis, terrified of testing or reeling from a diagnosis. Although she has had she share of trolls, Jenelle is unflappable and resilient; almost all of the messages she receives these days are of gratitude for her work. People thank her for speaking about things they are afraid to, for giving them hope and courage enough to get tested, to tell the truth or to start loving themselves again.
In addition to being an amazing advocate, Jenelle is also an adjunct professor at Grand Rapids Community College, the STD Expert at Answers.com and an on-call adventurer. Her writing has been featured on national platforms, such as Yahoo. Her advocacy and the STD project have been featured in many mainstream media outlets, include Cosmopolitan . Her message is getting out there to the people who need it, and she is changing lives for the better by advocating for harm reduction and kicking social stigma in the face.
For previous Ladybud Magazine articles about sexual health, click here.
Photo Credit: Jenelle Marie Davie and the STD Project