When Jenelle Marie Davis was diagnosed with Herpes at the age of 16, she was determined to not let the stigma surrounding the STD prevent her from living a life of ambition, purpose, and happiness. Now an advocate, teacher, and Founder of the accredited organization The STD Project, Jenelle dedicates her time to lifting spirits and providing support to those who have been newly diagnosed and/or living with an STD through education and resources.
“At the time [of diagnosis], I was full of shame and highly embarrassed. My fear was that I would never be desirable; I thought I was damaged goods. I even felt shamed by my doctor. I felt alone like no one was in my situation.”
Unwilling to let the disease control her life, she took action.
“It took a while for me to overcome [herpes]. There were no resources so I had to find personal strength. Fortunately, It never negatively affected my relationships. No one ever turned me away sexually. I knew the stigma was inaccurate and there was a lack of awareness and education. A lot of resources were based on abstinence. I wanted to diminish stigma associated with STDs, so I developed The STD Project during STD awareness month. I helped people who were newly diagnosed through the initial emotions and helped them get back into the world with confidence. I wanted them to know that having an STD does not change who you are as a person. I felt like a lot of information about STDs was clinical from reputable sources but was very matter of fact. It didn’t go beyond that. It doesn’t tell you about the gray (dating, feelings). I wanted to help people with the emotional aspect and point people in the right direction. The STD Project promotes resource sharing so that people are sexually healthy individuals.”
As for Sex Ed courses for youth, her values align with new research. “I believe in comprehensive education that includes both abstinence and safe sex initiatives. People who have comprehensive education have sex at a later age and are safer when they do decide to have sex.”
Now a Jell-O-loving, hiking, skiing fan, she uses her voice to help those struggling with sexually transmitted diseases. “High school was tough. When kids found out that I had an STD, it turned into a rumor and was spread around. I was teased and shamed. Thereafter, there hasn’t been a difference [in normalcy]. My relationships and success haven’t been impacted. My experience has helped me grow. I am more open-minded and I do not judge a book by its cover. Overcoming stigma has made me a better person and has allowed me to succeed at life.”
Jenelle is loving life and has no plans to start a family anytime soon. Jenelle and her longtime boyfriend were featured in Cosmo in a sex health spread. “Both of us are just working. We have 3 cats, but we don’t have plans to start a family in the near future.”
When asked what would she tell her teenage self she replied, “[I would tell myself]It does get better and easier. It doesn’t have to define you if you don’t want it to. You can have a healthy relationship and meet people. This will inspire you and you will be able to help people. This is a blessing in disguise. It doesn’t mean you’re trashy or bad. You will not feel shameful in the future. You are going to be so successful. I would also tell myself to seek out resources and become my own advocate.”
As for the younger generation, Jenelle hopes to see more sexual responsibility and support, of comprehensive education. “Not everyone is going to go one way or the other so everyone’s situation will be different and that’s ok. Thorough education will help them feel better about it. I hope they are sexually responsible and educating themselves. I would like them to have access to more resources.”
Currently, Jenelle is a full-time advocate for her organization The STD Project. When she is not working she offers her time teaching accounting, Excel, and computer skills at a local community college.
“I feel like I’ve learned so much from my readers and their stories. To know that I have made an impact that is substantial and has changed the course of someone’s life is rewarding.”