Meet the Sexologist Who is Smashing STI Stigma: A Q&A with Emily Depasse

This interview will appear in Lithium's SEX print issue, set to be released in June.

Emily Depasse is a Philadelphia-based sex educator and sexologist who has committed herself to raising awareness and, as she puts it, “redefining the narratives around sexually-transmitted diseases and infections.” Diagnosed with herpes (HSV-2 genital herpes) in 2015, Emily has made it her mission to shed light on STDs and STIs and empower people living with them.

Lithium Magazine: What made you want to become a sexologist/sex educator?
Emily Depasse: Like many of life’s most transformative events, my career trajectory was not planned. In second grade, I had a deep desire to become a teacher. I believe that my initial desire to become a teacher was very much intuitive—I just didn’t know what kind of teacher I wanted to become.

Eventually I entered college as an elementary education major. Somewhere during my first year of fulfilling general education credits, my mind wandered. I switched from elementary education to undecided, and even to psychology. I’ve always been passionate about history, and at one point considered it as a major. While browsing the history major list, I discovered a women’s history course—and that’s [what] caused me to continue my search. Located under the umbrella term of “interdisciplinary studies,” I found my new home and new intended major of gender and sexuality studies. It was also during this period that I began to align myself with feminism and use the word “feminist” as a self-descriptor.

It was also during my sophomore year, during a sociology and gender course, that I learned about sex therapy as a career track. Several family members thought it was just a phase, but from that moment forward my career niche really began. Originally, I wanted to explore the intersection of body politics and sexuality with a specialization in clinical service to clients with eating disorders and body dysmorphia—after my experience of overcoming an eating disorder in high school. I’ve always been passionate about utilizing my own experiences to educate others and better the world.

Lithium: Can you tell me a little bit about your experience with finding out you had herpes? How did it affect you?
Emily: My story actually begins prior to my official diagnosis in 2015. In 2013, I received a false positive IgM herpes test from my then-gynecologist. I received my results while on vacation with my family in North Carolina through a voicemail message. In my mind, it’s never a good sign when your gynecologist calls you while on vacation…and it’s even worse when they drop a life-changing bomb in your voicemail.

I was initially shocked. I’d never had an outbreak before and had little knowledge related to herpes. I soon became emotionally withdrawn and filled with deep sadness as I paced along the seaside. A month or so after returning from vacation, I set up an appointment with my primary care doctor who requested that I have another test for confirmation. This doctor used both IgM and IgG serological tests and it was later determined that I did not have herpes. I was beyond relieved. As I later learned, herpes isn’t usually included in standard STI testing panels, and false positives is one of the reasons it isn’t.

When I felt a disruption that morning in July of 2015, I thought back to my false-positive test results, and my subsequent testing that remained negative. Until then, I’d been telling myself it was just irritation from wearing lacy underwear, or maybe just a sudden yeast infection. But it felt different. This time, it was really herpes.

When I showed up at the clinic, I remember telling the doctor, “I think it was just the underwear I wore last night.” I was still trying to convince myself that I wasn’t broken. Upon her review, she said, “This looks herpetic.” Herpes cannot be diagnosed simply by looking at someone, so she scraped my lesions and also took a blood sample. Tears filled my eyes. I would have the results of the sample within two days, but the blood work would take a bit longer. She sent me home with a prescription for Valtrex. Despite the lingering uncertainty, I felt overwhelmed [by] the weight of the stigma. I began questioning my future relationships, sexual encounters, and shot at love. “Who will love me now that I have this?” I cried into my dad’s shoulder.

I’m someone who believes that everything does happen for a reason, [and so] I thought back to my false positive. Was it a sign? Was it the universe preparing me for this? A sick mechanism of foreshadowing within my own life? I didn’t understand at the time, but later learned that my diagnosis would lead me to a greater purpose and career niche.

Lithium: Was it hard for you to decide whether to keep your diagnosis a secret or share it with the world?
Emily: The first people I told were my parents… I also remember telling my friends. I met with one friend at a brewery a few days after my diagnosis, and he was very sympathetic and just wanted to be there for me. I’m sure that I texted other friends who were long-distance. One conversation that really sticks out to me was when my friend and I ate Chipotle and made margaritas together in my old backyard and I just remember her saying, “Oh my God, Em, are you okay?!” There was no judgment or moment when I felt like she didn’t accept me. She just wanted to know that I was okay and how she could be there for me. A second conversation that I recall was when several friends from elementary school and I had brunch together. One friend remarked, “I used to think that STIs only happened to certain people until you were diagnosed.”

One aspect of making my diagnosis public that I really struggled with was maintaining the line of disclosing my diagnosis, and not my partner’s. I lived in a small town at the time, and going public with my diagnosis would potentially make my partner’s diagnosis public as well. Although that breakup served as the catalyst for making my diagnosis public, it was no longer about him. It was about the stigma and how it affected me. I had previously written one blog entry where I discussed a deep sadness, but never mentioned what it was that I was enduring. A few days after the breakup, I felt confident enough to share my story. And so I posted a Facebook status, with a blog post that soon followed. For me, [keeping] that secret was endorsing the stigma, and public disclosure allowed me to relieve that weight.

Lithium: What do you remember learning about herpes before you were diagnosed?
Emily: Very little. I was enrolled in Catholic school from kindergarten through twelfth grade and received an abstinence-only education. I remember the videos that preached about reserving sex and yourself for someone special, and that sex was strictly for procreation. In college I took a human sexuality course in a health education department, but even that course focused on clinical definitions and symptoms [instead of social stigma]. Since my diagnosis, I’ve actually spoken as a guest speaker in this class and know that some of my blog posts are still assigned for students’ reading.

Lithium: What advice would you give to someone who recently found out they have genital herpes?
Emily: Acceptance starts from within. From my own experience, and in speaking to other folks who have received and experienced a herpes diagnosis, much of our perspective and worth is centered on relationships and partners. My internal questioning of “Who will love me?” is a perfect example of this. We worry about disclosure, public perception, how our sex lives will change, and if we can still engage in casual sex. Unpacking and externalizing herpes stigma requires a significant amount of unlearning societal representations of STDs and STIs. No matter what type of relationship you wish to engage in, other people’s acceptance is not solely responsible for [your self-acceptance].

Lithium: How can people with herpes take care of their mental health? Do you have any tips for dealing with stigma?
Emily: Step 1: Allow yourself to feel. It’s okay to feel sad, hopeless, and angry. It’s okay to cry and listen to sad music. But know that you don’t have to go through it alone. It’s okay to reach out to those who love and support you so that you can lean into them during your struggle. And there’s no time frame for feeling like yourself again, either. Know that it will take time to unlearn the stigma and reacquaint yourself with your body with this virus.

I also would advise paying attention to your habits and knowing when you may need some outside assistance from a professional. I never thought that anyone could understand what I was going through, and so I didn’t reach out. Instead I turned to alcohol, which was masked safely under binge-drinking culture. That’s another reason why I’m continuing on my journey to become a sex therapist: to be the therapist that I never had after my diagnosis.

Lithium: I’m super excited about your upcoming podcast! What can people expect to hear on it, and where can they find it? Any other upcoming projects?
Emily: Thank you! I’m excited too! My podcast is entitled Sex, Coffee, and Social Justice. For now, you can follow its Instagram account and subscribe to my mailing list for updates! I’m still gathering my interview list and am hopeful to have episodes out this summer. If folks have ideas of who to interview, or even feel that they might be a good candidate, I ask that they consider becoming a patron of my work! I’m also excited to announce a project that’s been in my mind for over a year. I’m releasing an affirmation deck specifically for those who are struggling to overcome an STI diagnosis. I am really excited to release it and am hopeful that it may even have a place in doctors’ offices and clinics following a diagnosis.

For more on Emily, visit

By Charlotte Smith
Illustration by Hallie Beck

A Guide to My City: Amsterdam

What comes to mind when you think of Amsterdam? Is it wide canals and narrow houses? Roadsides dotted with tulips? Or is it the city’s reputation—the distinctive smell of marijuana and the sight of women dressed provocatively under neon lights?

Amsterdam’s historical and cultural background drives its residents to look at the city around them differently, and before I moved here my knowledge of Amsterdam was pretty limited: in middle school, I read Anne Frank’s diary entries about hiding from the Nazis in Amsterdam; the summer before freshman year, I watched Hazel and Augustus of The Fault in Our Stars explore the city and its cultural offerings; I read about the museum dedicated to Vincent van Gogh’s lifelong projects, and began longing to visit one day.

Like described in The Fault in Our Stars, “some tourists think Amsterdam is a city of sin, but in truth, it is a city of freedom. And in freedom, most people find sin.” Amsterdam is commonly recognized for its openness, from its recognition and protection of legalized prostitution to its normalization of marijuana. While many might think of the city as an out-of-control and drug-fueled war zone, I have only encountered accepting, nonjudgmental locals here.

During my time in Amsterdam, the city has never ceased to amaze me with its duality. Just like how it has both a day mayor and a night mayor, the daytime and nighttime activities are starkly different—yet the city wouldn’t be the same without both.

After spending nine months in Amsterdam, scouring TripAdvisor, and experiencing my fair share of hit-or-miss moments, I’ve curated a list of my favorite places to visit.

(@galavantinglutenfree on Instagram)

1. Foodhallen
Address: Bellamyplein 51, 1053 AT Amsterdam

Located in the West of Amsterdam, Foodhallen is the best place to hang out with your friends after a long day of school or work. Filled with food from all over the world, you can have a taste of Italy or Hong Kong. There’s a wide variety of choices, most of which are budget-friendly. And if you come here on a weekday, you shouldn’t have to wait for a seat. My favorite stand is Dim Sum Thing, where I fell in love with their Cantonese vegetable gyozas. Though the servings are small, it’s a good way to fill up your stomach before heading out with friends.

(@monneratduda on Instagram)

2. Marbles Vintage
Address:  Haarlemmerdijk 64, 1011 JM Amsterdam

Thrift stores and vintage stores are incredibly popular in Amsterdam, but I’ve found a lot of them to be overpriced. So when I found Marbles Vintage on Haarlemmerdijk, I was surprised! The collection here is arguably a lot smaller, but I’ve had better luck finding pieces that I really like and can afford here. Since there’s no public transport nearby, I usually only make the trip to Marbles when I see something I really like on their Instagram updates.

(@toskavdh on Instagram)

3. Vondelpark
Address: Van Baerlestraat & Vondelpark, 1071 AA Amsterdam

On the rare occasions when the sun comes out in Amsterdam, everyone on Snapchat and Instagram storms into Vondelpark. For good reason, too—Vondelpark is beautiful, and no one will stop you from whipping out a blanket and taking a nap on the grass. You can sit on the grass with friends, sip wine and chew on a baguette you just bought from Albert Heijn (a Dutch supermarket), go on a bike tour, or investigate Vondelpark’s historic scenery.

(@svaiaphoto on Instagram)
4. Museumplein
Address: Van Baerlestraat 50, 1071 AZ Amsterdam

Just down the street from Vondelpark, this complex contains three of the biggest, most popular museums in Amsterdam: Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum, and my personal favorite, Stedelijk. Rijksmuseum is the largest of the three, displaying most of the country’s art, and you can easily spend a whole day here. If you plan on visiting the Van Gogh Museum, I strongly suggest buying tickets a few days beforehand. Lastly, the Stedelijk Museum showcases modern and contemporary art, and often holds seasonal exhibitions. Stedelijk is known for its Instagrammable surroundings. Oh, and in the winter, the city of Amsterdam sets up a giant ice rink in the center of the museum complex, creating a great spot for dates and hanging out.

(@myrthe.klein on Instagram)
Address: NDSM-Plein 28, 1033 WB Amsterdam

From the outside, NDSM might not seem like muchit pretty much looks like an abandoned shipyard. But with its rustic background and beach location, it has become the hotspot for cultural gatherings and Instagram photo shoots. This location also hosts a monthly flea market that happens in the main IJ-Hallen building, offering everything antiques to vintage clothes. Europe’s self-proclaimed biggest flea market is a must-go for anyone with a soft spot for thrifting.

( on Instagram)
6. Canal Cruise
Address: Prins Hendrikkade 25, 1012 TM

I’ve been on canal cruises way too many times for my own goodboth in broad daylight and violent rain. Canal rides are sold right in front of the Amsterdam Centraal, offering hour-long, audio-guided tours of the whole city that stop at famous locations. I strongly suggest going at sunset, putting away your earphones, and watching as the whole city lights up.

(@tontonclub on Instagram)
7. TonTon Club
Address:  Sint Annendwarsstraat 6, 1012 HC

To start off your nighttime journey, why not meet up with your friends at this old-school arcade? From air hockey to board games, this space offers a variety of activities that can keep you and your friends occupied for hours. Its ambience makes me reminisce on childhood times spent in arcades with my family. TonTon Club is right around the corner from the Americanized red light district, but if you’re interested in Japanese arcade games and cuisine, I’d recommend TonTon’s Westerpark location.

(@chiaralbr on Instagram)

8. The Rookies Coffeeshop
Address: Korte Leidsedwarsstraat 145-147, 1017 PZ

It wouldn’t be a guide to Amsterdam without at least one cannabis-centered coffee shop. The prices are pretty reasonable, and Rookies offers a wide selection of cannabis. Coffee shops like these have a true sense of community: locals and tourists sitting at different tables will often turn to talk to each other, bonding over what they’re smoking or the beautiful city they’re situated in. You can always opt to buy a pre-rolled joint and walk around the city with it.

(@jordanashleyw on Instagram)
9. Sex Museum
Address: Damrak 18, 1012 LG Amsterdam

The Sex Museum is a beautiful building located near Amsterdam Centraal. For just five euros, you can partake in the museum’s immersive experience and see historical sex toys from different time periods. Making your way up to the second floor, you’ll find people waiting in line to take pictures with two seven-foot-tall penis statues.

(@scott_anthony_marsden on Instagram)

10. Red Light District: Sex Palace
Address: Oudezijds Achterburgwal 84, 1012 DT

Last but not least, end your day at the Sex Palace. Its bright, vibrant colors will stand out when you’re looking down Oudezijds Achterburgwal! My friends and I visited the Sex Palace a few weeks after school started in the fall, and for two euros we squeezed into a tiny black booth and watched a peep show. From your booth, you can see other people in their booths and the performers themselves. There are employees observing at all times to make sure the performers feel safe.

Finding your way around a new city can be difficult, but having a group of friends who are always down for an adventure never hurts. My friends and I have scoured the streets in our free time, using Instagram and Facebook to search for new places to go every week. We’re really trying to get to know the city we live in better.

If you ever have the chance to visit Amsterdam, don’t be afraid to go beyond the front page of TripAdvisor. Talk to the locals while you are here! The vast majority of them will be more than happy to recommend their personal favorites.
Seven months ago, I’d never stepped foot in Amsterdam—yet now it’s where I call home. This city accepts everyone, so in every corner you’ll find a sense of belonging.

By Wen Hsiao

The Damsel Diaries: Learning How to Embrace Confidence

He sat in the row behind me. I immediately found him attractive once I noticed him in theology class, and for a few weeks, I was infatuated with his red sweater, messy hair, and soft smile. I observed him by way of stealthy glances disguised as accidental head turns, praying he wouldn’t realize I was staring.

Perhaps it was my impatience or the mere longevity of the pining, but one day I finally thought Fuck it, and decided to approach him after class to tell him I liked his outfit. What was supposed to be a quick exchange ended up extending to a fifteen-minute walk down the street, where an organization he was a part of was having an event. I dropped him off, and then walked another fifteen minutes back to campus by myself. I only confessed my feelings when we were already friends and my crush on him was long gone. I was surprised when he responded with wide eyes, telling me he harbored a small crush on me, too.

It wasn’t the first time someone confessed their feelings to me only after they subsided. In retrospect, this is how it’s always been. I was always the last to find out that my crushes felt the same way towards me. I eventually willed myself to become accustomed to wrongly-timed romances, because people never seemed brave enough to own up to what they felt. I expressed this frustration to my friend, saying that if people I mutually shared feelings with only confessed when they were over me, then my chances at the innocent, cheesy, grabbing-popcorn-at-the-same-time-and-accidentally-holding-hands romance I grew to yearn may as well be obliterated. When I was finished with my rant, she simply looked at me and said, “It’s your confident bitch energy.” 

What surprised me more than my friend’s revelation was how proud it made me feel. I’ve always been aware of my intimidating aura, which is usually attributed to my infamous resting bitch face. It was one trait I always expressed that I hated but really secretly loved, because, truthfully, my RBF saved me from the toxicity of people who were in it for the wrong reasons. Although now I’m mostly grateful for my stone-faced demeanor, my appreciation for my innate friend-filtering device didn’t come easy.

Throughout my youth, I was always accompanied by such coy girls à la Mia from The Princess Diaries or Cady from Mean Girls. The only confident girls I saw onscreen were antagonists. They were girls who knew what they wanted and weren’t afraid to let everyone know— often labelled as “bitches.” To me, good girls were vulnerable and helpless, almost as if their womanhood rendered them incapable of choice and strength. It was only the version of Girl I knew how to be, as if to be a woman was to be weak. It was  almost like this notion was set in stone, written in a rulebook we were all supposed to have read.

But you see, I am not, and have never been, a damsel in distress. 

I knew from a young age that I wanted to be self-sufficient, and until now, this desire has remained changed. My need to be independent at all times translates to every little thing, driven by the underlying thought that I have to continuously prove myself. My life feels like a constant quest to prove my own strength, and this is reflected in things as minute as parking my car backwards by myself or refusing the help to carry my things when I move from one classroom to another.

When boys look at me like they want to help me, I stare back with the bravado of a girl who knows She Can Do It. And you know what I’ve noticed? That boys will shake at the slightest display of awareness of your own successes. They scare easy because when you show them that you know how much you are capable of, they’re defeated.

It’s quite amusing, really, that my reasons for trying to be friendlier back then are the same reasons I am proud to be confident now. I am no longer afraid of being self-aware, because I grew to understand that there is so much power in knowing that the entirety of the world resides on the tip of your finger. I guess all it took was realizing that most damsels are their own knights in shining armor. 

By Ticia Almazan


Indulge is about the fascination humans have with their own appearance. There is a certain guilty, curious pleasure that exists in knowing others are admiring us and when we are admiring ourselves. A mirror can sometimes seem like a mystery to indulge in; it is the only way we can see how we appear to others. Yet the reflected, two-dimensional depiction is not accurate in showing how we actually look. This was a fascinating concept for me as I realized the amount of time that we put into our appearances despite the fact that we never truly see ourselves from the perspective of others. It can sometimes seem like a trap; once started, the ability to stop analyzing appearance is not easily obtained. The result is spending an immense amount of time on perfecting, analyzing, and observing our appearances.

I chose to use couture pieces by Romina Dorigo to illustrate the sensation of extravagance felt when being admired. A male model, mirror, stylist, garments, and props communicate the scene of self-indulgence and guilty pleasures.The use of a prism reflects that these ideas often live inside the mind and are fabricated, temporary pleasures.

Photos by Anova Hou
Wardrobe by Romina Dorigo
Modeled by Kobi Alleyne

Thinking About San Francisco

Walking through any city, but especially San Francisco, is an exercise in eccentricity—the smells, the sounds, the people, all of it. There are needles on the street and businessmen rushing past homeless camps. For whatever reason, today I notice more taxi drivers out on the streets than usual, some sort of callback to a forgotten era. Under a dimming, overcast sky, the world loses its edge. The colors of the stoplights and restaurants all blend together in a dreamy haze.

It reminds me of the cold summer night when my dad drove us all the way up Mauna Kea, through the thick Hawaiian mist until finally we could see the stars. For a second, I’m trapped in memory. My sister and I, young and tired, in the backseat fighting over a ukulele. The strange calmness of the air conditioner’s breeze. My parents in the front, silent, waiting as we climbed.

I pass a line of drummers and street performers and the BART station that I had planned on entering on Market, but it’s like I’m walking with my eyes closed. I can’t stop thinking about the stars that night, imposing and opulent, so grand they were almost buzzing. Still, it feels improbable that, behind the fog, the same stars are just above me.

I’m back on Market, behind a couple walking hand in hand. I hear the man say to his partner that the human body is an imperfect machine, even if it is amazing. Slowly, I make my way toward the pier. There are little white bits of trash on the sidewalk that’ve been stepped on so many times they look like footprints. The sidewalks become crowded with tourists.

I think of New York and the most crowded streets I’ve ever seen. The rushing cabs and men in suits walking everywhere like the world is judging their strides. A rush of sadness that feels like panic comes to me as I think of the price of a plane ticket to New York. Or Peru. Or anywhere. Living in one place your whole life brings about a kind of deep stir that “wanderlust” doesn’t quite capture. I think about looking out the window as I land in Thailand or Turkey or Morocco. I don’t know what I’d look at; I’ve never been, but the feeling of looking over a foreign place is so strong that landing in a new continent almost feels like a memory.

I keep on walking toward the pier, and the crowd reminds me of every airport I’ve ever been in. The rush to see it all is contagious. The world is big and gets bigger the more you think about it. The moon has risen to the sky now. The crowd all moves together in one block. And here, on this path that I’ve walked so many times before, I can’t help but feel like if life is a great adventure I’m doing it wrong. It’s not rational and it’s not healthy, but I haven’t figured out how not to confuse passing time with wasting time.

For a second, I take the chance to be still, and I even go so far as to turn my phone off and put it in my backpack. I look out over the water. The sun is setting now, and it seems like everyone else on the pier too is stuck in a moment of observation. And we’re not talking or even standing particularly close together, but we’re sharing something anyway. So few moments nowadays belong to the collective, and those that do are so often tragedies. It’s a weird sort of magic to stand with others and watch the same sunset, the orange and pink hues now coming together as if placed deliberately.

I can just make out the shape of Angel Island in the distance. With the Golden Gate Bridge to the left and the smell of the Bay in the air it feels like San Francisco has been boiled down to a postcard and placed in front of my eyes. I think of my grandparents. Only a lifetime ago they were here, for the first time on American soil. I remember their stories, the Korean War pushing down until their hometown was a war zone, the fright of violence. How lucky am I to be able say the phrase “travel the world” and mean to experience new things, not to escape old ones? And how thin is the line between privilege and luck?

I try to bring my eyes to the horizon and focus on the colors. The orange feels almost synthetic. Though I’m still, it feels like a struggle, as if forces pulling me in every direction just so happen to cancel out.

I’ve fallen asleep with the image of the Milky Way across the Mauna Kea sky for years on end. Maybe one day I’ll go back. Until then, there are too many places to explore.

By Colton Wills


This series depicts a person who is so toxic that she became half-snake. This toxicity comes from jealousy, which is one of the vices condemned by many religions. I portrayed this person as powerful, because I believe that envy is not bad itself. Feelings are not necessarily good or bad; what matters is what you do with them. Here, the half-snake has assumed her toxicity and used her problems as a source of eerie empowerment.

This series is also related to the concept of the ego. I feel like nowadays praising the ego is pretty common, especially among millennials and the next generation. This might seem harmful, but it doesn’t have to be. As I said before, what matters are a person’s tangible decisions and actions. You can be conventionally bad, but accepting and knowing that can actually make you stronger: knowing who you are means being able to better manage difficult situations, for instance.

By Megane Mercury
Modeled by Patricia Sánchez
Makeup by Antoni Tormo
Nails by Sykaly