words by Carlee Murrell (she/her)
Our CEO Lindsay Wynn and Carlee chat all things vaginal health, preventative care, and bossing businesses. Watch here.
My journey to Momotaro Apotheca is long, but don’t worry — it’s not boring. From a naive teen that bought into shame, to an empowered sex worker, to a multi-business runner, I’ve done most of my work by owning my truth and learning that freedom is on the other side of fear. Leave the toxic relationship, buy the plane ticket, tell the internet you have herpes. The identity that once held me down later unlocked all of my power, and somehow lead me to writing this blog.
We’ll start from the beginning, dip somewhere in the middle, and meet up in the present. Here is a piece of my story.
It was 2007, I was 17. I bit into a roll of toilet paper as I peed because the burning pain was unbearable. I’m not sure how much time had passed — it could have been days or a week — but I couldn’t do it anymore. It was time to tell my parents. The pain was only getting worse and I had to see a doctor.
With fear and tears streaming down my face, I opened the door to my dad’s office. I wailed, “I think I have herpes!” I realized in that moment that on top of disclosing that I most likely contracted Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV) — a lifelong STI — I just outed myself as a sexually active teenager.
Bless his heart, Dad handled it with grace, and suggested I go take a bath. Note: to this day, baths are still one of my favorite healing rituals. I love using Momotaro Apotheca’s Tonic. It has Tea Tree oil in it, one of the top anti-viral ingredients in my Herpes Handbook.
The next few days were a blur. Mom was in denial, increasing the stigma around it. We’ve since made peace, neither of us knew how to deal then. There weren't STI resources available then like there is now.
The day of my appointment came. The doctor took one look between my legs without making eye contact, exhaled heavily and said, “Yep, that’s herpes.” I burst into tears and the first sentence to fall out of my mouth was, “Can I have children?!” My sweet baby self had literally zero clue!
“Yes,” she replied, handing me a pamphlet. The lack of compassion I received from my medical provider still astounds me. It sent me further into a plummet of shame.
The thoughts that can run through someone’s head after receiving a positive STI result usually goes something like, ‘Oh my god, I’m never having sex again. I’m dirty, undesirable, blah blah blah.’
Something I love about Momotaro Apotheca is their belief that when it comes to vaginal wellness, clean is an adjective, not a verb. “Clean” should be used to describe the air quality — not your STI status. You will have sex again. Better sex. Because having that disclosure conversation — that intimate check in — will either bring you closer, or serve as a filter to those who are not meant for you.
For the remainder of my teens and into my mid-twenties, I felt alone in uncharted waters. Feelings of shame and loneliness would come and go in waves. When I was nineteen, I had my second outbreak and we ended up finding a clinic that specialized in HSV. There, I was referred to the book The Good News About the Bad News by Terry Warren. For the first time, I felt like someone was speaking directly to me. It wasn’t perfect, but it helped a ton. Several years followed with zero outbreaks.
Here’s where things pick up and get a little more interesting. I was born and raised in Portland, OR. The strip club capital of the world. I’d sit on the computer at my desk job, scrolling through Facebook, admiring Portland’s infamous strippers and searching through Reddit for stripper stories and AMAs (Ask Me Anything). Several weeks after my 21st birthday, I auditioned and started dancing.
Cut to my mid twenties — my dancing career was at its peak. I was working at one of the best known clubs in Portland with an amazing mixed community of friends and supporters. So it goes — with all of the highs came the lows of the lifestyle.
Being a stripper isn’t just a job or career, it is a lifestyle. It can be a great lesson in balance. Truthfully at the time, I was on a diet that consisted largely of tequila and Taco Bell and could sleep in until 3pm. The lifestyle had caught up with me. I was having outbreaks every other month, and the Western meds were losing their power. To continue dancing I needed solutions that wouldn’t just mask symptoms.
In 2015, I began exploring alternative medicine and herbs. Herbs, oils, and salves were what really spoke to me — true Earth Medicine, working from the inside out and visa versa. First I found Tea Tree Oil, an antiviral, anti-inflammatory herb, an ingredient in Momotaro Apotheca’s Salve. Echinacea for internal and external use to strengthen the immune system. Lavender to soothe and destress. Rose petals with their polyphenols and antioxidants that work to protect your body from cell damage — all ingredients in Momo’s Hydrosol.
All of that to say, the time eventually did come where I had to create my exit strategy out of the club. I was stressed because I was having outbreaks and I was having outbreaks because I was stressed. They would appear one right after the other. My body was communicating with me that it needed a break.
When it came to choosing what I was going to do, I needed to love it. My new career needed to be something I could benefit from and help others with. Personal Training seemed like the perfect fit. I went back to school at the National Personal Training Institute (NPTI) in Portland, OR in 2016. I started at a big box gym early 2017 where I met the love of my life and fellow HSV+ partner. In 2018, I started my coaching business Carlee Fit, currently operating out of Vive Fitness in Portland.
Somewhere in there, I came to a point in my life and business where I was ready to expand. Most of all my close friends knew I had HSV. I now had friends and people I looked up to who I knew who had herpes.
I read somewhere that in order to take your business to the next level, you had to share your deepest darkest secret. ‘Imagine the last thing you would want anyone to know and share it.’ I thought ‘I know EXACTLY what I WOULD share, but…. Could I even…? Would I even...? Nooo... would I?
Well, on November 16th, 2018, I owned that shit and made my first post talking about my genital herpes. I was terrified, then overwhelmed by the gratitude and appreciation for the vulnerable spew. Helping others in turn sped up the healing of my own shadow work around my diagnoses. If you’re HSV+ or STI positive in general, having that kind of stigma-ridden commonality, busts down barriers and makes friends real quick. There’s a common understanding and instant bond.
It felt like overnight, an entire community was born. I met Rae of @positiveresults_us, an amazing nurse and Sex Educator shortly after, and she introduced me to the amazing company and community that is Momotaro Apotheca.
Momotaro has fit into every aspect and stage of my life. I’m currently training for Hood to Coast, a 200 mile long relay raise that starts on Mt. Hood and finishes on the coast in Seaside, OR. When I have clients booked back to back, need to get a run in, and don’t have time to shower in between, the Hydrosol is my go-to for it’s pH balancing properties. It’s super refreshing. I’ll also use a spritz before my partner goes down for an extra floral, fresh experience.
The Salve is perfect for post shaving before a night of dancing, or post sex, OR if I feel like I might have an outbreak coming on. For a full send after a long, stuffy day in sweaty yoga pants, we’ll finish with a full on spa day: bath time with 10 drops of Tonic oil, upon getting out spritz your entire body with the Hydrosol and finish with the Salve. Balanced, refreshed, and cared for.
Momotaro Apotheca is doing the important work of normalizing sexually transmitted infections, plus all things us vulva owners have to work through, giving us a place to share with each other and heal together. You are never alone.
Carlee's Recommended Rituals
For a Full On Spa Day
After a long, stuffy day in sweaty yoga pants, we’ll finish with a full on spa day: bath time with 10 drops of Tonic oil, upon getting out spritz your entire body with the Hydrosol and finish with the Salve. Balanced, refreshed, and cared for.
For External Outbreaks
The Salve is perfect for post shaving before a night of dancing, or post sex, OR if I feel like I might have an outbreak coming on. The Echinacea [is suitable] for internal and external use to strengthen the immune system.
To this day, baths are still one of my favorite healing rituals. I love using this bath and body concentrate oil. It has Tea Tree oil in it, one of the top anti-viral ingredients in my Herpes Handbook.
For Between Sweat & Sex Sessions
When I have clients booked back to back, need to get a run in, and don’t have time to shower in between, the Hydrosol is my go-to for it’s pH balancing properties. It’s super refreshing. Lavender [helps] soothe and destress. Rose petals with their polyphenols and antioxidants work to protect your body from cell damage.
Meet the Author
Carlee (she/her) is a Personal Trainer, Stripper, and HSV Advocate in Portland, OR. She helps service industry, sex industry, other artists, and reformed party people create healthy lifestyles through strength training. Her favorite ways to recharge are by getting outside, forest bathing, going for walks with a good pod or audiobook and spending quality time with people she loves. Carlee is a story and teller and loves to connect with others.
Momotaro Apotheca and its materials are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure or prevent any disease. All material on Momotaro Apotheca is provided for educational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider for any questions you have regarding a medical condition.