Sex and the Ivy

On Privilege & The Ivy League

Filed under: Harvard — Elle September 23, 2009 @ 12:14 am

[Original post and full discussion on The Chicktionary]

what a spoiled little life you lead. how DO you pay for all your globe trotting and partying? you must have rich parents or a sugar daddy. or maybe you moonlight in addition to your ‘writing career’? anyway, enjoy your life of privilege while it lasts. someday you may find yourself scrubbing floors or pots and pans or caring for the sick or elderly. life is not a beach, as the saying goes. -comment by joe

The bottom line you Ivy league snob, is that you throw all of your globetrotting in the face of the 99% of readers who are less fortunate than your spoiled ass. Most college students are eating ramen noodles 5 nights a week, and living in a piece of shit apartment with second hand furninture you ungrateful twit. Maybe you should get some common sense. I can’t wait until you graduate and are unemployed. Maybe then you will learn some humility.comment by Satsuya

I never cease to be amazed by the amount of vitriol spewed my way. Most of it is along the lines of “whore whore slut”, but occasionally, my blog also attracts bitter members of the underclass*. For example, I was heavily criticized last year when I chronicled the time I spent in Europe. Most of that summer was spent squatting in a dorm room where I shared a bed with my best friend (I was literally squatting, as in, I was not allowed to be there and did not pay rent, nor was my presence accounted for in any official way), and most of those nights, she slept on the floor in a sleeping bag. Glamorous it was not.

But some of my more ignorant critics nonetheless view any traveling as jetsetting and Europe/anywhere outside of North America as some shiny place inaccessible to all but the wealthy. That’s just patently untrue. I don’t deny that Harvard offers certain advantages, such as well-connected friends who can offer free lodging or entertainment (see: my entire Ibiza trip). I know plenty of college students who eat ramen, live in small apartments, and are on full financial aid (like me) who also find affordable ways to travel and have fun, often on their school’s dime. Going abroad doesn’t automatically make a person overprivileged or mean that they come from money (or even if they do, it doesn’t mean they don’t pay for it on their own) just as going to an Ivy League school doesn’t automatically make me a snob. (And besides, what would be wrong with parents paying for vacations? I’d want to do that for my kids!)

Do I think I have it better than most college students? Yes and no. I probably have it better than most college students whose mothers are hotel maids. But that’s only because the children of hotel maids don’t usually attend Harvard, an institution as valuable for its social network as it is for its education. If I’d gone to UC Berkeley, I probably wouldn’t receive invitations to the South of France, but maybe I would’ve been invited to Napa instead. That being said, it’s not as if every Harvard student has a recognizable last name and comes from a family who owns second or third homes (most don’t). Those who do are usually humble about it, or at least, they’ve been taught to not talk about it.

Maybe instead of calling me spoiled, ungrateful, and lacking common sense, these commenters should be asking themselves why they’re so resentful. When I first got to Harvard, I very much felt like an odd girl out because of my background and I’ve always been acutely aware of the school’s air of privilege. I’m sure I know better than these guys what it’s like to be poor in the face of extreme wealth. But while I don’t doubt that there are plenty of douchebag Harvard alums stealing your jobs and girlfriends, I’m not one of them and it’s incredibly ignorant to assume that’s what every Ivy Leaguer is like.

The fact that these commenters think it’s impossible for a Harvard student to come from a lower middle class background (i.e. less than $30,000/year for a family of three) just demonstrates how little they know about socioeconomic diversity here. Besides its diversity recruitment efforts, the school also attempts to make money a non-issue one students are on campus by randomizing the housing lottery (so that everyone has a shot at the most desirable dorms) and offering a single all-you-can-eat dining plan (so that everyone can eat as much as they want without having to worry about paying more for it). So sure, you could say that most students who came from a similar background to mine are probably “less fortunate” but that’s because most schools don’t make it a priority to create the illusion of class equality.

I’m perfectly aware that Harvard offers certain privileges, but I’m not going to apologize for taking advantage of them.

* I jest.

Why I Won’t Shut Up About Having HPV

Filed under: Sex — Elle September 17, 2009 @ 10:23 pm

In case you haven’t heard, my pap smear came back abnormal. I’d be surprised, actually, if you haven’t heard considering that I’ve been practically shouting this fact from rooftops. (I first mentioned it on Twitter and later on this blog). Probable cause of the funky stuff going on down there? HPV.

Which means that I have a STI. That’s not so surprising, given that nearly 80 percent of sexually active adults will contract HPV at some point, nor is it cause for concern, since most cases clear up on their own. And yet … when I realized I couldn’t get my IUD last week because of the abnormal pap, I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of shame. As if having a STI were something to be ashamed of. “What am I going to tweet?” I wondered in a panic. “What will my followers think?!”

Luckily, I’m not that indoctrinated that I’m ready to slap on a scarlet D for “diseasemonger”. But I’m not naive. I know that there are people who do view STIs as “shameful” (especially when you’re talking about more serious ones), but that’s a viewpoint that makes zero sense to me. No one would ever view leukemia as something to be ashamed of, nor would you blame a smoker for getting lung cancer, so why is there a tendency to blame individuals who have STIs? When it comes to something as common as HPV, everyone who has ever had sex in the world is accountable, meaning that someone had to give it to your partner who gave it to you who very well may have given it to someone else. That doesn’t make any of the above parties bad or irresponsible people. Because there are often no symptoms, not everyone knows whether they’re a HPV carrier. HPV testing is also not common, given that signs of infection are usually found through pap smears and often disappear on their own.

I’m sure I have plenty of followers on Twitter who cringed through my live-tweeting of my last two gynecology appointments (though I haven’t checked to see if my follower count is actually down). To some extent, I’m self-conscious about sharing too much, but I also feel comfortable enough with my body (and its failings) that I don’t mind talking about processes (pap smears, colposcopies, whatever) that are mostly shrouded in mystery. Is this an exercise in demystifying/destigmatizing sexuality? Abso-fucking-lutely, though I’d still be tweeting it even with zero followers. I’m sure some folks would consider all my cervix talk a major “overshare”, but there’s no reason why most discussion about STIs is only in the abstract. Pretty much everyone has HPV, so why can’t we discuss it and other STIs like we (and our friends) are potential carriers?

My IUD Debacle At MGH

Filed under: Uncategorized — Elle September 11, 2009 @ 10:46 pm

If you were following my Twitter yesterday, then you might have been witness to my debacle of an appointment at Massachusetts General Hospital (supposedly one of the best hospitals in the country). The short version: I went in expecting an IUD and came out with a colposcopy appointment. For an abnormal pap smear. That I had done in July. The long version requires some backstory:

I went into MGH this summer right before leaving for Germany for an IUD appointment. At the time, roughly late July, I hadn’t had a pap smear in a year, so they recommended that I first get one to make sure I didn’t have any STIs or other issues that an IUD could potentially worsen. At that appointment, they prescribed me a couple painkillers and a mild sedative/muscle relaxant, which I was supposed to take prior to my next appointment, at which time I would get an IUD (assuming my pap came back fine).

I’ve had abnormal pap smears before, back in my sophomore year, as a result of low-grade squamous intraepithelial lesion (LSIL). LSILs are often a sign of human papillomavirus (HPV), some strains of which can lead to cervical cancer. HPV is extremely common and usually harmless. The majority of sexually active American adults will contract it at some point in their lives, but not everyone shows symptoms and most cases clear up on their own, which is exactly what happened with me. After twice yearly check-ups, the LSILs eventually went away. I then immediately got vaccinated for HPV, since Gardasil protects against most cancerous strains of HPV (but not all).

Given my history of abnormal pap smears, I was eager to get back my results from July so that I could confirm that everything was peachy down there. They told me to expect my results in a week, at which time I’d be abroad, so I instructed them to call me instead of mailing a letter. A week passed and I’d heard nothing, so I called back and was informed that the lab hadn’t processed my pap smear yet. I waited another week before calling again, and after repeatedly being hung up on or directed to a voicemail box, I was told once again that my results weren’t in. I kept calling right up until the end of August (by this time, I had returned to the United States) and kept being told that the results “should be available in just a few days”. Meanwhile, since returning from abroad, I found a letter informing me that I’d been scheduled for an IUD appointment on August 17th, an appointment I obviously missed since I didn’t even know about it and wasn’t in the country. I wasn’t informed about it via phone call, and I had previously made it very clear that I would not be in Boston. I rescheduled for September 10th.

So, that brings us to yesterday. I fill my prescription for the painkillers and sedative (which by the way, cost $30), take the medication the morning of the procedure as instructed, and show up to my appointment with Patrick in tow for moral support. He’s blocked out his afternoon so I don’t have to wobble home by myself or navigate the T solo. By this time, I’m pretty woozy and a little absent-minded. (At first, I thought it might have just be a placebo effect, but two friends in different instances pointed out that I was behaving strangely, and though I didn’t realize I’d taken a muscle relaxant at the time, I felt too tired to go to the gym.) I’m told by the receptionist that they are running roughly 45 minutes behind schedule. An hour later, they call my name.

I’m led into a room, where I get my blood pressure taken and am told to undress from the waist down. The nurse asks whether I’m getting the five- or ten-year Mirena, and I decide on the five-year since it has a small amount of estrogen which decreases menstrual flow. She leaves so I can undress, and I’m generally feeling pretty good —- a little nervous, but calm (thanks meds!). And then, everything goes downhill.

My doctor (a different doctor from the one I saw the first time) comes in and informs me that I can’t actually get an IUD after all. Apparently, the pap smear I had done in July came back abnormal, which means I need a colposcopy. The lab processed my pap smear on September 3rd, a week ago. The doctor says I should’ve gotten a copy of the results in the mail (which I hadn’t because I just changed my address). I ask why no one called, and she doesn’t know. Keep in mind that I’m half-naked at this point. And drugged. My boyfriend and I have both blocked out the second half of our day so that I can get this IUD and he can take care of me in my medicated, crampy state.

This situation was entirely preventable. MGH should have told me that I couldn’t make an appointment for an IUD before I got my pap results back (though I should also mention that you need to make appointments weeks in advance). Conversely, they could have also just called me as soon as they got the results, which was what I told them to do after they asked how I wanted to find out. Why would you ask the patient what her preferred method of communication is if you don’t use it? I’m also pretty appalled that the lab needed SIX WEEKS to process a standard pap smear. God forbid I actually had something serious.

All in all, this is not what I expected, certainly not out of MGH, which is supposed to be the best hospital in New England. My colposcopy’s scheduled for next week (perhaps I’ll even liveblog the process) and if it turns out my cervix is just bluffing, then I can get my IUD on the spot. But this time, I’m not going to pre-medicate. I’d rather not make myself woozy for 24 hours for absolutely no reason.

[Correction to my comments on the Mirena]