Sex and the Ivy

Slate: Why Is a Former Sex Blogger “Rethinking Virginity”?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Elle May 11, 2010 @ 8:09 pm

So, I am currently typing away from Currier House, my junior year dwellings, to which I’ve returned to retrieve some boxes from storage. I finished my final final yesterday (yes!) and woke up astonishingly late today, and thus, have only NOW even checked my email to find various frantic notes related to this article, which I did not read until an hour ago. It’s written by Jessica Grose, the managing director of Double X, Slate’s website for women and feminist-y issues. Though it looks like this article was largely about my various college misadventures, Grose and I only spoke briefly over the phone and I was initially under the impression that the piece was going to be about the event and not about my somewhat sordid past. (She did come in from New York to attend the conference, but I was so busy during the event that I literally shook her hand and ran off. The only in-person interview I did was with The Crimson.)

So I read the article, which is subtitled “’sex positive’ young women reconsider abstinence”, and to be honest, I kind of feel like how Jaclyn Friedman must’ve felt after her CNN interview. Jaclyn, who is the executive director of Women, Action, and the Media, the Cambridge-based non-profit I interned at this semester, wrote recently about “how CNN turned [her] into a sex scold” by using selective quotes that did not at all reflect what she was trying to say about sexual assault. And despite being a women’s rights advocates, she came off looking like a victim blamer (and I can personally attest that she is absolutely not).

If you look up “Lena Chen” and “abstinence”, you will see a long history of me being critical of the abstinence movement. So first off, before I launch into dissecting this baby, here are some huge disclaimers about the conference itself:

  • “Rethinking Virginity” does NOT mean “reconsidering virginity”. Not. At. All. I was/am not preaching sexual abstinence (or ANYTHING for that matter). Just, no. Off the bat, let’s get that straight.
  • In part, I was inspired to host this conference because of my senior thesis, which I wrote on the evolution of virginity norms. I was extremely critical of the way contemporary ideas about premarital sex have evolved, arguing both in my thesis and at this conference that virginity is a social construct encouraged only because of its historical and economic importance toward the sociolegal institution of marriage.
  • This was not a solo effort, a vanity project, or an attempt at personal redemption. I organized the conference on behalf of the Harvard College Queer Students & Allies, which was not mentioned in the article at all. If you have followed the Sex/Abstinence Wars at Harvard, Harvard has a very visible student abstinence group called True Love Revolution, which used to be somewhat queer-inclusive. (I debated the then-president two years ago, and it was a fruitful discussion inclusive of all genders and sexualities.) However,TLR has since released platform statements stating that queer relationships are inferior and that “true feminism” requires saving yourself for marriage. By holding this conference, the QSA wanted to represent the faction of students here who feel completely excluded and alienated from the often heteronormative (and often moralistic) discourse about abstinence.

I’m glad that Grose stated that I don’t “apologize” for my past, but I wish she refrained from listing every single horrible thing that happened to me as part of the backlash against my blog and then insinuating that I really did regret it after all. Maybe I’m just overreacting but the article, to me, reads like this:

  1. Lena Chen starts sex blog.
  2. Lena deals with consequences like gross, misogynistic comments online.
  3. Lena deals with more consequences, such as leaked nude photos from crazy ex.
  4. Lena goes through “the cycle of rebellion and regret”, reconsiders blog, and takes time off from Harvard.
  5. Lena becomes  domesticated and revamps herself as a “third wave radical Marxist feminist”  (yes, accurate) who writes “serious articles” (c’mon, ONE article for The American Prospect versus countless entries referencing Hello Kitty vibrators).
  6. Lena plans Rethinking Virginity Conference using her newfound wisdom only to shame women who act like the way she used to!

This is just NOT AT ALL what happened. If you read the entry I wrote about the events of the spring of my junior year (when everything more or less blew up in my face), I make it very clear that I stopped blogging about my sex life not because of fear over employment prospects but because I realized that I go to school with some incredibly fucked-up people who have absolutely no qualms about making my existence at Harvard miserable. Amanda Hess, who writes the column The Sexist, has interviewed me extensively about the subject of the public slut-shaming that I endured at Harvard. I planned the Rethinking Virginity Conference for a lot of reasons, but not because I was “dedicated to making sure no one else goes through what [I] had to endure”.  I can’t speak for Emily Gould or Meghan McCain, who are referenced in this same article as fellow regretful oversharers, but I can speak for myself and assure you that the following does not at all accurately describe me:

  • “part of a handful of women bloggers who are sobering up quickly after their youthful indiscretions”
  • “bow[ing] to [my] professional future”
  • “[calling] for a government-mandated safe area to save a hypothetical virgin from the risks—and the joys—of youthful trial and error.”

Especially not regarding that last point! First, the attitude I had going into this conference was that we needed to create an inclusive and safe space for people who might ordinarily feel left out of the discussion about sexual abstinence. I also wanted to be sensitive to those who had not yet engaged in intercourse, many of whom had encountered shaming and ridicule as well. In the last panel of the conference, “Toward A Sex-Positive Vision Of Abstinence”, I wanted people to take away a more inclusive view of sexuality and realize that being sex-positive and being abstinent are not mutually exclusive. And obviously, it is really, really hard for older virgins who could be abstaining for a variety of reasons but may actually be really comfortable with their sexuality. The discourse on sex needs to include those viewpoints instead of just writing them off as not truly sex-positive. Bullshit! But beyond that — and this was really the key theme to the entire event –, we shouldn’t judge others for their sexual behavior, especially given how nebulous the concept of “real sex” is and how much individual preferences vary. I wouldn’t judge my friends who haven’t “done it”, because who am I to decide whether they’re ready? And that goes both ways.

Second, I will readily admit that even feminists and queer activists and sexual educators can and do “slut shame” and “virgin shame” but all of the panelists at the conference took great pains to not be judgmental of any sexual practices, except in the case of “having nonmonogamous unprotected sex”. Grose quoted the panelist as stating, “They’re doing something damaging, and careless, and it’s not a choice I personally approve of.” Which, yeah, sounds an awful lot like “SHAME SHAME ON YOU!!!” but if you were actually at the panel, this particular panelist was speaking specifically about the public health consequences and not wagging her finger at promiscuity. And for the record, if you were my friend having unprotected, non-monogamous sex, I would have NO QUALMS telling you that I really hope you’re at least using the freakin’ WITHDRAWAL METHOD. Because seriously, that is idiotic.

Third, the Rethinking Virginity Conference aimed to critically examine what we consider to be “virginity” (which, as it turns out, is a whole lot of baloney that really only applies to a hypothetical straight woman with a perfectly intact hymen), question why we place such a high value on sexual purity — especially female sexual purity, and finally offer a place for QUEER PEOPLE to join the discussion because sex positivity requires inclusivity and not just sex blogging figureheads who are all of 22 years old and living lives not representative at all of your average morally conflicted, possibly gay virgin. And that kid in the closet who is trying to make sense of their sexuality and the teenagers who are playing Just The Tip in order to “save it” — they’re really what this conference was supposed to be about.

SO, I think that just about covers it. Don’t hate me. I don’t care what you do in your bedroom. Really. I have no regrets about what I’ve done in mine.

Harvard University Admissions Commercial

Filed under: Uncategorized — Elle November 12, 2009 @ 5:23 pm

If Harvard marketed itself like ITT Tech and the University of Phoenix, this commercial would be the result. Produced by the team behind Back of the Class — thanks for the link, guys!

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]

A Capitalist Motive Behind The Beauty Myth

Filed under: Uncategorized — Elle August 24, 2009 @ 2:34 pm

How heartening to see that I’m not the only one who’s tired of chronic air-brushing in women’s magazines. Last week, I wrote on The Chicktionary about the positive response to Glamour featuring a plus-size model in its latest issue, and other Tumblr bloggers responded with a host of reposts in agreement. Despite all the body-positive messages women receive nowadays, I can’t help but think that none of it has sunk in, partly because efforts like Dove’s “Campaign for Real Beauty” are only necessary because companies, Dove included, have been cashing in on women’s body insecurities for years. (Anti-aging cream, anyone?) The fashion and beauty industry, advertising agencies, and consumer women’s magazines are allied in a war against our self-esteem, but the biggest shame of all is that women actually buy in — quite literally — to what they’re selling: the idea that perpetual youth and a single-digit dress size equal happiness. While I don’t think that there’s a global conspiracy with Anna Wintour at the helm, it’s undeniable that some players — most notably, cosmetics companies and the cosmetic surgery industry — have profited hugely from unrealistic beauty ideals. That means women like my friends and me are forking over cash at an astounding rate because we’ve been told implicitly and explicitly throughout our lives that we don’t look good enough and won’t ever look good enough until we’re model-beautiful.

Of course, it’s not as simple as wanting flat abs and substantial cleavage for beauty’s sake itself. Our idea of what constitutes beauty is inextricably linked to the way we view success, lifestyle, and class. Unfortunately, my Gen-Y comrades and I grew up on a diet of Seventeen, not Sassy, and we now reach for Cosmopolitan instead of Ms. Magazine. That means that the way we define wealth and a desirable lifestyle is influenced by fashion spreads and make-up tutorials. (Don’t even get me started on the blowjob tips.) Like they say, you can never be too rich or too thin or nowadays, too tan. And as sick as it sounds, dropping from a size 12 to a 6 is the type of social mobility that any girl of any background can afford.

I just returned from Ibiza this morning, and based on what I saw on the nude beaches and the VIP sections of superclubs like Pacha, I’m astonished that magazines continue to Photoshop their models. There are women out there who look so close to perfection that they almost seem unreal from up close and not in a freaky Barbie doll kind of way either (though there are plenty of those too). Presumably, the girls I saw over the past four days –many of them models, dancers, or actresses — are the type of women who wind up on the pages of women’s mags, and yet, even they are constantly under the scrutiny of image editing software and ridiculed for imperfections. When Playboy’s first issue came out, photo manipulation and boob jobs were unheard of, but as beauty has become a consumer good to be purchased and acquired, Photoshop has become a tool for fueling consumption. Today, it’s not enough that affluent American women have been brainwashed into being gym rats and plastic surgery patients. These companies want these ideas to become the norm. That is, they want women with enough wealth to hand it over, and they want women without it to aspire to be consumers.

Share Your Budget Beauty Tip & Win $133 Worth of Services at Pure Salon & Spa

Filed under: Uncategorized — Elle July 24, 2009 @ 5:39 pm

Has the recession made spa trips out of the question? Here’s a chance to win an entire day’s worth of treatments at Pure Salon and Spa in Dracut, Massachusetts, courtesy of the bargain hunters at Groupon. I have TWO $133 certificates to give away.

The winners will each receive:

– A wash, haircut, styling, and blow dry
– A 30-minute signature Pure Nature AVEDA Facial
– An additional $50 toward your choice of make-up application or hair removal services

Pure Salon
155 Broadway Road
Dracut, MA 01826
(978) 674-8188

All you have to do is leave a comment with an answer to this question:

When wallets tighten, beauty treatments are the first luxuries to get slashed. What’s your best tip for someone who wants to look and feel great without spending a lot of money?

Submit your response (using a valid email address) by 11:59 p.m. (EST) on August 26 to be entered in the drawing. (Only one submission per person, please.) In case you don’t win, the certificate is also being sold on Groupon for $65.

About Groupon: Groupon is able to offer “daily deals at unbeatable prices through the power of group buying.” Everyday, the website features a new business which has significantly discounted its products or services on the condition that a minimum number of people “groupon” to the deal. (I’ve been checking the site daily for over four months, and there’s not a deal that hasn’t generate enough support to get passed.)

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