BU Sexual Health Policy Is Cramping Our Style

April 17, 2011

by

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Every year, condom company Trojan conducts a “Report Card” Survey that grades the Sexual Health services of over 100 universities in the United States.  Trojan grades campus Sexual Health Services in twelve categories, including student opinion, availability of contraceptives and protection, and availability of resources.

The most recent survey conducted overlooked Boston University.  I don’t pretend to be an expert in health care, but lately I’ve had some negative experiences with SHS, which have led me to wonder if the Sexual Health Department might potentially do more harm than good for students.  Based on the categories used by the Trojan Company, SHS only just barely makes the grade, and that’s before adjustment for grade deflation.

One simply has to look at the SHS Sexual Health website to see how dismal the prospects of getting proper patient care can be.  The  web page is a mere two sentences long.  It tells us that students worried about STIs should go to STDwizard.org for more information.  It begs the question, are we getting our sexual health information from Dumbledore or was someone just too lazy to format the school’s website?

The site also says: “Condoms are available at Student Health Services in the waiting area. The waiting room condoms are free and students should help themselves to a handful.”  Gosh, thanks.  The problem is that, while SHS offers high-quality condoms for free, one has to practically climb over patients in the waiting area in order to reach them.  Trojan Condoms are piled in baskets located in the middle of the maze of chairs or in the very back of the room.  This can be embarrassing for some students seeking discreet contraception.

While I do believe students should be responsible for their own health, that’s not always going to be the case.  Frankly, making condoms out of reach and embarrassing to acquire actually creates a barrier between students and protection.

My own experiences have not been much better.  I called SHS recently to make an appointment, hoping to get scheduled during a free block of time between classes.  When I asked how long the appointment would take, the receptionist responded with a condescending “You know, you should be making this your priority. This is an important appointment.”

I was pretty taken aback and almost canceled the appointment.  I wanted to ask: Would she speak this way to someone requesting a critical service, such as an AIDS test? What if they needed care following an assault?   But I never got the chance, because the receptionist had hung up on me.

I decided to give SHS the benefit of the doubt when I needed Plan B, also known as emergency contraception or the “morning after pill.”  While the SHS website says nothing about birth control services, theoretically, Plan B officially costs 20 dollars and 20 minutes of the patient’s time.  I figured I had nothing to lose, so I picked up my phone and called.

The response I received? “I dunno, we’re pretty booked up for today.”

My brain-to-mouth filter stopped in its tracks. “Are you serious? I need Plan B!” I burst out, hoping my words would make an impression.

“Oh,” the receptionist said.  “I guess we could squeeze you in at 12:30.”  She said it like she was doing me some huge favor.  At that point, I should have just coughed up seven extra dollars and gotten the pill at Planned Parenthood.  But the appointment was made, so I went.

By the time I sat down in an examining room, the health practitioner asked me if I would like to consider a birth control prescription.  When I said no, she questioned my decision.  When I said my regular birth control was the right choice for me, she responded “Obviously not.”

I’d had it.  “Look,” I said.  “I don’t mean any offense, but I didn’t come here to be judged.  I came here for a medical service.”  It took a little banter back and forth before I got the privilege of swallowing an exceptionally bitter pill.

I returned to the front desk to pay for Plan B, which turned out to be twenty-five dollars.  Five dollars above the publically advertised price, to be paid in check or exact cash.  Thankfully, I had the money in my wallet, but that meant foregoing lunch that day.  I literally could not afford to eat for one, so just as well I wasn’t going to have to be eating for two.

I’ve walked away from SHS feeling judged, or like I’d inconvenienced the staff in taking care of my sexual health.  But when I talked to some friends about it, they also reported similar treatment.  Friends have felt judgment from the health practitioners regarding homosexual relationships or their reported number of sex partners.  Students requesting STI testing have reported being asked questions irrelevant to their requests.  So I wasn’t alone in feeling neglected, but that was hardly comforting.

Thankfully, there are alternative resources of sexual protection and counseling on campus.  As regards counseling and advice, SHS has one saving grace: Teri Aronowitz, nurse practitioner and PhD.  Educated at the Kinsey Institute, Aronowitz has become popular among BU students for her involvement in the community.  Her “Tea with Teri” talk sessions at the Women’s Resource Center have covered everything from masturbation to the history of birth control.

Additionally, the Women’s Resource Center in the GSU basement discreetly distributes condoms, information, and mental health services.  Condoms are always on the desk by the door.  For those who don’t have the time or who prefer extra discretion, condoms and lubricant are always available outside the WRC door when the WRC is closed for the day.  Moreover, the WRC volunteers are all trained to respond to crisis, or offer discreet information.

With such comprehensive resources available outside of SHS, SHS needs to step it up if it wants to make the grade.