Let me tell you people, it was terrifying. I was seventeen years old, in high school, giving myself the pep talk of a lifetime as I sat in the parking lot of the CVS in the next town over. (Obviously, I wouldn’t dare make this purchase in my hometown, where a humiliating encounter with an über-gossipy friend-of-the-family was way too risky.) I had driven an extra twenty minutes out of my way just for this purpose. Just to buy condoms. For the first time ever. Holy good god.
I so wish the purchase of protection wasn’t such a humiliating process, especially for teenagers. What’s worse: buying condoms, or not using them at all? We shouldn’t have to ask ourselves that question! It has an easy answer. But here in the United States of Slut Shaming, a stroll to the CVS to buy condoms can feel like a long walk to the gallows in an old Western movie. And that’s not even exclusive to teenagers! I still feel that way, every time I have to do it, and I’m (mostly kind of) a grown woman.
That afternoon, I felt as though everybody’s eyes were glued on me as I finally mustered up the courage to get out of the car, walk through the door, and head to the “Family Planning” aisle. I told myself that if I wanted to do the deed, then this came with the territory. But when I got to the section where the condoms were stocked, a horrible surprise met my eyes: THEY WERE LOCKED IN A GODDAMN CASE. I would have to ask somebody to open it up for me! Apparently, a lot of pharmacies do this. Several years after this particular ordeal, I casually asked a pharmacist why the condoms were sometimes locked up. She explained that it was because they often had a problem with teenagers stealing them. Well, obviously they’re stealing the condoms! Our culture has made it humiliating to purchase them! It’s a vicious, awful, slut-shaming cycle.
So there I was, deer-in-headlights in the family planning aisle. I knew I had to get out of there fast before somebody tried to make eye contact with me. I’d have to formulate a plan. I also realized, at that moment, that I would need to purchase additional items. God forbid I give the cashier the impression that I’d come to CVS just for this very special, sexy occasion.
I stormed through the store, filling my basket with sunblock, deodorant, a diet coke, and a pair of socks. I needed none of these items. I only needed one item: the one I had yet to put in my basket. But I felt spending the extra cash would be worth it for the sake of my fragile, fragile pride. I feel it’s important to mention that I still do this, every single time I need to buy me some rubbers. It’s always hidden among several unnecessary items in my basket, lest I be judged.
Finally, it was time to re-approach that evil, monstrous locked case. I walked by it, eyes narrowed—Fine, bitch. Let’s dance. But my courage pretty much drained out of my every pore the second I timidly approached the pharmacy counter. My conversation with the (thankfully, female) pharmacist went a little something like this:
Me: “Hey. So. There’s this… locked case. Over there.”
Me: “I was wondering if you had a key for it.”
Her: “Locked case of what?”
Me: (really, woman?!) “Uh… condoms.”
Her: “Okay. I don’t have the key. Jose does. Hang on.”
Me: (completely re-thinking all of this now) “No, no, it’s okay, wait—”
Her: (picks up the goddamn intercom) “Jose! Can you bring the keys to family planning, please?”
Beet-red, I grumbled something that was probably meant to sound like “thank you” and awkwardly shuffled back towards the locked case. No turning back now. We’d come this far. Jose was on his way, after all.
Well, Jose took his sweet-ass time getting there, or at least it felt that way. Every minute was agonizing. Finally, he showed up with a key. He purposefully avoided eye contact with me, lest he be judged for judging me. Oh, what a tangled web! But I took some comfort in the idea that he was probably just as embarrassed as I was.
So, now the case was open—oh, boy. I waited a moment for Jose to walk away and let me do my thing, but he was still standing there, waiting to lock the case again when I was done. But I’d never bought these things before: I had no idea what I wanted! And all Jose wanted—and all I wanted—is for this to be over! NOW!
And so, I took the most logical action I could take: I swiped like… five different boxes. Without even looking at them. Just casually tossed them in. Ribbed, Her Pleasure, Ultra Thin… who the hell even knows. I would try ‘em all! I’d try ‘em all and never have to come back here again.
Squirming like a fish on a hook, I bolted towards the checkout line. I probably didn’t even thank poor, awkward Jose. My purchases totaled up to something like $75, which was way more cash than I had in my wallet. I had to charge it to my parents’ credit card, the one I was only supposed to use for gas and emergencies. But obviously this was a justifiable emergency, as long as they never saw the receipt, which I would conveniently lose as soon as possible.
My boyfriend at the time had a pretty good laugh once he saw the haul I was stashing, and I realized pretty quickly that I hated all of the textures. Every single one of them. I also realized that I was slightly allergic to latex. But that’s how you figure out what you can and can’t use: buy a bunch of different varieties. Despite the enormous price tag of the ordeal, I’m glad I tried several different brands. If you’re new to this, that’s the only way you will figure out what you enjoy. Every person’s body is different! And if you are indeed allergic to latex, a latex-free option does exist.
So if you’re about to embark on this journey for the first time, heed my warnings, but please go purchase your condoms regardless! Be prepared for a locked case. Purchase additional items if it puts you at ease (just don’t max out your credit card in the process). Bringing a friend might make you feel a lot more comfortable. I wish that I had! Or better yet, make your partner buy them! Or at least make him/her do it next time. After all, it takes two to tango. Or… y’know what? HAVE SEX. Enough with the euphemisms: they only contribute to the awkward slut-shaming of it all. If you’re about to go buy condoms for the first time, then you’re ready to confront not only your own sexuality, but also that wicked locked case in the family planning aisle. Be brave and go forth! It’ll be so worth it in the end!
Photo by Meaghan Morrison