Adventures in Contraception

Robyn Pennacchia

Robyn Pennacchia

This is the thing—it’s not as though I am in any way embarrassed to be purchasing birth control at Walgreen’s. It is absolutely the responsible, adult thing to do—to keep innocent children out of the wombs of obscenely immature and selfish people like myself. And, after all, I am a liberated, mature, guilt-free, cosmopolitan, feminist woman! Not to mention the fact that on the list of potentially humiliating things one could be purchasing from Walgreen’s—foot fungus ointment, herpes medication, enemas, yeast infection treatments, Us Weekly—contraception ranks pretty low on the list. Still- the fact that I am not only going in for my prescription, but also to buy spermicide, means that I have to buy something else, too. Anything else—a can of soup, a book of crossword puzzles, dishwashing detergent, a newspaper—anything to ensure that, when I get to the register, no one will assume that I am not a multi-faceted person. Otherwise, I’d feel as though I were saying this to the cashier, and everyone else in the line:

“Oh yes! It is all about my vagina to-day! Yesiree Bob! Gotta make this peach into a fortress! She’s gotta be built tough, what with all the sex I am having day in and day out! Why, I do not even have time to heat up a can of soup, I am so busy being vaginally penetrated all the time!”

Which is not entirely true, and even if it were, it would not be any of their business to know that. I’ve done the same thing the few times I’ve had to get pregnancy tests as well—except that, in that situation, I also try to look really excited—like I want a baby and that’s what I’m going for. It’s not shame, so much as I don’t like sharing.

You, like all those hypothetical nosy people in line and at the register, are probably wondering why on earth I need both the pill and spermicide, right? One would think that the pill alone would be enough to combat the threat of any unwanted stowaways in my uterus. But I don’t trust it! I am convinced, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that this here uterus is the most fertile land west of the Mississip’. Or East. Geography is not really my strong point, and to be frank, I’m not sure where Chicago is in relation to the Mississippi River. All I know is that I don’t want any babies. Ever. I know, I know- you probably think that I’ll change my mind when I get older and the biological clock starts ticking… but no. I will always and forever be totally grossed out by the idea of my belly button popping out, and something inside of me eating my predigested food, and my lady parts turning purple, because that is just… ew. I don’t even know why people still have their own babies when test tubes are available. So much cleaner, really.

When I get to the contraception aisle, I like to make sure it’s not too heavily populated. Not because I’m embarrassed, but because I secretly fear that a stranger will attempt to trap me in conversation in order to solicit my opinions on KY warming lube. I would like to avoid that situation whenever possible. It’s empty now, so I go in for the kill. On one side of the aisle, a vast array of tampons and pads in pink and blue packaging, and the “feminine hygiene products” section. You know, like douche. I have never used douche myself, and I don’t know anyone else who has either. It seems like kind of an old timey thing to do, like running down the street hitting a hoop with a stick, or shtupping the milkman. I’m not completely sure what it’s for, but I gather it has something to do with “freshness.” As I have never suffered from any serious “not so fresh feeling,” and as I do not enjoy the subtle itching sensation of a yeast infection, I’ve never felt the need or inclination to try it out. There’s also feminine deodorant spray, and various potions and creams for the prevention of vaginal irritation. You think they’d have “male hygiene products” as well, but they don’t. They totally should though, because let me tell you: it’s not like balls smell like a fucking rose garden or anything. I once encountered a pair that smelled just like penicillin. I’m not kidding, it was definitely penicillin. I know, because I have this heart thing where I have to take antibiotics every time I go to the dentist, so I know what penicillin smells like, and not being one to take chances, I suddenly remembered I had to get home and feed my cat.

But I digress. The opposite side is the one I’m looking for. The side with condoms, and underneath those, spermicide. Ever since the Today Sponge came back out on the market, I’ve been tempted to try it, just because of that Seinfeld episode. However, it’s like, seven dollars for three of them, and at that price, I’d have to be pretty sure that the guy was “sponge worthy” before wasting one. I decide on my old standby—a white box of Vaginal Contraceptive Film—eight dollars for twelve—a far better bargain if you ask me. I make sure to get one with a price tag on it—as the last thing I need is for the cashier to announce over the loudspeaker:

“Can I get a price check on Vaginal Contraceptive Film? That’s Vaginal Contraceptive Film for the loose woman in the scarf up front.”

No thanks on that one. I grab a can of soup, and a copy of the Times, and head to the pharmacists counter to see if my prescription is ready.

“You’re all set there,” says Tiffany, my friendly Walgreen’s pharmacist, placing the white stapled bag on the counter. I put my totally multi-faceted items up there with it, and search through my oversized bag for my wallet. Taking my card out, I hand it to Tiffany, my friendly Walgreen’s pharmacist. Tiffany sighs through her nose and looks at me with pity, tapping the machine in front of me. I’m still not used to this whole “DIY” credit card thing, even though it’s been around for years. I don’t really see what the point of it is, anyway. How did this all of a sudden become my responsibility? What is the benefit of this system? While I struggle with signing my name with the fake pen on the screen, Tiffany, my friendly Walgreen’s pharmacist bags my items and hands them to me. I wish her a nice day, and head out of the store and back to my apartment.

About a block into my journey, I hear a woman’s voice.

“Miss! Miss! You dropped something!”

I turn around. And it’s a nun. An eighty year old nun. A real, god’s honest nun, with the habit and the head thing and the rosary beads—really, just the whole nun get-up-standing there, with a can of chicken noodle soup in one hand, and a white box with the words “Vaginal Contraceptive Film” clearly written on it, plain as day, in bright red and purple letters in the other. My first instinct? Cut and run- get the hell out of there and get myself to a nun-free zone. But then, I realize, I’d have to go back and get more, and I just don’t need Tiffany, my friendly Walgreen’s pharmacist, judging me like that. So I walk over—the longest five paces of my life, with Sister Mary Alter Rail holding my soup and contraceptives hostage in her wrinkly little hands. I take them from her, with my head down, quickly muttering “Thank you, Sister” under my breath.

“Damn you Tiffany! You gave me a faulty bag! I bet you did it on purpose!” I think as I turn around and stuff the items into my purse. I walk as fast as my feet will carry me, which is not actually very fast what with the four inch wedges I’m sporting and all. But still—considerably faster than an eighty year old nun, a fact for which I am more than grateful. I make it back to my apartment without further incident, merely glad that I’m not in fact a Catholic.


Robyn Pennacchia was raised in the Swiss Alps by her gruff but kindly grandfather and a goat-herder named Peter until she was adopted by a rich family in England. It was there that she taught Elizabeth Taylor to walk again and came up with the idea for The Sunday Night Sex Show, the creative non-fiction reading she hosts in Chicago.



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