The Fine Art of Purchasing Condoms

It doesn’t matter what age you are, buying rubbers is a tricky business.

Time To Read: 4 mins | October 12, 2016

Most every man of a certain age and confidence has done it before, and I’d wager they all remember their first time. In my case, I was sixteen, and I drove to a Rite-Aid three school districts over to minimize the risk of running into someone’s mother. Not that I lived in a particularly small town but, much like a condom’s effectiveness, I wanted to be 99.9% safe.

I’d already accepted that I’d have to interact with a cashier – this was before the days of self-checkout. But my heart sank when I discovered the shelves holding the Trojans were blocked by plexiglass. This was standard in the conservative Deep South at the time, but on that already-stressful evening, it meant I was required to say out loud to a complete stranger, “Can you open the condom cabinet?”


I don’t imagine there’s any force on Earth stronger than a teenager’s libido, but the awkwardness of asking a 60-year old Rite-Aid employee to unlock the rubbers nearly made me swear off sex forever.

But my will to lose my virginity was stronger, so I stared intently at my feet as Esther took an eternity to fumble the lock open. I don’t remember what brand or type I bought, I just grabbed whatever was closest and power walked to the first available cashier, continued avoiding eye contact, then drove 80mph on back roads home.

Today, over a decade later, it’s still not the most comfortable purchase for me to make. Even if you’ve been buying rubbers for years, no one can honestly claim purchasing condoms is as casual as, say, a Kit Kat.

It also must be said, I have the added hesitation of being recognized mid-purchase. It’s not as much of a problem as it once was, and it’s not like I’m buying anything as condemnable as black-tar heroin or broccoli, but I do occasionally get stopped and asked for pictures. And wouldn’t it be lovely if some excited 14-year old girl ran up to me in the pharmacy and said, “Hi, OMG can I take your pic— ooooh.”

Which, coincidentally, just happened.

In preparation for my travels, I’d read (and subsequently dismissed) dozens of suggested packing lists. And outside of microfiber towels – I imagine Douglas Adams would have mixed emotions – the most commonly suggested item to bring with you is condoms. Because while you can trust t-shirts and batteries bought on the road, there are some things you simply don’t roll the dice with.


One day, little Malcolms will run this world, but that day hasn’t yet arrived. And while I’m open to all kinds of wild and crazy experiences, chlamydia isn‘t one of them.

So I drove to a Dallas CVS, located the politically correct ‘Family Planning’ aisle, and grabbed a twelve pack. Which felt arrogant, but I’m going to be gone for a while, and the less times I have to ask someone to ship me rubbers, the better.

I didn’t need anything else, so I proceeded to the single on-duty cashier holding nothing but a jumbo pack. The condom-buying jitters were minimal since the store was quiet save for the few customers in front of me, and a sweet looking couple standing by the front doors.

A sweet looking couple that wasn’t coming or going. A sweet looking couple that kept giggling, joyfully bickering with each other while half-heartedly attempting to make eye contact with me.

Now, I want to stress, I was in no way was rude nor acted any different than I would had I seen anyone else debating whether to ask for a picture. But I was definitely self-conscious that this was the red state of Texas, deep in the heart of the bible belt South, and the only thing in my hands was the largest pack of condoms CVS offered.

So I picked up a Kit Kat.

I don’t even particularly like Kit Kats. I would have much rather had a bag of Crispy M&Ms or some delicious Rolos. But it was the only candy in arms reach that I could disguise my actual purchase behind.

This couple was more indecisive than most. Like puppies meeting a different species of animal for the first time, they would start to approach then panic, back up, then growl while wagging their tails.

When this happens, you can’t say to someone, “Hey, would you like to take a picture with me?” No sentence has ever been douchier. So I casually tried a few times to make eye contact, but to no avail, as they were now huddled in close discussion.

It was time to checkout. I placed the condoms on the register with my Cloak of Invisibility Kit Kat on top, but my attempts at discretion carried no weight with the cashier.


Apparently she could only work her laser gun scanner accurately at eye level, so when it came time to register my little latex rolls of shame, she held them 5 feet in the air for all to see.

Hand on my forehead in shame, I turned to see what’d become of the sweet couple by the front doors: they’d now positioned themselves just behind me, facing away with their phone held aloft to take a selfie.

They probably expected to capture nothing but my knotted hair, but if they got the timing right, they now have a picture of a clearly embarrassed me staring right in their camera, while a cashier holds a 12-pack of rubbers aloft like Rafiki lifting Simba on Pride Rock.

This pack better last a while.


photo: a talking parrot in dominical, costa rica. you can’t convince me it’s not giving the camera its best sexy face

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Malcolm Freberg
Malcolm Freberg
American writer living permanently on the road. Believes rye whiskey is superior to bourbon, Belle is the best Disney princess, and that selfie sticks should be snapped in half on sight. Hosted a travel documentary for AOL & played Survivor a few times.

Leave a Comment


  1. Robyn

    This story made me laugh so hard. Your writing skills are amazing as well, I’m hooked. Thank you for the great read 🙂

  2. Jenn

    *snickersnort* This is one reason I’m glad I’m not semi-famous. 😉

  3. Albert

    You captured perfectly was it like buying a condom, it feels like everyone staring at you silently judging. You’r a fantastic writer keep up the great work.

  4. tania

    You tell hilarious stories, definitely bookmarked your site…btw, you’re my fave survivor player ever!


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