Few things are more awkward than making eye contact with the cashier as you slide condoms across the counter. Buying contraceptives in public is so universally uncomfortable for people that there’s even a narrative game about it; “Well This is Awkward” tackles the 50 shades of blushing related to sexual health sales.

Just how far will customers go to reduce their contraceptive anxiety? Read on to understand the crises of confidence that surround shopping for sex supplies at the local grocer’s and beyond.

Blushing Buyers


If buying antifungal cream for your intimate areas can redden your cheeks, then how must people feel when buying vibrators, handcuffs, or porn? We asked our survey respondents how they felt about purchasing sex toys, lingerie, lubricant, and other similar items.

We found that a little over 40 percent of men and women were excited by the prospect of purchasing these items, while a little more than 20 percent of men and women reported feeling awkward. Additionally, women were about 14 percent more likely than men to feel embarrassed. However, men were 18 percent more likely to feel anxious or nervous when making these sexy purchases.

When it came to purchasing condoms, birth control, or other contraceptives, women tended to experience more embarrassment than men. About 30 percent of women felt flustered, while only 24 percent of men were abashed.
Men and women were just as likely to feel awkward when checking out with contraceptives, but men were more likely to get a thrill from the experience: Almost 28 percent liked the buzz of buying condoms, while only around 20 percent of women reported feeling the same.

What do our feelings say about us as consumers? Consumer psychologist Kit Yarrow says that embarrassment and anxiety are still big issues for people buying contraception: “We are our own harshest critics, and try to avoid anything that reminds us of our ‘shortcomings’ which — due to our puritanical roots — includes body functions and fluids.”   

Hasty Retreats


As these data show, many consumers feel twitchy about buying contraception at corner stores, which is why, as the Journal of Consumer Research notes, most people believe they can distract cashiers by loading up their cart with other merchandise.

Some people may feel awkward buying contraception, but have respondents ever left a store without buying condoms or birth control because they didn’t want to face the cashier? 

It turns out, a small portion of our survey respondents has. Of those aged 18 to 24 years old, almost 16 percent quit the scene without procuring their goods. About the same percentage of 25- to 44-year-olds fled rather than faced the cashier. We also found that 18 percent of respondents aged 45 to 54 years old have ducked out of a store without getting what they needed.

Finally, 55- to 64-year-olds weren’t worried about losing face in the checkout line – only 8.8 percent jetted without buying contraception. And only 13.3 percent of survey participants aged 65 or older ran out before ringing up. 

Sympathy for the Shopper


Ever sized up a cashier when purchasing a jumbo pack of condoms? Ever opted for a female cashier rather than a male cashier, or an older cashier instead of a younger one? We were curious to know which type of cashier most intimidated buyers shopping for their sexual health.

Men were most afraid of buying contraception from a young woman, followed by an older woman. 

Women were far more frightened to buy from an acquaintance, and a young man was more likely to set them on edge. The least threatening checkout experience for a female shopper? Dealing with an older or younger woman (preferably younger).

Fear of disapproval when buying contraception is a big issue that starts when we are young: In a recent survey, almost 70 percent of teens said they do not use birth control because they are afraid of their parents finding out

Going Incognito


We all have our tricks for making embarrassing purchases seem less noticeable. Burying condoms among our other groceries? Check. Loading up with attention-getting purchases to distract from that small tube of lube? Check.

But how many people have surreptitiously turned the labels of their sexual purchases face down so that no one else could identify them? 

Nearly 41 percent of men have tried this stunt, but women were about 11 percent more likely to attempt it than men were. Clearly, masking one’s sexual health purchases is a common scheme for both genders. Such embarrassment has inspired condom lines, like Lovability, to start encasing their products in cute tins that look like lip balm containers.

Mortified Moves


Just how far will people go to avoid feeling shame when buying bedroom necessities? At least a couple of blocks, we discovered. We asked our survey respondents whether they have ever made a detour to a different store or neighbourhood to buy contraception in order to avoid being recognised.

Almost 1 in 5 straight men and women said they have shopped for contraception farther away to avoid familiar faces.

Twenty-three percent of gay women lit out for parts unknown when they were in need of contraception, while 27 percent of gay men have explored more anonymous settings to do their sexual health shopping.

Although gay men can avoid the stigma of buying condoms by utilizing free condom schemes, there’s still a better and more reliable strategy for obtaining sex supplies: shop online.

Conclusion

While many people feel comfortable – and even excited – about shopping for their sexual health, a good many still feel constrained or ashamed by the prospect.

While we may laugh when we hear about people trying to disguise a bottle of lube or packet of condoms in the checkout line, our reluctance to buy sexual health items is no laughing matter. About half of all pregnancies are unplanned, and there has been a 73 percent increase in people seeking care for HIV in the last decade.

Take the stress and the drama out of shopping for sexual health with Superdrug Online Doctor – it’s a great way to meet your sexual health needs with help and guidance from professionals. And you won’t have to bend backward trying to create an embarrassment-free experience at the cash desk. Simply purchase online and Superdrug Online Doctor will review your order and deliver your items quickly in the post after checking it is safe to do so. 

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