The Day the Condom Broke

28 Mar

Yes, this is a real thing. Yes, I am going to tell you ALL about it. Traumatizing. True story.

I am a historically avid proponent of hormonal contraception, as in, I loved me the pill. Long before I started having sex, pain from my period was so bad that it was actually crippling. I was 13 years old, on my back in the nurse’s office at school once every few months, crying and barely able to breathe. Some periods were fine, others were incapacitating. Some could be cured with far more than the daily recommended dose of Advil for a grown adult; others required me to simply lie still and pray for death. When I was 16, the school nurse suggested that I go on birth control, because this awesome little pill could alleviate cramping. I was deeply enthusiastic. My mother was suspicious.

“If you go on the pill, you might think it’s ok to just have sex, and you might not think it’s so important to use a condom.” To her credit, she had a very real concern that sex would be better without a condom, and I would be at risk for pregnancy and STDs. I would describe my mother’s attitude towards talk of sex when I was growing up as vaguely repressed, but she was a former Catholic schoolgirl blessed with a queer, kinky Jewish daughter. She was like the world’s most adorable, chattery mouse who gave birth to the weirdest of all birds. She didn’t know what to do with me, but she did her best, and in this case, I still think about that conversation. It was important.

Still, the pain was awful, and the nice school nurse had thrown me a lifeline. I begged to be allowed on the pill. Mom folded, but not without hesitation and dire warnings.

The experiment was such a resounding success that she put my sister on the pill only a few months later, at the age of 14, and chirped to anyone who would listen about what a GREAT invention it was, this magic pill. This is what comes of being the oldest. My battles were everyone else’s automatic wins.

I stayed a virgin for a few more years and stayed on the pill for 9. The first 2 years were on a fancy name-brand drug, and then I switched to a generic version for 7. I was the happiest kid, you have no idea. The pain was virtually gone, I always knew when my period would come, life was a friggin’ breeze. I continued to use condoms because STDs and not stupid. The pill and I skipped gaily through fields of daisies, holding hands, etc.

I moved home after losing my job and had to switch insurance companies. They kept me on the pill, but switched me to a different generic version of it. I thought nothing of it, until one day, I went insane.

I mean crazy. It had built up for a few weeks, but I chalked up the growing depression, sudden mood swings, and psychotic public crying jags to the job loss and move home. One day, however, I had a minor psychotic break, and it became clear that something was WRONG. It took us a few days to realize that it might be the change in medication, but when I went ahead and googled the new birth control I’d been put on, it turned out sudden mood swings and suicidal tendencies were not as uncommon a side affect of that medication as one might, you know, prefer. I went off the pill. For a long time, I was not in a relationship and saw no need to go back on it. I’m a little titchy about the whole thing, honestly. Hormones. Possibly going crazy again. Now, in a relationship, I am evaluating my options and using the almighty Condom with a religious fervor.

Which brings us to the time the condom broke.

When I told my friend about this, she actually bust out laughing. “I thought that was just a story people tell when they don’t want to admit they weren’t using a condom!” she exclaimed. Nope! Nope. The condom broke. This is a true story. I FOUND A PIECE OF IT LATER I WON’T GET MORE SPECIFIC. Traumatizing. I did say that.

So the condom broke, but I remained calm. Because as a member of the reproductive justice movement, I am privy to, and contain within my head, a lot of information about contraception of various kinds. As a result, I knew that, in the city of New York, where I was When the Condom Broke, I could get emergency contraception over the counter.

Think about that.

Over the counter.

Over. the damn. COUNTER.

I got dressed, walked out the door, went to the nearest pharmacy, and ordered me some whore pills.

I’m serious. The pharmacist knew what I’d been doing. She knew why I was there. She was an older, married woman, and I felt her disapproval. I did not care. I did not care, not one little bit, what she thought about any of it, because she had no concept of my options. I was in a brand-new relationship in the middle of grad school and unready and unprepared for children. No need, no thank you.

And you know what else? I didn’t want an abortion. Not personally, not just then. I wasn’t in a place where I felt that would be the right decision, either.

And because I could walk a few blocks and get EC, I never had to worry about it.

EC is birth control. EC = BC. I know we’re trying to hit that point home.

Because I could walk down the street and pick up EC, I simply never got pregnant, the same as if I had been on the pill.

I can’t tell you the relief.

There were no side effects from the pill, although the experience itself scared the ever-loving crap out of me and led to some serious conversations with what I call a God. The pill itself brought on my period early and elicited yet more prayers, this time expressing fervent gratitude.

When I stood defiantly in the pharmacy, under the disapproving gaze of the nice lady pharmacist, a girl behind me was buying condoms. She saw what I was buying. I think she paled a little, as the potential consequences of our actions – our actions being sexy times – settled on her. We discussed various BC options, and I advised against Durex, the brand that had caused the trouble in the first place. We marveled at a world in which we had not just so many options, but access – a world in which we could get to the things that would make our lives better.

I’m not someone who believes that sex doesn’t have consequences. Frankly, I believe everything has consequences. (I mentioned I was Jewish. Wash your hands.) I believe that those consequences, like the consequences of most anything, differ depending on who you you are, who else is involved, what is at stake, and a score of other circumstances. I also believe that we live in a world where we can control what some of those consequences and are, and pregnancy simply does not have to be one of the many consequences, or outcomes, of consensual sex, be it between stupid teenagers, stupid twentysomethings, or fully mature married people, since once people get married, they are awarded the “fully mature” certificate, like Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries.

In short, EC is awesome, and I hope it is available at a corner store near you – if not today, then soon.

5 Responses to “The Day the Condom Broke”

  1. deb martin March 28, 2012 at 11:14 pm #

    your story was compelling. don’t forget that it was gloria steinem and the women’s movement of the 70’s that brings you and other young women these choices. sounds like you have not forgotten. keep up the writing, keep up the good work for the women’s movement. the republikkkan war against women is CRAZY and so are the zealots who are bringing it. problem is they are winning, because they have gotten themselves elected to higher office while we were not looking. while we were taking it all for granted. so we have some catching up to do!

  2. placenta sandwich March 29, 2012 at 5:49 pm #

    Hahaha! Sorry for your trauma — but thanks for this awesome post. Obviously, even people who don’t always use condoms aren’t necessarily “stupid,” or so I like to think (I wrote about my own “how could this happen” moment last yearish: but having my own “holy crap, need EC” moment to reflect on certainly bolsters my empathy for people dealing with the various ways protection can go wrong.

  3. Molly April 1, 2012 at 8:41 am #

    I have to say, I had a HUGE issue with the pill too. The first one I went on was just a terrible fit with my body. The one i’ve been on since has been perfect.

  4. J December 1, 2012 at 11:49 pm #

    Thank you so much for writing this. This just happened to me last night and I really am panicking. I don’t take ec pills because I wanna be pure and it’s nature and i dont want it to affect my system but we use condoms. Just broke up with my first bf of 1.5 years and started dating with this guy and the condom broke. I’m really terrified and I really didn’t know what to do. So I did my research on plan b and this link came up. When I read this, it gave me hope. I was really unsure about ec because I never use them. Just took the plan b pill and still scared that it might not work for me. I read that it works 7 out of 8 but what if I’m that 1. I’m not ready for this specially if I did it with a guy on our first date. I’m 22 but I’m scared. Please pray for me. This month is so hard for me.


  1. What We’ve Been Reading and Watching « Politics Power Sex - March 30, 2012

    […] And BTW, EC = BC.  Never forget to back up your birth control!  Emergencies happen, so get some emergency contraception.  If you don’t think it will, check out this story about The Day the Condom Broke. […]

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