Fess Up: What Are You Embarrassed To Buy & How Do You Deal With It?

updated May 4, 2019
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There are things we purchase for our homes and for ourselves that are…sensitive. Perhaps they’re private or maybe they’re totally common yet still somehow embarrassing. (We don’t all have an Anna to send off to purchase our contraception like Lady Mary.) So, let’s talk about it: what do you hate to buy and do you do anything to draw attention away from your purchase?

Recently, researchers based at the University of Kentucky set out to explore the phenomenon of “masking” embarrassing purchases. They looked at what kinds of products cause “emotional distress” for consumers to purchase and the ways we try to mitigate this embarrassment.

Top ten products study participants would most dread buying:

  1. Incontinence pads
  2. Yeast infection treatment
  3. Douche
  4. Vaginal itch cream
  5. Pregnancy test
  6. Hemorrhoid cream
  7. Romance novel
  8. Massage oil
  9. Constipation aid
  10. Maxi pads

And, faced with having to buy something they deemed embarrassing, what were their strategies for masking the purchase? The most used tactic was to add other items to the purchase to draw attention away from the offending product. Participants also used self-checkout and brought along another person “such as a parent.” (Bringing a parent – what? That seems counterintuitive.)

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Okay, my turn.

My top three embarrassing purchases and masking strategies:

1. Toilet paper. Instead of being thankful to live in a time and place where toilet paper (and plumbing) are readily available, I find buying toilet paper to be mildly humiliating even though everyone uses it. Yes, it’s silly, but I can’t help myself.

Strategy: I try to buy it in bulk to minimize the number of purchase transactions. Ideally, I stash it under my cart during a large shop and then, like a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat, sling it up onto the counter at the last minute.

2. Maxi pads. I may as well be wearing a t-shirt that exclaims “Yo, I’m a girl!”

Strategy: Sorry Rite Aid, I’m walking the extra two blocks to CVS to utilize their self-checkout.

3. Fruit Loops. I have a weakness for sugary cereals. I eat plenty of healthy breakfasts, but, like a security blanket, I like having a box of not-good-for-me-in-any-way cereal tucked away. When I hit the checkout I feel like blurting, “I bought the kale yesterday.

Strategy: Take the kids! Having my kids along to shop can mask a multitude of purchases. Chuckling “Oh, this Johnny sure is cuckoo for Coco Puffs!” to the cashier is probably unnecessary, but I do it anyway.

Finally, is there some version of Murphy’s Law (McBride’s Law?) that any time I purchase underwear there is a (usually teenage) guy behind the counter? It’s embarrassing for both of us.

Okay, readers, spill it. What items do you find a bit mortifying to buy? And what’s your coping mechanism? Buying it online instead? Going to the 24-hour drugstore in the dead of night? Wigs and sunglasses?

Find this topic nerdily fascinating? Read the study: Effects of consumer embarrassment on shopping basket size and value: A study of the millennial consumer by Bridget Satinover Nichols et al. in the Journal of Consumer Behaviour.