Claim: A woman sued a pharmacy from which she bought contraceptive jelly because she became pregnant even after eating the jelly (with toast).
Origins: The tale of a woman who foolishly utilizes contraceptive jelly by eating it rather than applying it vaginally is an old bit of "sexually naive" humor, popularized on the Internet in May 1997 by the following text in the form of a newspaper article:
PHILADELPHIA, Pa. - A woman is suing the pharmacy that sold her a popular contraceptive jelly - because she ate the stuff on toast and got pregnant anyway.
And, incredibly, many legal experts are saying she's got an excellent chance of collecting! "The woman is a complete idiot," said one attorney who asked that we not use his name. "How bright can you be if you think eating a vaginal gel will prevent conception?
"But certain aspects of the case involve truth in labeling and false advertising issues. She may not collect but she'll make a lot of noise and trouble. People are down on lawyers anyway. They think we waste time and money on frivolous lawsuits. This isn't going to help our public relations any."
A spokesman for the unnamed mom-and-pop drugstore says he's shocked and angry that such a case could ever be taken seriously. "All she has to do is open the box and read the directions," says the spokesman. "Next thing you know someone will come after us because they couldn't stick things together with their toothpaste.
"I can just imagine some moron saying: 'It's paste, isn't it? Why can't I glue these papers onto my bulletin board?' "
But attorneys for Mrs. Chyton say she was swindled and lied to by implication and they intend to make the pharmacy pay $500,000 for the hardship the woman will have to endure.
"It says right on it 'jelly,'" says Mrs. Chyton, a former model who was once a cheerleader for a popular professional basketball team.
"And they kept it on the shelf just two aisles from the food section. I know, now, that the directions say it should be used vaginally with a condom.
"But who has time to sit around reading directions these days - especially when you're sexually aroused?
"The company should call it something else and the pharmacy shouldn't sell it without telling each and every customer who buys it that eating it won't prevent you from getting pregnant."
As bizarre as it sounds, the pharmacy could wind up losing the lawsuit. "It's hard for businesses to avoid troublesome lawsuits," said another attorney.
"With the courts bending over backwards to please consumer groups, the temper of the times is perfect for these crackpots to bring legal action against businesses - even a moronic legal action like this."
Every once in a while an invented tale from that wacky tabloid, the Weekly World News, escapes from its natural habitat and makes its way into the civilized world, where the mainstream news and entertainment media pick it up and report it as a "true story." Such was the case with this article (although theWeekly World News' follow-up piece of 10 March 1998, in which they reported the tragic news that embarrassment had driven the jelly-eating mom to committed suicide, was curiously ignored by the national media).
The widespread propagation of this silly piece was undoubtedly due to its appeal both as an amusing story about sexual naivete and as a confirmation of the belief that our society has become hostage to every crank who files a lawsuit, no matter how absurd. (Outrage over frivolous lawsuits forms the center of an article on this site about an e-mail decrying six purported cases where it would seem justice and common sense have gone topsy-turvy. See our Tortuous Torts page for more.) The "jelly toast" article itself is merely window dressing for an old joke, one of many similar humorous stories about the misuse of contraceptives by persons who are sexually naive or lacking in common sense. (Note that the woman in the story is identified as being a former model and a cheerleader, both popular stereotypes for legends involving sexuality and foolish actions resulting from a lack of intelligence. One can only wonder why the author of the "article" failed to describe the woman as "blonde" as well.) Jokes about women eating (rather than applying) vaginal gel have been around for years (a similar one was told at Canada's 1994 Reform Party convention, for example), as have their counterparts (i.e., tales of women who became pregnant after vaginally applying "regular" jelly instead of spermicidal gels). For example:
A woman in West Africa stored her contraceptive gel in the refrigerator because she was afraid that in the high heat prevailing in the tropical region it would melt.
One night, while giving a formal dinner party, she watched as the cook brought out the dessert of the evening. It was a large sherry trifle with cream, cherries, nuts — and topped off with a lovely glaze of contraceptive gel.
Another example of this legend type are the anecdotes about men in rural areas or lesser-developed countries who are shown how to apply condoms by a health worker who demonstrates the technique on a banana or broomstick handle: they then take the instruction
literally and place condoms over bananas or broomsticks every time they engage in sex. This isn't to say that someone, somewhere hasn't ever mistakenly eaten spermicidal jelly. People do some incredibly foolish things with medical products, no matter how specific the instructions on the packaging may be. But a woman suing a pharmacy because she didn't read the instructions on an over-the-counter contraceptive and mistook it for a food product? No way.
The circulation of this legend by the media in the form cited above can no doubt be attributed to the undue amount of credibility afforded to newspaper articles (or items purporting to be newspaper articles), and the public's sense of moral outrage being stirred up by yet more seemingly frivolous litigation initiated by persons whose losses were caused by a lack of basic common sense (much like the recent spate of lawsuits against restaurants over burns caused by people who spilled hot coffee on themselves). A brief mention of the legend (related as a "true story") was made in an article about medication errors that appeared in the Charleston Post and Courier in January 1997, both Rush Limbaugh and Jay Leno reported this item as a real incident on their shows (on 6 June 1997 and 27 June 1997, respectively), and Ann Landers ran this as an example of a real "crazy lawsuit" in her column of 5 October 1997.