In 1986, humorist Margo Kaufman twitted the Today contraceptive sponge in the Urbanites column she wrote for the L.A. Weekly. She was promptly threatened with firing by Today’s ad agency, where she was then working as an account executive.
One fat severance agreement later and Kaufman was out of advertising forever and concentrating solely on the career as writer, author and radio commentator that ended abruptly with her death March 31 from breast cancer. Kaufman, 46, worked to the end; two weeks before her death, she interviewed for and got a job as co-host of a radio travel program, her husband, former L.A. Weekly news editor Eric Mankin, recalled.
“She had been fighting the disease for 12 years, but she refused to let that define her life,” he said. “She could have become a cancer humorist, but she preferred writing about the things she really liked, the frivolous and bizarre things of life.”
Sex was one of them. Here’s an abridged version of the 1986 Today column.
A Passion Play
Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. I have committed the sin of infidelity. Mea culpa. Mea culpa. Mea maxima culpa.
I have cheated on my diaphragm.
My diaphragm saved me from casual sex with wanton strangers. In the waning days of marriage, it gave me a more noble excuse than a headache. If I had a dollar for every time I said, “Not tonight, I’m too tired to put my diaphragm in,” I could have paid for my divorce.
And how did I reward such loyalty? Why, I buried it in cornstarch and feverishly pursued more attractive, less demanding options. See, I’m smack in the midst of one of those crazy flings. One of those bells that now and then rings — and makes responsible diaphragm use a hideous chore.
Dear God, you figured out a way to send a man to the moon — can’t you figure out a way not to send a woman to the bathroom every time she makes love.
Dr. Hartz, my gynecologist, was restless after my pap smear.
“You sure you want to stick with your diaphragm. I’ve got some great IUDs I could insert as long as you’re in the stirrups.”
“No thanks. My friends say IUDs are great ’til they start to hurt.’”
“Then why don’t you go back on the Pill?”
“I’m taking megadoses of ampicillin for a jaw infection. I think I read that lessens the effect of oral contraceptives.”
“You read too much, Margo.” He reached into a grab-bag of pharmaceutical freebies and tossed me a packet of Modicon 21. “Be sure to use a back-up method the first two weeks. And have a good time.”
Trips to the moon on gossamer wings do not inspire pragmatic discussions on birth control. The kind of men who seem to know everything about the Kamasutra know nothing about diaphragms. If any man ever bothered to ask if I needed to put more jelly in my diaphragm — I’d cheerfully clean his kitchen.
Eager to enjoy the fruits of lust, I popped down my first pill and popped up a Today Sponge for second-string protection.
Smart woman. Foolish choices. When I returned home, I cast a disparaging glance at my diaphragm. “Life’s so much simpler without you. The sponge has you beat hands-down.”
Then I put my hands up and tried to get it out. I tried more positions to remove the sponge than I had tried in bed the night before. The Today Sponge was determined to stay put.
I took a hot bath, hoping it would float away. It didn’t. As a last resort, I considered chopsticks. In utter desperation, I dialed the toll-free number on the sponge package.
I reached a recording, “Thank you for calling the Today Sponge Hot Line. We are closed. Office hours are between 9 and 4, Monday through Friday.
Dr. Hartz saw me first thing Monday morning. It took 20 minutes and major equipment to dislodge the interloper.
“You know, Margo, when I was in medical school I fantasized about being a sponge diver in the South Pacific. This wasn’t what I had in mind.”
I phoned the hot line to demand reimbursement. The voice on the other end of the line had a few questions.
“Did you have too much sex?”
“There were no restrictions on the package.”
“How come you didn’t call last night?”
“You were closed. Really, about your hours — how many people have sexual problems weekdays between 9 and 4?”
“You hung up too soon. You should have waited for the emergency number at the end of the message.”
The company reimbursed me and threw in a fresh supply of sponges.
Talk about killing with kindness.
Ten days passed, 10 days of severe nausea, bloating, shortness of breath, migraines and a fog of depression. No wonder the Pill is 99-percent effective. You feel too lousy to fuck.
Dr. Hartz listened patiently to my complaints. “Some of your symptoms will pass, and you’ll learn to live with the rest in a few months. Why, you’ll forget how good you felt before.”
“I don’t want to forget it. It’s enough to live with ampicillin.
“Did you say ampicillin? You can’t take ampicillin with the Pill.”
“I asked you. You said it was okay.”
“I must not have been paying attention. Go back to your diaphragm.”
Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.
I have planned to murder my gynecologist.