Jerry Springer must be a little nervous.
Why? No longer must women subject themselves to shameless and nationally televised BLEEP BLEEP-ING BLEEP! bickering sessions to find their babies' true daddies.
No longer must a kid endure a lifetime of wondering why he didn't get his father's knack for sports or why Mom's tennis instructor looks so darned much like him.
Nope. Inquiring minds can just go to their local drugstores and get answers for themselves. Because now, squeezed somewhere between the female condom and the early pregnancy tests, there's the do-it-yourself paternity test.
That's right. Genetic testing. From the comfort of your own home.
"People want to know who they're related to," said Doug Fogg, the COO of Identigene, the company selling the test kits online and at stores across the country. "Whether customers are buying a box of condoms, a pregnancy test or a paternity test, what are they buying? They're buying peace of mind."
The test, which costs $19.99, requires users to "vigorously swab" the inside of the prospective parent's cheek and then send it - along with their own swabbed cheek cells and a $119 lab fee - to the Identigene lab for testing. Results are available online or by phone in about a week and are touted as being 99.99 percent accurate.
"This is our way of going directly to the consumer," Fogg said. "There are a lot of people who are curious."
The "Who's your daddy?" question isn't a new one. Identigene has been offering a full range of DNA testing services - including tests used to determine paternity, siblingship and other familial relationships for purposes of immigration, child custody, settling estates and other family-related situations - since 1993.
Unlike court-appointed paternity tests, which must be supervised to prevent tampering, the at-home paternity test is not admissible in court.
Nonetheless, Fogg said, it's an important addition to the wealth of do-it-yourself health products on the market today. (There are also at-home test kits for conditions including HIV, hepatitis and diabetes.)
Fogg said more than 25,000 of the paternity test kits have been sold nationwide since the product was released in March.
"This is similar to the early pregnancy tests in that, when they came out people said, `Is there really a market for this?"' he said. "The answer to that question, from our experience, is absolutely yes."
He may be right. After all, studies show that one in 25 men is raising a child who is unknowingly not his own. And in the U.K., a survey found that one in three women who conducted paternity tests discovered the man they thought was the father of their child was not the biological dad. (Happy Father's Day.)
"There's a story behind every test we perform," Fogg said. "It's great we live in a day and age where we can get answers to life's most important questions."
But here's what I want to know: How embarrassing must it be to go into the drugstore to find such answers?
I don't know about you, but I get embarrassed buying toilet paper, let alone purchasing anything pertaining to the fact I may or may not have had sexual relations of any sort. Ever.
I mean, you ever notice how nobody lingers in the, uh, particularly embarrassing aisles of the drugstore? A person could spend 20 minutes comparing ingredients in the Cold and Flu aisle, no problem. Spend a few seconds too long in the Family Planning section and, God forbid, someone might notice.
It's not just me. According to a study published in the Social Science Journal, about two-thirds of college students are embarrassed to buy condoms (let alone paternity tests). Almost all admitted to trying to hide the item while standing in line, a tactic that, by the way, never really works.
"Some people get really embarrassed," said a pharmacist friend of mine who works at a national chain drugstore. "They shouldn't be. I would much rather see someone come in and get treated for their condition than go untreated."
"It's not our job to judge the patient."
That said, he added, sometimes he can't help it.
"I don't care what anyone says, you ask any pharmacist, `What's the first thing you do when someone comes in asking for lice medicine?' You start itching," he said. "You can't help but wonder what these people are like outside of the store."
So there you have it. You need a paternity test? No problem.
Just don't get lice.
Melissa Heckscher is the author of six books including "Date Him or Dump Him? The No-Nonsense Relationship Quiz" (Quirk Books, 2005). She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org