Thursday, June 15, 2006

Living with genital herpes


That should be the title (or something along those lines) of contemporary books where authors have their characters getting it on without condoms. I really feel the need to vent about how much I hate this, and since you guys are so nice, and surely willing to bitch about it with me, let us begin.

I was BB hopping last night and came across a post by a concerned reader asking an author to please use condoms in her books. She mentioned a lot of valid points, and so did others, but the author has apparently discussed this various times before and given some shoddy reasons as to why she refuses to ever use latex in her sex scenes. (Mind you, this woman writes contemporaries and they are not set in a little imaginary country village where the only evil person is the stepmother queen and everyone else is lovable, kind and STD free!)

Let’s address some of the issues that came up in that BB post individually:

Is a romance novel something more than fantasy?

This might be different for everyone. For me, the fantasy mainly revolves around the way the characters fall in love and not the life they lead or what surrounds them. If it’s a paranormal or a sci-fi book, I think authors have more leeway in terms of how they want to make their worlds. In the Dark-Hunter series for example, the DH’s cannot conceive children, be carriers of diseases or become infected by them. So really, STD’s are not an issue there, and still, Mrs. Kenyon makes it a point to tell us why no form of birth control is necessary. Even in a fictional world where characters fall in love in fantastical ways, sex is still real (I mean it’s not like they’re having sex like S. Bullock and S. Stallone in Demolition Man)—which means, anything and everything that comes with it is real too, from the orgasm to the syphilis.

Just as an example: how “real” is it that a 21st century educated NY woman has a one night stand with a complete stranger and does NOT demand he wear a condom? Same thing goes for him. If that’s the way those two carry on all over the city they must have every known VD in the book. IF CONDOMS BREAK THE FANTASY, WHAT DO YOU THINK STUPID UNBELIEVABLE CHARACTERS DO?

Are writers in any way responsible of promoting safe sex?

“Bobby Tom, show me how to please you.”

His eyes squeezed shut and, just for an instant, she thought she felt him tremble, but when they opened, she saw the familiar amusement lurking there.

“You got your fancy underwear on tonight?”


“That’s a good start.”

She licked her lips, suddenly remembering she’d forgotten something very important. Determined to sound matter-of-fact, she cleared her throat. “I’m— You probably need to know before we go any farther... I’m taking birth control pills,” she said in a rush.

“Are you now?”

“Right before I left New Grundy, I decided that since this was going to be a fresh start for me, I needed to be prepared so I didn’t miss any... new experiences.” She made eye contact with the flying T on his shirt. “But even though I’m prepared, I know you’ve led an active life.” Once again she cleared her throat. “Sexually speaking.” She paused. “So I’ll expect you to... You’ll have to use a condom.”

He smiled. “I know this conversation isn’t easy for you, but you’ve done the right thing bringing it up, and you make sure you do exactly the same thing with your future lovers.” A shadow passed over his face, and the muscles around his mouth tightened. Then he rubbed his knuckles across her cheek. “Now, I’m going to tell you something, and even though it’s the truth, I don’t want you to believe me for a second because men don’t like to use condoms, and they’ll say just about anything to avoid wearing them.

The fact is, sweetheart, I’m clean as a whistle, and I’ve had the blood tests to prove it. Even before those paternity suits, I was real careful in my relationships with the opposite sex.”

“I believe you.”

He sighed. “What am I gonna do with you? You know I tell more lies than Pinocchio. I’m the last person on earth you should believe about something this important.”

I think anyone in life that has been blessed with the opportunity to influence others, like writers have, also have a responsibility to those that trust and respect their judgment; it comes with the territory. You cannot be famous and only take the parts that you want/like seriously, because sometimes you do not have a choice. Yes, there are things you cannot control, there are things you cannot change and there are definitely things that will slip your mind; but really, something as simple as mentioning a tin foiled package could save someone’s life or future. And, er, if you’re a good writer, you can definitely make it work—even more, you can make it sexy (read SEP’s Heaven, Texas quote above).

Is the core aim of romance novels to educate, edify, inform, and/or preach?

Definitely not, but don’t tell me that when an author researches a specific topic and then goes into detail about it in their book, it isn’t to educate us on it. Mary Jo Putney did it in Burning Point (fucking awful book), writing pages on pages about buildings/bridge demolitions; Judith McNaught did it in Perfect telling us about illiteracy in women; Nora Roberts wrote about Alzheimer’s in Honest Illusions at great lengths, and hundreds of other authors have published romance novels that are meant, in some way or other, to educate us—yet a lot of them do not want to “preach” about the use of birth control. Make up your mind; why is referring to safe sex preaching, and learning about spousal abuse not?

Is a teenager who reads romance going to go out and have unprotected sex because it was omitted in a book?

That I cannot answer, since it’s such a personal choice for every individual, but think about this: we are all, as human beings, influenced by what surrounds us. We buy the clothes/shoes/makeup we see people wearing on TV or magazines; we get the snacks featured in commercials because they look so yummy and the gorgeous thin girl eating them looks great; we watch the SATC girls getting Brazilian's and we go try them ourselves—even if we leave crying and limping from the pain LOL. So, what makes authors think that by writing sex scenes with no mention of condoms/birth control teenagers, or anyone else for that matter, wont be influenced by them? A little ignorant of them if you ask me.

To me, the unprotected sex issue is a deal breaker. If I’m reading a contemporary novel and the characters are making love or going to make love, I need to know that one of them isn’t going to end up with gonorrhea for life. I don’t care how much of a book is supposed to be fiction or fantasy. If an author can incorporate drunkenness, stomach aches, PMS, colds, the flu, headaches, etc, into their writing, they can sure as hell make certain that after the epilogue ends, their characters will not find they’ve been infected with a chronic case of crabs—or even worse, that the heroine is pregnant with triplets. That will most definitely kill the fantasy for me! LOL

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34 comment(s):

Blogger Harlot said...

Babe, i LOVE this post. :D Right now, will only say that authors who refuse to use condoms/protection in their books just because "it lessens the magic" are irresponsible and ignorant, not to mention, in some way, belittling their readers. WHY would we idiotically think that using protection would lessen the romance? Isn't that supposed to be the other way around? That using protection instead of letting your partner to be exposed to some VD shows more that he/she truly cares?

6/15/2006 02:21:00 PM  

Blogger Maura said...

Great post!

I write erotic romance - contemporary and paranormal - and I always try to address condoms/safe sex because my characters live in the real world. They are supposed to be, after all, REAL people.

If there's a reason to NOT use a condom (like mutual monogamy or something), I try to at least mention HOW the characters go to the point where they made a decision to change method or such.

I think ignoring the issues doesn't help the story be more "magical".

Fantasy and science fiction play by a little different rules, but I still like it when I hear a mention of those rules to show the author has thought of them.

Just my $.02

6/15/2006 02:56:00 PM  

Blogger C Bradshaw said...

Great post ladies!

Many young people read romance novels, some even before having their first sexual encouter. I think it's imperative to always promote responsible sexual behavior.

6/15/2006 03:26:00 PM  

Blogger Gun_Wielding_Bitch said...

I honestly could careless about the whole safe sex talk in books. It doesn’t matter to me either way. If two people go at it and there is no mention of a condom, I honestly don’t think about it, other than pondering if the female is going to get knocked up.

If using a condom is important to the story line, then fine, but other than that, I don’t care. It doesn’t turn me off from the book if the author says, “he pantsed himself, slapped on a condom and went to town with her” but I’m not going to say, “that SOB didn’t wrap it before he tapped it, I hope his junk falls off and her junk falls out.”

To me, it’s a book. I read it for the * sigh * at the end, not the sex-ed. I know that in real life I insist on a condom, but not because an author did or did not put it in their book. To say that an author is irresponsible to not mention it, to me, is silly. It’s not the author’s job to educate us on safe sex; it’s our parents and our own job to educate ourselves on sex, because sex is a big thing and anything you do that is important you should know all the facts. You wouldn’t buy a house or purchase a car without knowing how the whole process works, why risk the one thing that is truly yours, your body, if you weren’t informed.

And if I read a book that had the Bobby Tom conversation, I would probably throw the book out, after puking on it and smacking myself for buying a fucking After School Special. I’m an adult, I don’t need the cheese.

As a matter of fact, I remember on several occasions people talking about how HOTT the dock scene, in Welcome To Temptation, was and I don’t remember JC mentioning a female condom or a tongue condom (oral sex condom which has been out since at least the mid 90’s) and I don’t remember anyone saying, “that scene was HOTT but there was no mention of protection and now I can’t help but wonder if Phin got face herpes, eyebrow crabs and syphilis in his throat.

I don't care either way, I honestly don't think about it. But I'm not going to get upset because I read a fictional novel, about fictional people, who had fictional great, hot, steamy, throbbing...uh It's fake, just as fake as the love at first site and the quivering heat and wetness virgins get where their legs meet, while standing next to, (not touching, not fondling, not drugged or drunk) the hero, who just walked into the room and has never even spoken to the girl but yet his massive throbbing love muscle is dragging him to her, like Lassie finding Timmy in the well. Give me great sex, give me the * sigh * at the end (and a chick who isn’t helpless) and I got exactly what I came for!

*Thunk* Oops, that was me falling off my soapbox. :)

6/15/2006 03:49:00 PM  

Blogger LilNigglet said...

No rubbahs fo' me !

6/15/2006 04:19:00 PM  

Blogger Petra said...

I have to admit when book characters don't use protection, it doesn't bother me at all. But you have good points, Trollop.

It's just not right to refuse using condoms just because this is fiction. Everyone always complains when a story is not realistic. Well, how realistic is it (or practical for that matter) not to think of condoms or protection when one is having sex? Unless of course you want to get pregnant. LOL

I want to say I love that we can have these kinds of discussions here, no matter what topic, yet still not rip each others' throats. :D Love this blog!

6/15/2006 04:30:00 PM  

Blogger Aggie said...

Gun Wielding Bitch: I am picking myself up off the floor LMAO at that post! Mopping up tears I tell you.
"throbbing love muscle ... like Lassie finding Timmy in the well"
OMG it was funny!

Good Subject BB's: I can't say I let it cross my mind too often when reading ... for me it is a form of escapism from "real life"
but ... neithe do I mind if it gets emntioned. One of the best sex scenes I ever read was where she was having a huge amount of fun putting the condom on Hero and making him "suffer"
It worked for me!
I think that maybe younger gals/readers really need the prompting though and it's great to see innovative authors tackling the issue with panache & style.
Older women are more likely to be in stable realtionships and it is not such an issue with them?
Ok - I have to go change my nickers now!

6/15/2006 05:24:00 PM  

Blogger Aggie said...

I was laughing so much, the dyslexic pixie crept in to my posting. oops!
But you gals all know what I mean!

6/15/2006 05:26:00 PM  

Anonymous Ollenska said...

Aggie, GWB, you gals are too funny! LOL

Great topic BBs. :D

Now, as some have mentioned, this is fiction. Still, fictional character or not, it's important to advocate safe sex.


6/15/2006 05:50:00 PM  

Anonymous Ollenska said...

Ok, just read my comment. LOL. What I want to say is, if authors can advocate things such as civil rights, speak against rape, spousal and domestic abuse, etc, why can't they advocate safe sex too? They should.


6/15/2006 05:58:00 PM  

Blogger Jolie said...

If condom is used by the hero, that's good. If not, that's fine with me too. LOL

You would think though that if they can describe every sexual positions, state every emotion and moans of the characters, why can't they be bothered to mention the use of condoms?

6/15/2006 06:13:00 PM  

Blogger Isabella said...

Some authors say it ruins the mood... LOL

6/15/2006 06:29:00 PM  

Blogger Isabella said...

Did I mention I love BobbyTom? Sigh. Damn, he's hot! LOL. I need to reread that book!!!

6/15/2006 06:40:00 PM  

Blogger Gun_Wielding_Bitch said...

Glad I could make you smile Aggie and Olly :)

Safe sex is a good thing and a responsible thing. I don't want to sound like I am pro passing cooties. Not cool. I always say, Wrap it before you tap it. Cover your stump before you hump. Don't be silly, protect your willy. Don't be a loner, cover your boner. You can't go wrong if you shield your dong. She won't get sick if you wrap you dick. If you go into heat, wrap your meat.The right selection will protect your erection. No glove, no love.

Oh, my bad, I kinda got off track there.

6/15/2006 06:46:00 PM  

Blogger Aggie said...

GWB: Damn - I gotta go change my nickers AGAIN!

I agree with the sentiment - wrap it ... rather than "Rap" it though!

6/15/2006 07:42:00 PM  

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Its not just teenagers that need the reminder to use condoms, the highest increase in std's is in middle aged women who have got divorced (from maybe their only sexual partner) and are too embarrased to ask a man to wear a condom (contraception not being such a big issue due to the menapause).

6/15/2006 07:43:00 PM  

Anonymous Steffany said...

When I read romance I want a smart heroine. To me a smart heroine in a contemp. will talk with her partner about using condoms. I'll loose respect for a heroine who won't demand for the hero to wear a condom. OK. So, she's on the pill - the pill won't keep our heroine from getting AIDS or an STD.

I do not want to read about characters relieving themselves - it's not an integral part of the story. Love scenes on the other hand are integral to romance novels. In this day and age I think a romance author is irresponsible for not making some mention of her couple using a condom - aka a *foil packet.* I don't think we need pages and pages and pages about condoms - just a sentence or two would make me a happy reader.

So, if we all want to read escapist romance - maybe the good guy should shoot the bad guy with rubber bullets and they live in a world free of AIDS and STDs?

Where do you draw the line between too much reality and not enough?

6/15/2006 08:23:00 PM  

Anonymous Cait said...

I love it! I've actually thought about this before while reading (only with the contemporary novels of course). It will actually give me pause when I'm reading and the story goes into a sex scene w/out protection being mentioned. How weird am I that I sit there thinking...ok, so we obviously don't care about HIV or any other VD?! Do we not live in the real world???

And I DO think it's important, especially in this day and age, for young girls. I started reading romance when I was 11 or 12 (the hardcore stuff...not those sissy teeny-bopper romance novels). Considering the fact that the age of girls who are sexually active keeps getting lower and lower, why not include it?

6/15/2006 09:18:00 PM  

Blogger C Bradshaw said...

Love reading everyone's opinion about this. GWB LOL!

I do think it's important that authors at least mention it. Surely a sentence of mentioning at least some foil packet won't affect the "mood", right? Besides, like they say, "No glove, no love." LOL

6/15/2006 09:30:00 PM  

Blogger Shyloh said...

Hello ladies, this is Shyloh from the JDBB!

I have to say I think any author who does not include the use of birth control of any kind, is ignorant.

I do not see how it takes away from the "magic" at all. A good example is Cry No More by Linda Howard. The use of the birth control patch is mentioned several times throughout the book, and the hero & heroine even have a conversation about birth control.

Great topic!

6/16/2006 02:01:00 AM  

Anonymous Vixen said...

Great post, Trollop!

6/16/2006 07:54:00 AM  

Blogger Gun_Wielding_Bitch said...

OMG, to my horror, I did write (in my second post, I got it right in the first post) rap instead of "W"rap. Now I must leave quickly and find an English class so I can learn to proof read better. 15 lashes!

My mom (Legal Secretary and MS. English herself) would beat me if she saw that.

6/16/2006 08:11:00 AM  

Anonymous Prags said...

I always wonder about it when I read a regency or historical... but I honestly would like to know how those women of the demi monde protected themselves... and what with all those heroes and their "rakish" pasts.


6/16/2006 08:51:00 AM  

Anonymous Cait said...

I just took a Western Civ class and we talked about this issue a lot! Weird I know...probably brought on by me being in the class and trying to make it interesting, hee!

They had a lot of birth control potions with different herbs but the most interesting one that i've ever heard of is the use of horse urine. No joke! It apparently works because of the hormones in it. What I want to know is who thought this up and who figured out how it works?!?! Those ppl were FREAKY!

6/16/2006 08:57:00 AM  

Anonymous die hure said...

This is very important for me in books. Here we are taught from very early about protection in sex and how to take care of not getting pregnant or aids.

Authors who do not do this are very irrisponsible. They cannot be so ignorante to think their books will not influence at least one person.

This is a great topic!

6/16/2006 09:53:00 AM  

Blogger Danielle De Barbarac said...

This is such a great post! Thanks Trollop! And I love reading what everyone's opinion of this, I think, very important topic.

6/16/2006 10:48:00 AM  

Anonymous Lola lovegood said...

I'm so busy I keep forgetting to check in, and then I get mad at myself for it!

But I'm here now :-)

I never thought about it much, condoms/birth control in books. I usually read regency and highlander books so maybe that is why :-P I have just let my 15 yr old daughter start read the Bridgerton Series, since they are tame in the sex side and funny.

I should make sure that any contemporary she reads includes the use of birth control/condoms. I might let her read SEP after I read them myself. Thanks for the heads up girls!

6/16/2006 11:54:00 AM  

Blogger Dakota Cassidy said...

I gotta say, I agree. I use condoms in all of my contemporaries unless directed otherwise by a pub and or agent.

it never occurred to me not to.

DC :)

6/16/2006 12:43:00 PM  

Anonymous Christy said...

I love it when authors incoporate condoms into their sex scenes. I started reading romance novels when I was about 12 or 13 and I was so easily influenced back then. Even though I can separate the fantasy from reality now, I couldn't as much then, and I think it's important for young women who read romance to read about strong, sexy men in novels putting a priority on safe sex, and hope it makes a difference.


6/16/2006 12:43:00 PM  

Anonymous julierb said...

I thought it's an amazing article, and it's definitely food for thought, especially among those of us who write as well.

If contemporary romances are going to take on issues such as dyslexia, spousal abuse, etcetera, maybe authors need to think about the signal they send when their characters seem to be immune from STD's, too.

6/16/2006 12:44:00 PM  

Anonymous Linka said...

Great article! Good points all of them!

Now with that said, I don't think it's the author's responsibility to educate teenagers on safe sex. It's up to the parent to do that and yes teenagers are influenced by books and movies, but I think that ultimately, placing the burden of teaching sexual responsibility is too heavy to place on a romance author. Yes, the author can preach about alzheimers or illiteracy, but they can choose not to as well.

Now, about the ruining of the romance of the moment, some people actually do feel that the romance is ruined (especially older people who did not grow up in a generation where condoms were an issue and who might never have used one). I think that with time as condoms are so prevalent in our generation, romances with condoms in the love scenes will become more of a norm.

With that said, I think that some authors expect you to fill in the blank that there was a condom, and leave that point deliberately vague. Although this is not true in all cases. Reading Judith Mcnaught's Every Breath You Take the main couple do not use a condom and they're pretty much strangers during their first sexual encounter. She makes it very clear (I can't say anymore without spoiling the book) that they didn't use a condom. That, I don't get. The author doesn't have to put a detailed description of the little foil packet or even mention it during the love scene, alluding to it afterwards, in some cases, works too (it would have worked in the example I gave, but again I can't go into detail without spoiling the book).

I've heard arguments that romance is fantasy and that STDs don't exist in people's fantasies. That's ridiculous to me because these aren't, like you mentioned in your article, Sherrilyn Kenyon's alternate reality stories. These stories are based in THIS universe, and while they're escapist stories that may bend reality a bit sometimes, the characters still have to obey the laws of physics and the restrictions/constraints that apply to us as human beings apply to them as well. So it's ridiculous and naive, I think, for some people to pass the no condoms issue off with "STDs don't have to exist in my story." Well, why stop there? How about we do away with heart disease, famine, rape, murder, and anything else that causes conflict.

6/17/2006 03:54:00 AM  

Anonymous Prags said...

LOL Cait,
that's quite a piece of info.
But what about men? How did they protect themselves from all those diseases. I have read some books where they mention special potions... but horse urine as one of them???... hmmmm... honestly, I wonder too... who thought about it? and how?

P.S. Forgot to add before... JM doesn't seem to give much though to safe sex. I am talking about her contemps. I know even her contemps are quite old... like Paradise was released in 1994. I know ppl during those times probably weren't as aware and open about such issues as we r now... so maybe she omitted it... but still... a bc isn't complete protection. Case in point... EBYT.

6/17/2006 09:36:00 AM  

Blogger Lorelei said...

Linka, I love your comment. Very well said. :)

Trollop, EXCELLENT article!

6/17/2006 05:20:00 PM  

Blogger Lauren Dane said...

In my contemporaries, my characters use condoms. I may not draw it out in every scene but I do establish it several times. In one of my books the characters stopped using them when they'd both been tested for STDs and were in a monogamous relationship and had been together for a long period of time.

I know romance is a fantasy but I think it's irresponsible to not have characters using condoms.

Now, in my paranormals I usually do away with them but I'll explain why - the woman will bring up condoms and the guy (or the human will bring them up and the vampire/werewolf whatever) will explain that they can't carry STDs and don't cross breed.

I don't know so much that I feel responsible to teenagers, I just feel responsible, period, to write great sex that's also safe. In contemporaries, you have a grounding in every day life - it makes sense then, IMO, to have characters thinking about STDs.

6/18/2006 09:54:00 PM