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