Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Condom Conundrum

What Makes a Romance

When I read a romance there are a couple of things I demand. First and foremost, a HEA. Don’t have it? Then it ain’t a romance and don’t try to sell it to me as one. Second, when I’m reading a love scene, I don’t want to be thrown out of the read. I want to enjoy the fantasy of romantic, uninhibited, steamy sex. I read a love scene the other night where the hero stopped to put on a condom and the heroine was worried it (the condom) was going to bust as the hero was rolling it over his erection.

I’m guessing it was the author’s way of saying the guy was HUGE *and* how thoughtful and caring he was by putting a condom on before he had sex with the heroine. Unfortunately the great sexual tension that had been built up to that moment was completely lost as I burst out laughing at the image of a guy with a fat c*ck trying not to break a condom he was putting on. Not the image I’m sure the author was going for. As a result, I couldn’t get back into the read. I’m still chuckling as I think about it! LOL So I thought it might make for a fun blog or at the very least give me a bully pulpit to do a point/counterpoint on the issue of condoms in romance books .*grin*

Jane You Misguided, Miserable Slut

The points in the following mini-debate are paraphrased commentary I’ve heard from several different sources over the last year or so. The counterpoints are my POV. Neither side is right or wrong. It’s just about what some readers (including me) are comfortable with in a book and what they’re not.

Point – Condoms are necessary because I expect characters to act responsibly in a book. If the hero doesn’t pull out a condom during a love scene, it’s not realistic. I want the hero to say “I care” by pulling out that foil wrapper. It doesn't have to be added into the love scene, but I need to know wrappers are laying on the floor either before or after the scene. When I don’t see a condom used, it throws me out of the read and most of the time I'll put the book down.

Counterpoint – If we’re talking realism, how about this, if the condom goes on, it has to come off. When it comes off, it’s got that ick factor, because one hopes that the guy's been satisfied. Why don’t authors show that realism too? Probably because it’s not romantic. I find it curious that we don’t demand similar standards for love scenes in movies. I watched Maid in Manhattan this past weekend and I didn’t see one single wrapper the morning after. Same for James Bond and all the women he’s had over the years. If we can assume protection is used in a movie’s love scene is there some reason we cannot assume the same thing for a romance book. Or are we to apply a different standard of entertainment to a book versus a movie simply because it’s a book, or more specifically a romance book? Is this some way of legitimizing romance?

Point – A condom used by the hero in a romance shows he cares about the heroine. It makes me believe he cares and respects her enough because he’s aware of STDs or doesn’t want to impregnate her. He’s more heroic when he pulls out a condom. It shows he cares.

Counterpoint –
When reading a sexy romance we generally assume a couple having sex for the first time is either in love or almost in love. If a reader can take that leap of faith, why is it so difficult to assume protection isn’t being used just because the author doesn’t actually show it? As for being heroic, if a couple has sex in a book without being in love or at least halfway there that first time or two, I find that even more unheroic than a hero who doesn’t pop on a condom. Even if the work is Erotic Romance or Erotica, why would a hero wear a condom, but turn around and perform oral sex. You can get STDs from oral sex, just like unprotected sex. Again, it’s about letting the reader make up their own mind. I believe readers are intelligent people. They don’t need things dumbed down for them. I’m sure they can assume that protection is a logical part of the sex act and it's not necessary for a satisfying read.

Point –
It’s an author’s responsibility to add in safe sex issues in their work because we live in a society where STDs and unwanted pregnancies are a major issue. We need to consider that there are impressionable minds out there. To not show safe sex in a book is irresponsible of the author.

Counterpoint – While STDs and unwanted pregnancies are a societal issue, and can be addressed in a romance if an author so chooses, it’s not an author’s responsibility to educate readers on safe sex, particularly when awareness about the issue is quite prevalent in our society.

One can also turn the STD issue around and view it as maybe the hero is using a condom because he’s got a STD he doesn’t want to transmit to the heroine. If that were the case, why hasn’t he been cured? If it’s incurable, then that needs to be addressed LONG before the couple has sex. If the hero doesn’t tell the heroine he’s got a problem, that’s unheroic. If he doesn’t have an STD, is he perhaps afraid the heroine will give him something if he doesn't put on a condom? Naturally, these are exaggerations and unlikely points that would appear in a romance (although it might make for an interesting read), but the point is that using STDs as a reason for including a condom in romance is to me ridiculous.

The fear of pregnancy however I understand, and I could buy this factor if it’s stated that’s the reason for a condom being used. But again, this is fiction and the heroine won’t get pregnant unless the author deems it so (or the character) so it nullifies the need for a condom.

Point – Romance is supposed to show realism in the development of characters and their relationship. Authors need to be cognizant of this issue and ensure that realism is added into their books.

Counterpoint – If realism is the point of using condoms, then I put forth the argument that realism needs to extend beyond the condoms to more realistic heroes and heroines. Men who aren’t super hot sex machines (although I do love a hottie in a romance). Forget about men who're drop dead gorgeous with abs that are hard as a tree trunk or flat stomachs or perfect bodies in general. We need heroines that don’t have long silky hair, lovely faces, a svelte figure or other fabulous qualities. Let’s add to our love scenes those moments of skin flapping against skin as lovers copulate. What about those flatulence sounds that occur occasionally when a c*ck pops in and out a certain way. (*evil grin*) Those are all realistic sounds and images. Why aren’t they depicted? I don’t know about you, but there’s a definite, eeewwww factor in there for me. It just doesn’t make for a hot, steamy, ROMANTIC love scene IMHO.

For me personally, condoms in a love scene just aren't romantic. They're about being politically correct and the promoting of a safe sex agenda. I don’t write them because I believe they detract from a love scene. I think writing condoms into a love scene has to be a decision of each individual author. If a reader expects political correctness, it won’t be found in my books. I write romance. Romance that entertains. Romance that’s escapism and fantasy with core values such as love, empowerment, hope and HEAs, because the reality is life doesn’t always come with HEAs. I'm not about preaching safe sex to a reader. I think my readers are intelligent enough to figure out that safe sex is something you practice in the real world, and it’s not necessary to have it in a romance book that’s created to entertain you. When I explained this blog to the DH, his reaction was a *snort* and then "Get real, it's a fantasy." Guess I've got one believer in my court. LOL