KarenS had a post on her blog about condom usage in books. This is a bit of a must for me and I have some rather emphatic feelings on the matter, so rather than clutter up her comments with what was turning into a rather long, ranty explanation, I decided to move it to my own blog.
First, let me start by saying that when I speak of condom usage in books, I’m speaking only to contemporaries because they are the books that I am supposed to willingly suspend my disbelief in and believe that it could possibly happen in today’s world.
I am very adamant about the use of condoms in contemporaries. I’m so adament that I was reading a book the other day and the hero/heroine have sex and they’re getting to the point of penetration and I actually thought- “if they don’t use a condom, I’m going to chuck this friggin book in the trash” Thankfully, they used a condom. I’ve gone on several rants about this on the EC loop. There are not many things that will cause me to heave a book to the wall, but lack of responsibility is one them.
Often, in reviews and readers opinions of books, you’ll here about how they hated the heroine because she was TSTL. They say that no woman would go down into the dark basement, without a weapon (or a flashlight) when she knows damn well a serial killer is after her ass. Putting herself in danger because the emotion of the moment overwhelms her- despite all warnings not to do something, she does it anyway.
Now, you have a contemporary, a usually intelligent heroine who, we’ll assume, has not lived in a glass bubble all her life. So she is fully aware of the prevelance of HIV/AIDS, chlamydia, and any other number of diseases which are potentially fatal. So she meets this guy, doesn’t know him too well but has unprotected sex. THAT is too stupid too live. Knowlingly and willfully putting her health and her life at risk because she was carried away by the moment? Nu-uh. I want a heroine who’s smarter and savvier than that.
I know someone out there is asking to themselves, “what about the hero’s role in this, shouldn’t he be just as concerned?” Absolutly, but in general, romances are written from the heroine’s POV so it’s her head that I, as the reader am in. I have noticed that authors usually have the hero stopping, without being prodded (excuse the pun) by the heroine and donning ‘body armor’. Now THAT is truly heroic. Caring enough about himself and her to stop and protect them both- whether from disease, death, or a pregnancy that their relationship certainly isn’t ready for. But if the hero doesn’t stop, I would consider a heroine a truly kick-ass, admirable character if she stops him and demands he suit up or ship out.
There’s another component to this besides the character of the…err… characters. Romance readers as a group are demanding romance novels that are smarter, more accurate (whether in historical, geographical, or timeline details), and that they can point to as books that are truly great. They are demanding books with a certain level of social responsibility. Like it or not, readers do learn and absorb details from the books they read. Right, wrong, or indifferent, authors have a role of teacher when they put ‘facts’ in a book. The audience for a romance novel is varied from age, class, education level, and culture and every book carries the ability to teach and impart certain truths that the reader might not consciously realize but will subconsciously understand and absorb. And I believe that if romance authors are going to demand respect for their craft, they need to keep in mind that social responsibility. And that includes having their characters use condoms.