Lauren had a blog post up yesterday on the use of condoms in contemporary books. It started in a discussion forum on Romance Divas. This is one of those discussions I love to jump into, for whatever reason. We’ve actually discussed this before on my blog (looooong ago, lol). Lauren seems to have mostly writers, from the author standpoint, jumping in on the discussion and I’d love to hear more readers’ point of view (though if you’re an author reading this, of course I welcome your viewpoint as well, lolol).
Should authors write condoms into their contemporary books (we’re only talking contemps now because most everyone agrees the rules are different for fantasy/paranormal/historicals)? Does it kill the moment to include the use of condoms? Or does it kill the moment NOT to include them.
I’m going to just copy and paste my view on the matter–same response I used on both RD and Lauren’s blog.
One of the catch phrases I see readers throw around is “TSTL”or too stupid to live. Generally applying to a heroine who takes an action that feels so unbearably stupid we can’t respect her or believe she had the lack of brain cells to do it because it endangered her life, it endangered someone else’s life and anyone with a whit of common sense would know better.
As a reader, this is what a contemporary heroine sleeping with a man she just met or has only known for a short period of time becomes for me if there’s no condom use. Because of AIDS and STDs and yes, even pregnancy, for me, lack of responsibility during sex with someone whose sexual history she doesn’t know ranks right up there as the most life endangering, TSTL act I can think of. It’s like playing Russian Roulette and takes either sheer arrogance or sheer stupidity to believe that the heroine’s partner is safe just because she has good vibes about him. Or that lust overcame her brain so much that she became careless of her own safety–or his and clung to the belief that “it could never happen to her”. (I’m speaking of the heroine, not because I don’t feel similarly towards the hero, but because in books, as a reader, I tend to most identify with the heroine).
It’s what I call magical thinking. It will be okay, and it won’t happen to me, because I believe it won’t. In reality, STDs are incredibly prevelant in the general population. Not just AIDS, but chlamydia, herpes, genital warts, HPV…things easily transferrable and easily caught. So if you’re writing a contemp, and you want your readers to believe that the events can happen, that it’s just possible it’s taking place right now, why would you ask them to disregard that feeling because of the minor inconvenience of a condom? Yeah, it’s fantasy, it’s not real, but then why bother researching the hell out of every other fact and plotpoint in your book regarding setting, what methods the CIA uses, what caliber bullet that particular gun shoots–why bother researching those facts and making your book as “real” as possible if you’re going to ask your readers to disregard the very real existance of STDs and pregnancy. You’re basically asking your reader to only believe in certain parts of your book.
In my opinion, not using a condom paints both the hero and heroine in an unflattering light because it shows a lack of unconcern about their partner’s health. Truly, what could be sexier than a man who wants to protect you and has your best interests at heart, so he’s prepared and willing to use it. Or a woman who is strong enough to say “hold on, suit up, please” because she’s savvy and smart and all about taking care of herself? Your heroine wouldn’t enter a burning building just to save her favorite teddy bear from destruction because she knows she might be injured or die…so why would she let the hero enter her with the possibility of passing on illness and/or death?
I saw a lot of responses from people who said, as readers, condoms killed their enjoyment and one responder said she recently skipped a sex scene because the condom use (only a brief mention) pulled her out of the fantasy. I admit I don’t get this so if anyone who feels this way wants to comment, I’d love to hear your thoughts on why this is. I’m interested in all opinions on this issue. I don’t think we’ll change anyone’s mind 😉 but as an editor, different viewpoints are valuable to me.