I don’t mind admitting that I’m old enough to remember when condoms didn’t make an appearance in romance novels. Heck, I’m old enough to remember when penises didn’t make an appearance, and certainly no part of the female anatomy below the chest. Sure, there were clever references (some of which we still use today) to his “manhood” and her “feminine core”, both of which caused many, many girlish twitters at my all-girls Catholic school, lemme tell you. Still, the actual sex act was shrouded in mystery when you read romance. All you knew was that the woman’s resistance to participating in it had to be “overcome” and that afterwards, she would “glow” and simper and pretty much belong to the man who’d succeeded in breaking through her defenses (pun intended).
If you’ve read any of my blog, you already know I think all of that is just eye-rolling drivel meant to perpetuate the myth that women don’t, and shouldn’t, initiate sexual congress. And if we do, for heaven’s sake, don’t be too obvious about the fact that you liked it!
But I can’t think of any modern romances that follow that follow that awful formula any longer, and few still feel the need to pretend that women have to be chased at length and convinced that they should give in to their sexual appetites. For me, a surefire killer of my enjoyment of a book that calls itself women’s fiction, and the moment I will put it down and walk away without regret is when there is some ridiculous inner conflict where the female protagonist tries to argue herself out of having sex because she is just too attracted to the male protagonist. Now the only way that works for me is if that conflict is part of a larger conflict like, “I can’t have sex with my boss ’cause then it’ll affect my career.” But if the attraction alone is the source of her resistance, I will go on record as saying I don’t know any woman who’s that repressed and seriously doubt she exists. But like I said, the books where that happens are few and far between, because we’ve come a long way, baby . . .
One indicator of how long a way we’ve come, not just in terms of women taking charge of their sexual persona but in terms of telling the truth about love and sex, is the appearance of the condom in romances, and The Conversation about safer sex. I did an informal tally when I was reading romances like crazy this past fall and I would have to say that roughly 85% of the books I read either referenced condoms or birth control, or had some explanation for their absence. If the characters didn’t use protection, the author would work into the plot somehow an explanation for that. Similarly, if they did, it was integrated either explicitly, or by implication. As someone who used to lobby for women’s reproductive health and rights, I can’t tell you how freakin’ happy that makes me. And if the female protagonist is the one with the condoms, I’ll give your book a one-star bonus for that alone.
In a world where women are still victimized, objectified and undervalued just for being female, it’s one the coolest things that in books that are predominantly written by (and for) us, we can unashamedly use the words: clit, pussy, and dick to describe the anatomy if we so desire. But what’s even cooler is that now we talk about how we protect ourselves, and we set as a standard for young women that even in the middle of hot, mind-blowing, and sometimes unplanned sex, you gotta whip out that condom! I’ll be honest; I used to think, in real life, that condoms were a buzz-kill but then we all faced the near-Apocalyptic effects of HIV and AIDS and that woke most of us the hell up. I’m glad that awakening extends even to the people in our fictional worlds. For me at least, safer sex doesn’t turn the heat down one bit.
What do you think?