Is Safer Sex Romantic?

cdmsI 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.safersex

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?


20 thoughts on “Is Safer Sex Romantic?

  1. I agree that there is a necessity for safer sex today, but it isn’t a very romantic notion. Although one may feel required to participate in it, for the protection of health, it doesn’t mean that it doesnt’ devalue the act. Honestly, everyone is looking for the ‘one’ to become involved with without protection having to be a factor. So, with that being said, when we are just speaking about sex and not necessarily romance, we are able to work in safe sex, albeit a novel or real life.

  2. I believe that the implication that condoms are being used are needed in this era but to literally make it a part of the love scene itself slightly removes us from the passion being had at that current moment.

  3. Hi Nia,

    I enjoyed your post and I can’t agree with you more. I remember submitting my manuscripts to the traditional publishers and I can’t tell you how many times there was a comment about this subject. I wanted my novels to portray real women and what they were going through in their lives. I was surprised to read that I was spanked for using inappropriate language.
    I still find that among some it is still regarded as taboo, but I’m glad times are changing!


  4. I think most writers want to convey what is real so that readers can relate and feel connected. Condoms are real life and they are as romantic as they are in real life–but they’ve become the new normal.

  5. Of course this topic would generate lots of comments!

    I like the question you pose and yes, i agree with the general consesus. Sex is as much a physical as it is a psychological, emotional, spiritual, act. I think wearing a condom says “I care”. And that act of protecting the other person IS romantic in itself.

    1. A condom says, “I care,” true enough, but there is also the fact that everyone is working towards a relationship where condoms aren’t necessary. Noone is planning on being in a three year relationship still talking about where is the condom? A condom is a precaution: in case you got something you ain’t tell me bout. It’s more for you than for your partner, if you are negative…if you know what I mean. I do think, however, it is possible to be romantic with condoms, as you have stated in your answer.

      1. I agree with your statement. But safe sex, in general, can be conveyed in diifferent manners. I just read a book where the female lead was a virgin and her potential partner was not. It was important for her family that she waited until marriage; so, the male lead presented her family with a printout showing he was disease free. Soon after, the two wed and consummated the relationship.

    2. Hey there!
      I was just thinking about you today and your resolution about authenticity and “asking for what you want”. It’s inspired a post I’m going to write so would love to know if you’re following through on that and what your experience has been!

      1. Friend! Hello!

        Yes indeed – it continues to be quite a journey of discovery. You know, at first it was uncomfortable becoz of my ego and wanting to be liked. But the more I was honest, the more free I felt. So liberating to just BE. The more authentic I am, the more I want to be, and the more I discover more areas where I need to be authentic. I’m less angry now. I used to hold back and expect people to read my mind and then become angry at them and myself when I didn’t get what i wanted. Crazy, eh?

        And now I realize that people don’t get upset with me for being honest about my needs. They may not like it, but they respect it. So the big question for me was why I never gave myself permission in the first place. Whose permission was i waiting for anyway?

        And one thing I’ve learned especially in the work environment is that its all about taking responsibility for my own growth, fulfillment, and success. Now I can say “you know, that’s really not going to work, so how about we do this instead?” So now I get my creative juices flowing by coming up with mutually beneficial alternatives. Now instead of people coming to me with more and more work, they seek me out for solutions and ideas. My plate is less full (of stuff that keeps me stuck) and I get to spend more time pursuing what I really want to do. So in essence, I was holding myself back by thinking I had to be “nice”.

  6. I’m all for writing safe sex in my novels because I write about reality, not fantasy, and the reality is that you have to protect yourself! Women can’t leave it up to the men, and women are just as liable to carry a STD as are men, there is no gender inequality in this! You can’t write about a strong independent woman who takes charge yet lacks the intelligence to know she should carry a condom! Every couple in my books practices safe sex, unless of course they are in the ‘heat’ of the moment and all logic and reason fly out the window, then of course, they don’t get away with it. The matter is addressed, and the reality, the worry, is written in and they have the same concerns we do in the real world. As an author, I don’t feel it’s my responsibility to educate people about certain topics, but I also know that realistically, young women under the age of 18 may pick up my books. If they do, they are going to know what it’s like to not take care of themselves and that unprotected sex with strangers or even with someone they care for is not okay, unless planned (as in I’m trying to get pregnant or know we’re safe kind of planned!) God knows how much ‘free sex’ messages they get via music, movies, tv, videos, and commercials! Great post!

  7. Using a condom alleviates a lot of worry about STDs and pregnancy. I think it’s a mindset so say it’s not romantic. Yes, people get carried away and if they’re on a deserted island or trapped in a cave, maybe they don’t care since they think they’re going to die, so might as well.

    But if sex is a reasonable assumption and both are anticipating, then I would think a guy who doesn’t use a condom is an ass, or not very hero-like. I mean, how rude and presumptuous. Think about it. Unless you’re both virgins and it’s your wedding night, you are not safe. STDs and unplanned pregnancies are not very romantic.

    Not preaching or anything. I got slapped by beta readers for not using a condom. I rewrote my my love scene and smoothed it all in. Whenever they forget or get too carried away, or subconsciously wants to get pregnant, then yes, there’s the consequences of worrying and risk that is built into the plot.

    Too many stories these days think it’s okay to just say the woman’s on the pill. It gets a little ridiculous because when we’re introduced to the heroine we’re told she hadn’t had sex in six months or a year [because of some serial monogamy code], but voila, she’s on the pill. I don’t know about you, but I’m not stuffing my body through of hormones when I’m avoiding relationships [as most heroines are], and not planning on having unprotected sex. It always jars me that the male doesn’t mention the condom [and he supposedly hasn’t had sex in three years, because yep, we never want to think that hot guy we meet is hooking up with anyone], and then after the fact the heroine says, “Oh, it’s okay. I’m on the pill.” LOLOLOL

    Anyway, sorry for the rant. Carrying a condom shows caring and consideration. It’s the same as covering your mouth when you sneeze. Or holding your fart until you’re in the powder room.

    1. Okay, Rachel, I have a confession. I’ve done the whole ‘Don’t worry, I’m on the Pill’ thing in at least one book. But I agree with you and don’t think your observations are in any way a ‘rant’. It’s just interesting that the world has changed so much in such a short time so that condoms ARE like covering your mouth when you sneeze (or holding that fart).

      1. I do like it when guys use condoms every time, but of course if I need a pregnancy for a plot point, one of the subsequent times when they’re already deeply in love, they might slip up and get carried away. But in real life, no condom, not happening.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s