This isn’t REALLY for #weloveromance but as far as I’m concerned, you can’t have one without the other!
Do romance writers have a responsibility to present safe sex?
This was the question I wondered as I read a really great romance recently. It had all the things I love, a snarky love interest, a crazy family, excellent characterisation and backstory. The sex scene had been delayed long enough, and was really hot and then… when asked by the male she was just about to sleep with for the first time if he should get a condom, the female replied ‘Don’t worry, I’m on the pill.’
Now, here’s the balance: do we present safe sex, knowing that young women learn about the ‘normality’ of relationships through books like these, OR do we stay true to what sex is actually like, and that sometimes that stuff happens?
Here’s what bothered me- I wouldn’t judge a woman I know, or just met, if she told me that story. I might have rolled my eyes and said that the pill doesn’t protect against STDs and it’s not really the same thing, especially when you’re sleeping with someone for the first time, but I wouldn’t have judged. But I judged the writer for presenting me with such a character. A cautious and thoughtful character, who never takes risks and is always in control…and yet, this. Especially after they’d just had a whole discussion about the fact that the male character has had multiple fuck buddies at the same time.
Fair enough, a lot of people don’t like writing condoms into sex scenes- they think it loses momentum, breaks down the romantic bit, or the ‘ravaging in process’ bit. Personally, I don’t think that’s true, and I make a point to include it, especially in the first few sex scenes. It doesn’t need to metaphorically flick you in the face every time you start a steamy scene, but it’s a part of sexual experience. We don’t tend to write about all the gross stuff that happens in sex either, because we’re writing the ideal most of the time. But the ideal includes being safe, doesn’t it?
If we were writing to be true to life, we’d include all the nitty gritty gross stuff, so I can understand ignoring it altogether, I have no problem with that. But bringing it up, only to dismiss it for something that doesn’t actually address the situation? That’s the kind of excuse brought up in erotic fiction on the internet, where rape fantasies and incest stories hide away. They bring it up to get it out of the way, so that women are expected to give that answer, and ta-da! There sits your male condom-free fantasy. Except….the majority of readers of ‘chick lit’ are female…so what is achieved here?
I haven’t got an answer for you, but I’m interested in what you think! Do writers have an obligation to present safe sex, or do we ignore it and accept that it’s just fantasy? Comment, I’m intrigued!