by T.D. Hassett
I was recently reading another blog (romancenovelsforfeminists.blogspot.com) about romance novels and contraception and did some reflecting on my own writing. I admit it, I have read many a romance novel and made note of the use of or even mention of birth control and can tell you that it is a contentious topic. Some of the issues involve a creepy double standard that few authors want to mess with. So I thought today I would write about this whole conundrum and let readers post their thoughts.
What about condoms?
It seems like most of the books I’ve read lately have the ‘official’ condom use scene. As a romance novelist I want to write hot and exciting love scenes without having to feel like a public health lecturer. I don’t want to describe how the condom was correctly put on or what lubricants could interfere with its efficacy. I might also want the freedom to have spontaneous encounters between the hero and heroine without making either of them appear to be planning for sex. I know, I know. We should all celebrate people being safe and prepared but that’s when the double standard comes in. If I write about a condom carrying heroine then I am sending a message to readers that this is a woman who is on the prowl or worse, “loose”. It’s not something I personally believe but let’s face it: most romance novels feature very inexperienced heroines. Need more proof? Notice that in many novels if the heroine is on the pill it is usually explained that she was prescribed the pill to avoid some sort of menstrual issue rather than her need for effective birth control. I like the idea of sexually responsible and assertive women but that is not usually a winning formula for romance novels, even the really erotic ones. If you question this simply read the wildly popular “Fifty Shades of Grey” and its entire ilk and you will notice that the heroine generally has little or no sexual experience and condoms are ditched a.s.a.p.
It would be irresponsible of me not to mention how many publishing contracts have a stipulation about safe sex in story telling. I don’t actually have an exact number – but all three of the houses I contracted with mentioned that detail right next to the no incest scenes. So what is an author to do? You write in what I will call ‘the talk’. My own reason for the “I’m clean conversation” or HIV test as a means of getting rid of the condom for most love scenes was based on my anticipated reader and their demographics. Most romance readers are women between 30 and 60 years of age, as in adult women who have had actual sex! Most couples that worry only about pregnancy prefer almost any other form of birth control to the condom. In fact according to the Guttmacher Institute, only 16% of women who utilize contraception report using the male condom with the majority relying on hormonal birth control or sterilization. Probably not a big surprise since the condom has an actual use failure rate of 18%. I included both the “I’m clean” conversation and an HIV test in my recent novel Isabel’s Awakening. I wanted to be able to show the couple had moved to a new level of intimacy and I also wished to avoid rehashing the “putting the condom on step” for subsequent scenes. Besides, I believe that as authors we like to have lots of options for our plot twists and the surprise pregnancy is a classic in the romance genre.
Please share your thoughts. Do we need to be more explicit about condom usage? How do your favorite books handle the contentious issue of contraception?
TD Hassett currently lives in Connecticut with her very patient husband and two young children. Her rambunctious family shares their home with 3 crazy cats and a darling Betta fish named Dorothy. Visit her at www.naughtyandniceromance.com, at her Amazon Author Page, or on Facebook.