I’m borrowing both my topic and my post title today from this cool post on Rabid Reads. I’ve been thinking about writing something similar for a while now. If you’ve been around my blog these past months, you’ve surely noticed my penchant for going on romance reading binges (wow I clearly have a problem…). With romances, at least the kinds that I read, reading about sex is quite inevitable.
What I want to talk about today is birth control and protection in (romance) literature.
If you poke around my blog a little, you’ll also notice that I make a lot of lists and this post is no exception. I think it’ll be the easiest way to put my thoughts in order.
- Adult contemporary romances and erotica. I think these are the genres where mostly people take care of their safety. Quite often the two people hooking up are virtual strangers (or at least haven’t seen each other’s medical histories) so “a crinkle of foil” or some similar mention of condoms being used is normal. In fact, it’s weird if this is absent. I don’t think that “Trust me, I’m clean” is enough of a guarantee to have unprotected sex, so this is something I don’t like seeing. But then there’s the 50 Shades scene where Christian takes care of Ana’s birth control, which was weird. I don’t mind being told about protection, it doesn’t “throw me out of the scene” or anything – in fact, I find the absence of it irresponsible and unrealistic (though I don’t think people read romances for the realism, if you know what I mean…).
- Adult paranormal romances. As Carmel pointed out, these often feature creatures (vampires, demons, etc.) who are immune to sexually transmitted diseases and are often incapable of having children, which enables the characters to have crazy hot sex sans the pesky protection. Eh. Again, I wouldn’t mind them using protection. (Also: remember Breaking Dawn: The Cautionary Tale About Having Unprotected Sex With a Vampire? Not that Twilight is an adult book, but still.)
- Adult historical romances. Here, the characters are usually either married or about to be married and have unprotected sex all the time. Magically, none of the “very experienced” dukes and earls seem to have gotten syphilis while entertaining their mistresses and opera singers. The ladies, of course, are pristine. I HAVE SO MANY ISSUES WITH THAT. But I keep reading them anyway. What that says about me, I have no idea… *sigh* I have come across mentions of “French sheaths” and “sponges soaked in vinegar“, which are apparently methods people used back in the day but I have to say they gross me out somewhat, given the hygiene standards of the early 19th century and the available materials at the time. *shudder*
- Fantasy. This is a genre where writers could really let their imagination fly but sadly most of the contraceptives end at “special plants” or “potions” that the lady uses to prevent pregnancy. Danya mentioned a plant that men take that makes them temporarily sterile. It’s true that what fantasy I’ve read doesn’t feature that many sex scenes (or if they do, they’re less graphic than in romances), but I’d love reading about more imaginative ways of protection.
- YOUNG ADULT novels of all genres. This, I think, is the most important item on the list. When the group of kids that I led at our Scouts’ organisation got to the age of 15 or so, I sat them down and went through a basic sex ed talk with them because I had no idea what they learned at school. I don’t know whether their parents would have approved had they found out but I felt that I would rather face the parents’ wrath on this than see smart kids become parents prematurely or have to deal with disease, abortion or equally horrible stuff. It’s been several years since that talk and I’m still really glad I did it. I may be viewing all YA I read from an adult’s perspective but I think that writers of YA hold a certain amount of responsibility and should therefore take care when writing sex scenes. (I was horrified when I watched Star-Crossed, where a girl had unprotected sex with an alien and got pregnant with a mixed-race baby. Can you imagine what could have happened?!) Teenage years are the time when most people come across their first sexual experiences and while I don’t believe that fiction is the only channel through which young people learn about sex, it’s certainly one of them. What I’m trying to say is: I’m all for reading about condoms in YA novels. I’m glad when I read about characters discussing it among friends, glad when the couple discuss it before/during the actual sex scene, and very worried when it’s absent in the name of romantic idealization of sex (which is a topic for another day).
I’d love to discuss this with you so tell me:
What do you think of this issue?
Is birth control sexy or not?