About Frangers, Frankly

I’ve been doing some very unscientific research into condoms in contemporary romances and thought I might as well throw it open on the blog and see what others think.

As writers, are we responsible for teaching/education about safe sex in our novels? Any novels, not just romance. When I think back to my favourite books, particularly all the John Sandford ‘Prey’ novels that I love for their lothario hero Lucas Davenport—until Sandford made him settle down with the woman of his dreams and get married—rarely (like almost never) do condoms get involved in sex scenes. And what about Bond? James Bond? No crinkling sound of foil wrappers in any Bond movie I’ve ever watched!

So here’s what I think. Condoms aren’t romantic to me. Neither, should I say, are STDs… please don’t get me wrong. But we’re writing for escapism surely, not realism? And when it comes to romance… I mean, how many of our plotlines are 200% realistic? Romance is about dreams and emotion and feelings and instincts and (insert dammit here) futzing about with a condom gets in the darn way. IMHO.

I have opened this as a discussion item on my Goodreads page, and I’ve asked around in a couple of forums that are mostly US-based. Out of 6 replies, only 1 says she looks for “escapism not realism” in books.

But, to a man (err, woman) every other comment said they find it “distracting” if the issue of condom use isn’t raised and/or doubt the intelligence of the hero/heroine if they don’t at least discuss the use of a condom, or their sexual health. So maybe I’m hugely out of touch!

Here’s a snapshot:

“I find it distracting if condoms aren’t mentioned in a scene, if not during than at least the morning after some mention of throwing out the wrappers. I like it when the couple discusses birth control and what steps they’re taking. I find it unrealistic in a contemporary romance when that discussion doesn’t take place or isn’t at least alluded to.”

“I also find it distracting if they’re not mentioned at all. As far as I’m concerned, condoms are a required part of sex (unless the hero and heroine are already in a long term relationship, I suppose)…not using a condom just seems rather idiotic in my mind.”

“Yes, I want to see condoms in contemporary romances. Not using condoms without any sort of discussion just seems dumb and irresponsible to me.”

“Lack of condom use doesn’t make me think the characters are less promiscuous and clean but rather stupid and dangerous… There’s no need to stop the action and give a Health Class presentation on the proper use of condoms. The crinkle of a wrapper before or after, a reach for supplies (purse, wallet, bed side draw), disposing of a condom after etc – would suffice.”

“I agree with everyone else. Writers can make it subtle –the heroine hearing the crinkle of a foil wrapper is popular — but if it’s not there, I get distracted and concerned. My biggest pet peeve is the 2 second “I’m clean” conversation that has also unfortunately become popular.”

“I find the condom mention and also all-clear of STD mention a huge distraction. Too much realism for me as I read to escape reality not see every gritty part of it.”

Where do you sit? Any erotica writers out there – how do you handle it? Do you write every sex scene in a book using a condom – because if we were in the 100% safe sex, unless we have two virgins going at it in erotica – we need a condom every time.

12 thoughts on “About Frangers, Frankly”

  1. I am so glad I write stories without sex. Ahh, what I mean is… my books have no sex IN them — not that I…. Well, you know what I mean 🙂 But seriously, next we’ll have to describe how we all carefully cover the toilet seat with loo paper to avoid catching an STD. What? YOu don’t? That IS how you catch one, isn’t it? !!!!!

  2. I often wonder this. I just think – like nerves, undressing and excitement – rolling one on should be part of the ritual. Unless they’re married, or in a long term relationship, etc. Maybe I’m old fashioned. But condoms in romance books’ sex scenes offer me some realism in my escapism. I don’t mind if it slows down the pace. But thinking on it now, I don’t recall ever reading a book where this happens!

  3. Much discussion has gone on about romances needing to spread the ‘safe sex’ message and perhaps it is reasonable to indicate, subtlely, that the h/h are being ‘safe’, unless, of course, they are meant to ‘forget’ that one time that will result in the unplanned pregnancy that is one of the tropes for that story. Having said that, I don’t want to be distracted by overkill. A hint is sufficient. And it does annoy me, just a little, that we can’t assume our readers are intelligent, thinking adults who already know this fact of life. Don’t belabour the point; just hint and hopefully that will satisfy everybody’s needs.

  4. All good advice Susanne and Elise… can’t call yours good advice Jenn but it made me giggle! Maybe there’s something in writing paranormal… no one seems to care if the vampies/werewolves/shifters/etc are ‘safe’… I guess for vampires, VD is Vampire Diaries, isn’t it!

  5. Hey Lily,
    I’m so late to the discussion (not sure how I missed it!) but I wanted to chime in here (bet you couldn’t guess that!)

    I hate mentions of condoms in sex scenes. I am a big supporter of the escapism-through-reading thing. I didn’t mention them, even though I write erotic romance.

    And then we (the RWA erotic writers loop) had this huge discussion about it and I had to eat my words and thoughts. What changed my mind was not that we had to “spread the safe sex message” but what was I saying about my heor/heroine if they didn’t protect themselves/care enough about themselves/each other to use protection? I hadn’t thought about it that way before.

    I happily tweak all manner of crazy things to make sure my heroine comes across as a real person, with real hopes/dreams/fears/concerns. Why do I baulk at condoms? It’s a part of real life now.

    So I have condoms in my sex scenes now. Often I make it a bit of fun, or try to sneak it in unobtrusively. But you know what I’ve found is worse than including them – getting rid of the damn things! What do you do with them when the sex is done? If you’re outdoors, I hope you don’t leave them behind! So disposal says a lot about your characters too.

    They’re a pain in the butt! But they are in real life too. So I guess if you’re writing real stories, you kind of have to have them mentioned somehow.

    And a couple of the girls who wrote paranormal, said they loved the freedom of not having to use condoms in their world! Maybe we should go paranormal – or sex-free!

    Cate xo

    1. I so agree on the paranormal thing! I’ve seen others talk about it from this point of view too. That if the hero/heroine don’t do it then they’re stupid. I can see all sides, but it annoys me that I have to see it… if that makes sense. And seriously, you don’t see James Bond reaching for the rubbers, or worrying about what he’s gonna do with all of them the morning after!

      >

      1. And I’d think less of James Bond if he did too! LOL Is that double standards or what!?

        Do you think women “read into” things more than men… so since we’re targeting women, we need to account for all the millions of things a woman would pick up?

        I don’t know… I’ve been pondering these questions. The editor for my Hot Down Under story was very thorough at picking up odd inconsistencies that I thought didn’t matter … but they did to her (eg I had a real town but made up the cafe they met in – needed to be real too. I had the condom vanish – it needed to be disposed of properly. I had the heroine with a vague background – it needed to be clearer so the reader understood her choices better.) These were all things I didn’t think mattered – now I think they do but I’m not sure why! or how important it is!

        Sometimes this game is too hard to think about!

        Cate xo

  6. Cate I think my main bug-bear is along the lines of why must romance as a genre be so subject to being politically correct in regards the condom use. If mainstream fiction don’t need it, crime, mysteries etc, why does romance ‘have’ to have it? I see a difference in YA. I think by all means, put it there – they’re on the mind all the time at that age. But if I think of Tate & Christina (and I know you’ve read the book), her goal is to get herself knocked up, by hook or by crook – and by that stage she’s set her sights on Tate. I’ve seen suggestions that readers prefer (if you’re going the pregnancy trope) that a condom ‘break’… WT?? Like that would have worked in HBOB in the tent under the stars?! Maybe I should have had her find his foil packet, steam it open using the billy at the campfire when Tate wasn’t looking, punch holes in the darn thing with her fingernail, seal it shut… (*giggling now*)
    I just finished a free read that I didn’t enjoy at all, where condoms were everywhere (like everywhere) and the line about disposing of them was along the line of “while he took care of business”…
    Surely to God you can assume a little?? We’re told not to “tell” everything in our writing. To let readers come to their own decisions and conclusions about our characters, based on what we’ve shown of them along the way… start a scene late, leave it early… all that stuff.
    We’ve never seen Bond pull out a condom, discuss a condom and sure as @#@@ not get rid of the darn wriggly pathetic thing after the event!
    I’ll be writing mostly about heros/heroines in their mid-late thirties. I think by that age you can assume (well my characters would assume) that if there was any health issue beyond that of pregnancy, they’d be old enough/wise enough to have brought it up – because they would care about the intended partner and any consequences.
    Sheesh!!! Look at me now, I’ve got myself all hot under the collar and I haven’t even had breakfast!

    1. Oh, gee, sorry to get your Sunday off to such a fiery start!!! 🙂

      Condom breaking is like the biggest author contrivance I’ve run across. If you’re trying to get pregnant, you’d skip the condom discussion and most men aren’t going to argue with you – are they?

      I agree that if you’ve got older characters (and presumably older readers) you don’t need to be plugging the safe sex message, like you should with YA.

      So go franger-free. You can always add in a sentence if your editor insists later on. It makes it much easier to have sex without the damn things anyway!!

      Cate xo

  7. I’m totally late to this, but while doing some research on this exact subject I found your post and I have to say, I feel the exact same way as you do! And in my writing group, they’ve actually made me feel bad for having this opinion of condoms in sex scenes.

    I’m also a strong believer that authors and novels do NOT have a responsibility to the readers in terms of morals/ethics/preaching. It is NOT my job to make sure you, as a reader, know to use a condom or talk about birth control. It’s my job to tell a good story, the way I think the story should be told. And if that doesn’t include a condom…so be it.

    I guess this is how I look at it: it DOES happen in real life though. And in my opinion, it IS hotter when you don’t have to use a condom…not ALL the time but there is something about not having to fumble for the condom, put it on and stop things for a second. There is something sexy about wanting someone so bad you can’t even wait for the moment, you have to have them RIGHT NOW. and that’s what I like to read about. I mean, I’m opening up myself for judgement here, but NOT everyone who has sex with someone new without a condom ends up pregnant and with an STD. In fact, it’s way more difficult to get pregnant than most people realize. Just ask the millions of women who want to get pregnant and have tons of sex with their partner to get one. Doesn’t happen as often as people like to think it does. Of course, it DOES and CAN happen too. As for the STD’s, yes, that is a very viable threat but again, not everyone who has unprotected sex with one partner, gets an STD. Is it unwise to have unprotected sex with a new partner you barely know? Yes, of course. Does it happen? ALL THE TIME. That’s why I don’t put it in all of my sex scenes and believe it or not–they don’t end up with scary consequences because–gulp–not everyone in real life ends up with those consequences either.

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