Writing, writing erotica, tongue in cheek commentary on love, life and anything else that comes to mind.
There aren’t any.
I’m realising it’s best to be upfront about that. Because I’ve now had two reviews where it’s been an issue for the reader.
For them, as in real life, no condom, no sex.
Apart from this, the two reviews couldn’t have been more different. One was 4 stars, glowing and only minus the full 5 stars because of “some personal opinions rather than the quality of the book”. The other completely hated it, gave it 1 star and, I sense, would have given 0 if it were possible.
The thing uniting them was distinct unease about the amount of casual and/or multiple hook ups which take place in the book with no guard against STI’s.
That’s something every erotica author has to consider.
There isn’t really a half way house unless you wish to show something via the character’s unsafe sex choice, like the consequences or the reckless character type. It’s a binary – use them or not. If a writer doesn’t slip them in, it’s that they fall into the camp of “This is fiction and it breaks the flow”. If they use them, it’s because safe sex is an important message and needs to be reinforced in books.
Some people, I think, try to assert a halfway house when they say condoms should or can only be applied “literatively” (why is that not a word? literarily?) if the setting makes that sensible.
For example sixteenth century bodice ripper, no; post 80’s, modern world, yes. Mystical wizards in a parallel universe with no disease, no; humans on Earth as we know it, yes. And people talk of the golden days, pre 80’s, when everyone just had sex all over the place with no more to fear than accidental pregnancy.
I guess that’s why we’re OK with the idea that Forever Amber, The Story of O, Marquis de Sade, Jackie Collins (if I remember rightly), Jilly Cooper, heck every book I’ve ever read with sex in it, except Fifty Shades, don’t feature condoms.
But to me, none of the “suitable time and place” argument makes any sense. Venereal disease was very much around centuries ago. Syphilis was rampant around the time of Forever Amber and there was no cure, just a horrible, noseless death. Even the treatments were fatal. Jilly Cooper’s bonkbusters weren’t erotica but there was a lot of shagging going on, none of it protected and all in the 80’s.
So, why have no publishers gone in and inserted condoms into later editions of those books?
And why do none of the Game of Thrones characters practise safe sex seeing as Westeros has almost every other Real World place, animal and foodstuff? Why didn’t Harry Potter ever look anything up on the World Wide Wizard Web? Why didn’t Bridget prefer Daniel over Mark Darcy? Why couldn’t Captain Corelli have come back earlier, why, why, WHY? Even on the second read, he still didn’t come back in time for he and Pelagia to live their lives out together after the book ended.
Well…because it’s FICTION.
It’s an escape from the real world. It’s suspension of disbelief the moment you enter the book.
That’s why fiction is so fantastic. All of my characters have minty fresh brushed teeth and clean imaginary underwear. When they cook they have washed their fictional hands and cook under strictly hygienic conditions. They smell great unless I’ve otherwise indicated and they always leave the toilet seat down – or up if that’s your preference.
And that’s exactly it.
You imagine the character leaving the toilet seat just as you yourself would. Just as you unconsciously add a condom or remove disease from your fictional world in order to suspend disbelief over something that is a pain in the arse in real sex.
Fifty Shades’ ubiquitous foil packet really grated for me, stylistically, but will not make me either more or less likely to rip open my own foil packets in real life; just as none of those books that took me from teen to adult have made me more likely to engage in the sort of sex they portray. Although Forever Amber did instill a lifelong crush on Charles II and way too long hanging around his waxwork in Madame Tussauds. And Rupert Campbell Black is still my ultimate fantasy man.
However, if experts tell me people in general are statistically more likely to engage in safe sex if they see it portrayed in films and books, I won’t argue. I think it’s up to the writer’s personal style and choice as to whether they choose to take on that social responsibility.
For me, I left them out of Follow Your Fantasy because I do feel it breaks the rhythm of a sentence. I do think “He slipped inside me” is uglified by “He slipped on a condom and slipped inside me” unless I’m writing a scene that calls for its inclusion as a plot or character device. I just mentally make the adjustment, carry on writing and expect the reader to do the same.
If there is evidence that this makes a difference to people’s sexual health habits, then I have no wish at all to play against that. But I also don’t want to spoil it for myself or readers that are squirming over it because I really do sympathise with that. I don’t want them, or me, to be uncomfortable at a critical moment.
So, here’s what I think I am going to do.
I’m going to ask Harper Impulse to insert a note at the beginning of the book to apply to all of it, or a footnote for each section indicating that a condom was used at all times but just not explicitly stated. It might be too late for Follow Your Fantasy, although perhaps digital versions can be updated easily, I’m not sure. But I will make sure to include it in the second book.
The one I’m supposed to be writing now but am blogging instead…
A lot more important people than me have things to say about this topic. Find them on SL Armstrong’s post about condoms in erotica.