In 2011, while I was busing across South America in search of the perfect country, I apparently missed the Romance Novel Condom Crisis.
What’s that, you ask? The controversy started with a survey that “proved” romance readers’ exposure to condom-less heroes in romance novels made readers less likely to use condoms in real life.
(If you missed it, too, Romance Novels for Feminists provides a summary in the first two paragraphs of “Romancing the Condom: Contraception Use in Romance Novels.”)
So, why am I bringing up old news now?
Because, as I was going through the sex scenes in SEX LOUNGE and The Sin Club books, trying to roll on the condoms (they were not mandatory in the 2007 versions) I found myself asking, Why?
Why do romance novels have the moral responsibility to pause the fantasy and introduce the reality of condoms, when other types of fiction—other book genres, plus television programming and movies, including romance/romantic comedies—are not required to do the same?
And if it is the romance writer’s moral responsibility, why does that responsibility begin and end with only the before-sex condom? Before that oral sex scene, shouldn’t we show the hero reaching for his Dental Dam or the heroine sheathing her man before his/her lips touch such irresistible genitalia? And shouldn’t we have them whipping out their STD/STI test results or waiting until they’ve been tested before even having sex? Shouldn’t we also weave in that our smart heroine is on birth control pills and not relying on the hero or condoms for unwanted pregnancy?
For the sake of fiction/fantasy, it is acceptable to leave all of these things out—and not be blamed for misleading our readers—just as it is acceptable to have characters behave in all sorts of unsafe ways on the page, including picking up a stranger and having sex or engaging in BDSM.
But it is totally unacceptable to leave out that before-sex condom.
So, again, I ask, Why?
As a reader, do you need to see the condom before the characters have sex? Why or why not? And, if so, is it easy for you to overlook the rest?