Thursday, January 26, 2012

Put a Raincoat On That Soldier!

Like most romance writers, I have to write the occasional sex scene (actually, more than occasional unless you want your book to slide into the “sweet” category). And like most romance writers, I grapple with a central point—who’s going to be responsible for protection this time around?

Actually, it’s not much of a struggle. Most of us go with the guy and condoms. As a matter of fact, I actually had a reader ask me once why none of the women in Konigsburg took the pill because it seemed to him the men were always the ones who did the protecting.

I’m not sure why I do my scenes this way. But I think one reason I have my heroes doing the protection rather than my heroines may well be because I want to be very upfront about my characters using safe sex, and having the hero take responsibility makes that very obvious. Contrary to the misconceptions of some uninformed critics, romance novels have stressed safe sex at least from the nineties on (and I’m guessing it showed up in at least some novels in the eighties). We may not have the obsession with Big Ideas that characterizes our lit fic brethren, but we do have a few points most of us are adamant about, and safe sex is one of them.
Still, getting that safe sex into the book can sometimes be a pain and a half. Picture it: Hero and heroine are hot to trot. They’re shucking off their clothes and heading for the first flat surface that appeals to them. They’re there. They’re ready. And…where’s the condom? Oh, okay, it’s back in the hero’s pants. Where are his pants? Back in the hall where he shucked them. Rats.

Okay, maybe the heroine has a condom box in her bedside table. But then all of a sudden it’s the heroine who’s telling the hero she’s got condoms. And suddenly the plot takes a possibly unexpected turn. Because whenever one of the characters actually talks about protection, that makes protection itself a plot point. Now that may work (I used it myself in Wedding Bell Blues), but it may introduce a conversation you don’t need or want in a sex scene.

So assuming we’re going to let the hero do the protecting, here are some things to keep in mind:

1. If the hero is naked, he can’t whip a condom out unless he has it concealed in some really unfortunate place

2. Condoms themselves can be funny if that’s appropriate to the story. Linda Howard does this (hilariously) in Open Season.

3. Although the hero produces the condom, the heroine can always put it on him.

4. Few writers actually deal with the details of disposing of a condom after sex just because it doesn’t seem necessary. On the other hand, it’s worth pointing out that multiple sex acts require multiple condoms, something erotica writers have to contend with.

Actually, I just wrote a couple of stories that had a heroine tell the hero she was on the pill, and it wasn’t that hard. Still, I’m not sure what’s going to happen from now on. It’s sort of on a case-by-case basis.

And my title? That was the advice the father of my son’s friend gave him after stumbling haplessly through the “responsible sex” lecture. It may sound a little weird, but it’s still apt.

So, dear readers, what do you think? Do condoms in a story make you squick? Seen anybody do a good job of working in birth control pills? Or do you just wish the whole issue would disappear (here’s a hint: it won’t)?


Jasmine Aherne said...

Ugh, I find this so hard (no pun intended). I usually have my heroine put it on the hero, but actually getting it from jeans/drawer is the most clunky part.

Robin L. Rotham said...

I always try to have my h/h deal with condom use, or lack thereof, in a way that's consistent with their characters. For instance, I find it endearing for a man who was married for years and hasn't had to deal with condoms much to fumble with them a bit, or for a heroine who hasn't had a lot of experience to watch with fascination, or maybe withdraw and let some doubts creep in, while he pauses to put one on. Done right, condom use is just one more way to deepen characterization.

But no matter what the era or world, failure to somehow address the issue of protection, either during sex or after in an "Oh, crap!" moment, always yanks me out of the story because it's just not realistic--at least for halfway intelligent, responsible adult characters. Sex makes babies and potential STDs, and any character who doesn't even think about the possible consequences probably isn't a character I want to read about.

Leah Braemel said...

Putting on my "mom of boys" hat here -- I always told my sons that being on the pill did not prevent you from getting STDs, not did it prevent pregnancy 100%. Especially if the woman was on antibiotics which can interfere with pill's efficacy. Plus not all women can take the pill and are forced to rely on other methods. (I actually deal with that issue in one of my stories.)

As a writer and a reader, it annoys me sometimes to have to write/see that mention of the condom wrapper or applying the condom because I like to assume they're intelligent and doing the right thing, and the aforementioned crinkling wrapper or application becomes cliched. I'd love to say I write fiction in a perfect world where people can have threesomes with no repercussions (most times.) I'd love to say my readers are intelligent enough to "get" that my characters are taking the protection, but apparently we are required to write PSAs in our novels too.

But, as Robin said, it can make a touching moment, or a funny one on occasion.

Leah Braemel said...

gah -- make that "nor does it prevent pregnancy 100%"

Heather in FL said...

You know, even if the woman is on the Pill, men should still protect themselves and their partners. The Pill protects against pregnancy. A condom protects against STDs. Of course, nobody wants to think that the H or h have STDs, but isn't it better to be safe than sorry?

Personally, I get squicked out if there's no talk of protection. And when I hear the female say "Oh, I'm on the Pill," like that solves all the problems, I mentally roll my eyes. If it's PNR, it's different because that's fantasy anyway. But if it's a contemporary, wrap that rascal!

Meg Benjamin said...

Very good point, Robin. And Leah, you're right. We've all done this so much it's hard to do it without falling into cliche.

Joan Chandler said...

In my book, the hero was a little older,and the heroine was a virgin - at least until she met him! I wrote it into the story that he tells her she makes him feel like a kid again because he hasn't had to carry a condom with him in years. And then she makes an appointment to get on BC pills. Of course, just being on the pill doesn't protect from STD's but I didn't want to spend too much of the story talking about wrapping his Johnson. I made the point and then moved on, letting the reader just assume they were using birth control consistently.