Friday, May 23, 2008

Would you like a condom with that?

by Kate Pearce

Condoms-who needs them? Especially in fiction. It's an interesting question much debated in the romance community. There are some people who hate reading about condoms because they introduce the boring reality of life into what is, in essence, escapist erotic fantasy. Others won't finish a contemporary novel if the hero doesn't even suggest using a condom.

Can a talented writer slip a condom into a scene, (or an orifice) without taking the reader out of the story? Can a condom tell us something about the characters and how they feel about their partners? My critic partner and I had a very interesting discussion the other day about how what a man does with a used condom is very indicative of character. Does he leave it hanging, drop it in the sheets or your shoe or is he the conscientious type who puts it in the trash?

I asked some of my fellow Lusties to show you just how well a writer can deal with the whole issue. First up, keeping it short and sweet is Madeline Moore from her book Wild Card :

'I would wear a condom and I would not hurt you.'

'It's not possible to do it without hurting me,' she protested.

'Of course it is. I simply take my time. So? May I?'

He began kissing her tailbone.'

So sexy, so simple, so appropriate.

And then we have the very talented Madelynne Ellis from Dark Designs with an excerpt where the little details enhance the mundane and make putting on a condom an amazingly sexy and hot experience.

Dolores gave him a lip-gloss smile, and led him by the tail to the wooden stile. ‘Let’s get you dressed. I’ve brought some wet-weather

She rolled the condom down his shaft as if she was arranging one of her turtleneck sweaters. Dolores, he decided, would have enjoyed the days when sheaths had to be tied on with ribbons. She’d have fussed until everything was straight and neat.

‘Mmm, you’re so beautiful,’ she purred in her fake cut-glass accent. ‘All ready to come inside.’

Last but not least, in a contemporary setting we have the lovely Portia Da Costa who brings her own unique talents to the condom issue in her story In Too Deep

Give me that!’ I grab the condom and wrench open the packet. The contraceptive inside is slick and silky, but nowhere near as silky as the head of Daniel’s cock. Clear, silver fluid is seeping from the little eye there, his arousal just as eager and revealing as mine.

It’s a while since I put a condom on a man, but it’s one of those skills you never forget. Because it comes with the perk of handling a man’s delicious stiffness in the process. I manage to achieve our goal without fumbling, but the heat in his mighty flesh is unnerving. As is the agonised beauty of his face as I enrobe him.

Finally, he’s ready. Clad in rubber and even harder and higher than before, if that’s possible. My pussy throbs and purrs in anticipation.

What I like about all these excerpts is that each author makes the whole rubbery messy process into something special, somehow part of the foreplay and the thrill of having sex. So yes, it can be done. In the right hands, condoms are art.

And what about historical novels where characters happily fuck away and nobody gets a sexually transmitted disease or gets pregnant?

I did a bit of research about the history of condoms which I thought I'd share. Apparently, all my historical novels are obsessed with the idea of fertility and contraception. I didn't notice this until one of my critique partners helpfully pointed it out. Perhaps it's the result of being brought up as a Catholic and having four kids.

Here's a short excerpt from my book Antonia's Bargain, which deals with my heroine's fear of getting pregnant:

“If I’d had more time with you, I intended to introduce you to this method of ensuring a man doesn’t pick up the French pox.”
Antonia studied the thin envelope which seemed to be made of some kind of filmy animal skin. “Is it snake skin?”
Gideon opened the envelope and withdrew another piece of the thin parchment-like material. This longer narrower piece had ribbons around the open end and was sewn shut at the bottom. He carefully slid one finger inside and held it up.
“It’s pig intestine. The same thing used to make sausage skin.”
She glanced down at his groin before she could stop herself. “It goes over your cock?”
“That is correct. Not only does it prevent disease, but it means that a man’s seed remains trapped inside it after he comes which seems to prevent pregnancy.”
Antonia touched the wrinkled cream skin with her fingertip. She imagined it might feel as if you wore a glove.
“Do you use these?”
“Of course I do.”
“Did you use them with your wife?”
A muscle twitched in his cheek. “My wife refused to allow me to use them, which is why I eventually refused to have sex with her.”

Anyone brought up in the UK probably watched a children's show called 'Blue Peter' which was kind of a junior chat show, educational, sometimes funny and not to be missed. They were very keen on diy projects such as make your Mother an xmas gift using an old can, sticky back plastic and a tube of glitter, kind of thing-but I digress. Here is my very own diy project for those of you willing to make a considerable effort.

How to make a sheep gut condom (1824)

Soak a sheep's intestine caeca in water for a number of hours, then turn inside out, and macerate them again in weak alkaline, changed every 12 hours. Scrape them carefully to remove the mucous membrane, leaving the peritoneal and muscular coats, and expose them to the vapour of burning brimstone. Then wash them in soap and water, inflate them, dry them and cut to a length of seven to eight inches. Finally, border the open end with a ribbon to tie round the base of the penis, and before use soak the condom in water to make it supple.

(See? it's easy when you know how!)

Apparently, the two most famous London condom sellers in the mid nineteenth century were Mrs Phillips and Mrs Perkins, who produced competing pamphlets to promote their shops. Mrs Phillips also had a wholesale company on Half Moon Street off the Strand. For those who could not afford the services of Mrs Phillips and Mrs Perkins, Miss Jenny did a roaring trade in washed, second-hand condoms.

Oh Miss Jenny, how could you?

And just to prove that even in the future my characters still worry about the whole condom problem, here's a bit from my upcoming book Secured Mail, which is all about Sven an intergalactic viking trying to understand the strange sexual rituals of Earth women.

“What is that? Another toy?”
Thea held out the can. “It’s for your cock.”
Sven glanced at the gaudy can and then down at his erection. “I do not understand.”
Thea shook the can. “This stuff coats your cock and stops you impregnating me.”
“Why would you wish me to use that?”
“Because I don’t want a baby?”
He sat down on the edge of the bed, one hand wrapped around the base of his cock. “Ah, my queen told me about this. It is a form of contraception, yes?”

“That’s right. It’s much better than the old-fashioned sheaths which basically tried to stop your semen getting inside me, not always successfully.” She pointed at the can. “This stuff allows you to ejaculate normally but sterilizes your sperm as they pass through the coating. One spray works all night.”

Sven still looked dubious. ‘It is difficult for me to understand this, my lady. On my planet, every woman is desperate to conceive.”

Thea allowed the can to fall on the rumpled bed. “On this planet it happens to be the direct opposite. If you can’t accept that, then we can’t make love.” She held her breath, aware of a strange feeling of hurt inside her. Was she only desirable if she could become pregnant? He met her gaze, his brown eyes open and direct.

“I would consider myself a lucky man if you allowed me to impregnate you.”

She tried to laugh but the sound stuck in her throat as she registered his sincerity. “Thank you, I think, but I’m not changing my mind. No Sperm Be-Gone, no sex.”

So you tell me-how do you feel about condoms and contraceptives in erotic fiction?


Nikki Magennis said...

Brilliant! I'm in total awe of how you've all handled the condoms. (And I s'pose a second hand sheep-gut condom is the ultimate in eco-friendly.)

I had a tussle with condoms when I was writing The New Rakes. I think I ended up describing them in the first couple of scenes and then hoping they'd be taken for granted from then on.

Madame Butterfly said...

As a reader, if the story is in any way shape or form a non-contemporary, I have no problem about no condoms being mentioned.

In contemporaries though, it ALWAYS sticks in my mind if it's NOT mentioned. And sometimes it will really piss me off if it's not at least brought up. I will let it go if there is some kind of explanation that the characters are "clean" or she can't get preggers for some reason. And in straight up erotica I will let it go as well depending on the story.

To me though, A guy character who brings up the condom issue before getting hot and heavy, is a guy who is a honorable and that's a turn on right there. That kind of detail will actually enhance a book for me.

Janine Ashbless said...

Normally I sidestep the issue by not writing in realistic modern settings. But I admit that in my first contemporary novel, Wildwood (out August) I don't use condoms at all. I just assumed my protagonist was on the pill. Both my male leads (one honourable, one definitely not) are sterile and know it (it's a side-effect of being immortal). And as they're both magicians I guess the sexual health thing is not an issue to them.

But frankly, that's just justification for the fact I don't like writing condoms because they are sensible and wise and the sex in my books is rarely sensible or wise. I feel a bit bad, but not very.

I guess I go with the warning at the front of the paperbacks: These books contain sexual fantasies. In real life always practise safe sex. So remember guys: no dragons, no minotaurs, no demons, no werewolves, no dark gods, no undead. But yes to condoms.

t'Sade said...

In my fantasy stories, I don't bother with condoms. For the contemporary ones, well... depends on the type of story. Reading them, I don't mind condoms in the slightest bit, they are there or they aren't, I just gloss over it unless its part of the action.

abc said...

The examples you have chosen deal with the problem very skilfully and sexily but, for me, I am definitely in the first camp. When I am reading or writing erotica I am looking for an escape from the real world with all its depressing practicalities.

I don't find condoms erotic and I don't want to feel obligated to deliver a safe sex message when I'm trying to give people the gift of sexual pleasure with my writing. For me, erotic fiction is where you should be able to leave the responsibilities of real life and be transported to a freer place.

I would imagine that even, or perhaps especially, people who have STDs would like an opportunity to forget reality and fantasise about pure sexual pleasure. I agree with Janine that erotica should have a safe sex disclaimer at the front to cover the problem. We are probably almost always doing a bit of 'suspending our disbelief' in erotic fiction and I think condoms should fall into that catagory.

Anyway, there are other realities like needing to go to the toilet during long sex sessions or vaginal farts upon penetration, or smegma, as discussed recently that we don't bother mentioning because they're just not sexy.

Very important issue, Kate. Thanks for raising it!

Kate Pearce said...

Hi Nikki-how are you?
That's another way of handling the issue-and a good one. Introduce them once or twice and then let the readers 'assume'. I think I'll try that some time :)

Kate Pearce said...

Hi madame butterfly!

I'm with you on the contemporaries, i do like some mention of contraception. I think it's a combination of my Catholic guilt complex and my families amazing ability to get pregnant that drives my writing and my fascination with fertility.
I guess I have 'issues" :)

Kate Pearce said...

Janine, I think you get away with it with immortals even in a contemporary novel.

I also think you are just more honest than me. I write this smutty stuff and yet at my center I'm still a Dudley Do Right :)

Kate Pearce said...

t'sade, I think you make a good point-if condom's are written in skillfully then as a reader I don't even notice-but-for me-in a contemporary I do subconsciously wonder if nobody is using contraception or even discusses it-(as I said, good old Catholic rhythm method guilt) :)

Kate Pearce said...

Hi abc!

Also a very interesting view point-and you are absolutely right, we ignore so much of the 'reality' of lovemaking in fiction, why worry about a condom?

Deanna Ashford said...

Love the post Kate. I admit I prefer writing historicals and fantasy because you don't have to worry about safe sex or condoms Most of my heroines end up with the heroes and live HAE so I'm presuming they aren't so worried if babies come along, after the book is finished of course.

I'm rather of the opinion that a safe sex reminder at the front of the book is far easier most of the time in modern novels, but it is up to the writer. I've never found condoms remotely sexy in any shape or form, so I avoid writing about them if I can.

Kate Pearce said...

Hi Deanna!
It's weird, isn't it-for me, I worry more about my poor historical heroines who have so few choices about contraception and yet have so much more to face from society-a bastard child was not joke back in the day.
It's definitely a strong theme in my historicals, heroines who want to get pregnant, who are terrified of getting pregnant, or who learn how to avoid pregnancy and can be considered immoral for doing so.

Monica Burns said...

Great post Kate. I'm going to come down in the camp of forget the damn condoms. I don't care what the setting is, futuristic, contemp, historical, etc. Nothing throws me out of a read more quickly than a condom being rolled onto a thick cock. I don't find condoms sexy at all, no matter how skillfully a writer adds them into the scene.

For me, romances are about fantasy. Let's make the relationships as real as possible, but I want my sex to be hot, heavy and yet still romantic without any safe sex messages thrown in. Besides, the biggest issue I have against condoms in romances is that in reality, the friction and sensations for the couple as a rule aren't as good with a condom as it is with skin against skin. When characters use condoms and I read how hot and wonderful it is while the guy's wearing rubber, I'm thinking, ok, I KNOW how it feels WITH and WITHOUT a condom. So it drives me nuts when I know the condom is primarily there for the safe sex message. I'm an adult. I know what to do to avoid STDs and pregnancy.

The examples you listed are good ones in terms of heroes who demonstrate consideration for their partners. But if a reader expects to see a condom, then it shouldn't all just fall on the hero's shoulders as is generally the case in a lot of the romances I've read where the condom is thrown in.

When I'm reading a romance, I already KNOW the main characters are going to end up together, so I find the condom addition is simply for PC purposes, and since I've never been completely PC I find it irritating.

I think including condoms in erotic romance and erotica is fast becoming a standard rule, and I despise rules.

I'm sure in my new urban fantasy series I'm gonna have a fight on my hands to avoid putting in the condom scenes. Grrrrr I HATE rules.

Kate Pearce said...

Monica-tell us how you 'really' feel :)

Great answer!

Eden Bradley said...

I can sort of go either way when reading, although, as with everything else, it depends on the characters and how smoothly the author has handled it. I'm much less likely to notice when reading historical fiction, and I also think an author can get away with more in a paranormal, futuristic or fantasy world where the characters are not quite human or there are reasons why pregnancy and STD's are not a concern, but in those instances, a brief explanation is sometimes warranted.
I almost always address the condom issue in my own work since I write contemporary. And in some cases it's an absolute must! My current wip is about a high class call girl who meets a nice guy and falls for him, so mentioning condoms is crucial with this character.
But in some instances you just cannot fit it into a scene. If they're at the beach, does he have a handy little packet in his pocket?

Portia Da Costa said...

Obviously, seeing as how I'm one of the examples, I do prefer that the condom issue is dealt with in a contemporary novel. I know we're writing to entertain and amuse and arouse, but I can't switch off the real world completely, and I like to write characters who are believable enough to exist in the real world. And to 'believe' a character, they have to act like a real person... and a real person would think 'condom!'

It's not an issue of being PC or anything, it's an issue of credibility of the characters...

AuthorM said...

Condoms for me are a no-brainer. If you're with someone new in a contemporary setting, Pill or not, you use a rubber. I'd never allow myself to go bare with someone and risk disease or pregnancy, and my heroines aren't stupid enough to do it, either. Fantasy aside -- if I'm writing real people, there needs to be a reason why they would NOT use a condom. Having said that, I don't always write them, but if they're not using a condom, it's for a reason.

There's nothing sexy about unwanted pregnancy or STDs. Condoms are a part of sane, safe sexual practices.


Kate Pearce said...

Hi Eden and thanks for popping over!

I think you make a good point about the nature of the scene, (such as spontaneous sex on a beach), it makes it harder to slip a condom in-who wants to wait while the guy rushes around finding a machine?

And yes, the characters all have different histories and that can affect the way they think about protection too.

Kate Pearce said...

Portia-thanks for your lovely excerpt! I tend to agree with your comment about the credibility of the characters-that's always an issue for me too. Perhaps it's because I was brought up Catholic but I've always got that whole fertility issue on the brain :)

Kate Pearce said...

Hi Ms M!
thanks for commenting!
I think in real life anyone who ignores the issues you raised is crazy :)
Would your response change if you were reading erotica, which is pure escapist fantasy or a romance novel with a HEA?

AuthorM said...

Hey, Kate. I have to say, no. If it's contemporary characters, I'm looking for a condom (unless there's a good reason why they don't need one -- they already know each other, for example.)

Unless there's a believable reason WHY someone would risk it, I want the condoms. But I don't think it has to be described every time -- the first time can be sufficient with it assumed thereafter.


Lauren Dane said...

I always include them in my contemporaries because, IMO, there's nothing sexier than a man interested in his partner's safety and well being. In fact, I tend to lose respect for the hero and the heroine if they're taking huge risks like HIV with each other. To me, it's an issue of self respect and I want that in fantasy and reality.

I don't think it has to be a message any more than including other issues of safety in sex writing and writing in general. When I write BDSM I wouldn't leave a bound person alone in a house either. There is a place, IMO, for reality in writing and it's about how it's introduced.

Preferences are certainly preferences, we all have our likes and dislikes and as writers, we all make our own choices. But in a contemporary, as a reader, I'm going to want at least a mention of condoms (he can toss a condom on a pillow at the start or even just reach for one) or a reason why they aren't there.

Kate Pearce said...

Hi M!
I hear what you are saying and I understand your reasoning perfectly. I think this is one of those issues where 'one' is obviously pro-condom or totally not.

I was wondering if it was also a UK or US thing but, I'm not sure about that either.

Kate Pearce said...

"When I write BDSM I wouldn't leave a bound person alone in a house either."

Glad to hear that, Lauren.

"There is a place, IMO, for reality in writing and it's about how it's introduced."


"But in a contemporary, as a reader, I'm going to want at least a mention of condoms (he can toss a condom on a pillow at the start or even just reach for one) or a reason why they aren't there."

Me too-it can be done in a subtle way without describing the whole getting it on part, if that is the bit that squicks people out :)

Madeline Moore said...

Interesting comments here, on a thought-provoking blog.

In my first novel, 'Wild Card' there are four main characters. Only one of them, Penny, has sex with someone other than the other 3. So, I had her use a female condom once, and ensure that the man would wear a condom in the other instance. But to me it's only about stds, erotica characters don't accidentally get pregnant, just like they don't fart on each other and say, "excuse me!"

In WC Victoria and Ray exchange HIV information. But that still leaves Lonnie. I decided that the convention was - sex outside the foursome requires protection.

However, in "Amanda's Young Men", Amanda doesn't make any of her partners use condoms, and there are quite a few. It's been established that she can't have children, but as far as stds are concerned, well, they aren't.

There's a lot of stuff that doesn't appear in contemporary erotica. The female characters never have children or cellulite. I think birth control and std prevention are two more examples of the same thing - irrelevant. And the 'disclaimer' at the front of Black Lace books covers it well.

So, why did I have Penny use condoms with her two lovers? Mainly because in one of the encounters she was having anal sex with an African stranger and it seemed just plain too risky for her to do without protection. However, to make her use a condom only once might easily have been perceived as racism. So she used a condom with the other lover, too.

My logic fails, I know.

Anyway, we may be required to incorporate condoms into our fiction in the future,whether we like it or not. In which case I will. Until then, I'm going to leave them out of the story altogether or perhaps give my female characters a box of condoms that is full at the beginning of the book and empty at the end.

Janine Ashbless said...

Grrrrr I HATE rules

Yay Monica!

Kate Pearce said...

I think what you're saying, Madeline, is that it depends on the character and the characters sexual history and attitude to sex-which bring us back to writing the pseudo-realistic book.

I think
but I can be wrong :)

I loved that female condom excerpt you sent me, I just ran out of time and posting space to get it in :)

Anitra Lynn McLeod said...

I applaud how every author incorporated this issue into the novel so that it was seamless--blending the reality with the fantasy is tricky and all the examples you shared did that with wit or sensitivity.

However, I don't mind novels where they leave this detail out. Sometimes I can "imagine" they took precautions or were "safe" with the sex.

I think it depends on what you are writing, the time period, and the characters.

As a reader, I always tune my mind to the basics of the characters and the time. And I'm not shocked or offended if a character (male or female) forgets to use contraception.

It happens. And that can be a plot point.

I think what works is what works for your novel and your characters. I would cry if everyone did the same thing. I like authors who do what "works" for their characters and their plot.

Erastes said...

Perhaps it's a line that Hugh Fernly-Whittingstall can get into. Old fashioned sheep condoms.

I agree with Madame Butterfly - if it's an historical or a fantasy or future, then it doesn't bother me. (I'd like to see the sheep condoms used in historicals though) but I always jolt when it's not addressed in contemporary.

Excellent post! So pretty!

Madelynne Ellis said...

Sometimes I do, sometimes I don't. It depends on the scene, the characters, the location... Generally, I go with whatever feels right.

Also, condoms are sometimes a great delaying tactic for when you want to ratchet the tension up.

Thanks for including my excerpt, Kate.

Jina Bacarr said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jina Bacarr said...

Even CIA agents use least they do in my book. Since I write contemporary in a real-life situation (the world of sex agents and anti-terrorism), I made certain my characters used protection.

I totally enjoyed the examples and all the comments. Excellent job!

Jane Lockwood said...

Trouble is with the historic condoms is that since they had to be soaked in water first, the hero would have a big damp patch over his pocket, and it would certainly destroy any glorious spontaneity. And they weren't for contraception, because that was a sin against nature--the spilling of seed without a fighting chance of conception (which could cover a whole multitude of activities). I think Boswell may have used a condom for contraception once, and he felt it was as shameful an act as masturbation. Of course poor Boswell, condom or no condom, was always getting gonorrhea.

But don't you love the concept of tying one on?

And as the wonderful Ms. Da Costa demonstrates, condom use in contemporaries can be sexy as hell.

Amanda said...

playing with the condom issue in contemporary settings is quite fun. bareback stories are very titilating. anything that is taboo is a turn on. a condom in a story, to me, is just like anything else, something that can be used for the purposes of advancement of the story, for providing us with more information about the characters and to serve as a turn on if done well, as the examples you've provided.

Portia Da Costa said...

Wow, thanks, Jane!

I've always seen writing condoms into erotic scenes as positive and fun and part of the foreplay. :)

Kate Pearce said...

Jane, I always reckoned that the Regency hero would nonchalantly drop that condom into the heroine's water glass beside her bed, get on with extensive foreplay and then apply the nice wet condom to his turgid flesh. Still not sure if its sexy though...

Kate Pearce said...

Thanks for the great comments everyone-clearly an interesting issue with many sides.

I'd also like to thank Janine, who gave me an excerpt for this post, but I lost it in the pile of paper on my it is, better late than never, eh?

From "What Friends are For" by Janine Ashbless

"Max laid a finger on the amber iris between her cheeks and Emerald felt the involuntary dilation and flex of her muscles. 'He even had you in the ass I hear. Funny that, because when I asked you always said no.'

'I didn't ask', said Greg with a smirk. 'I find she responds best to that'.

Max's voice dropped. 'Time I reclaimed some territory then.' Emerald heard a crinkle and a ripping sound as he extracted a condom packet from his pocket and tore it open with his teeth. Then there was the sound of his fly being opened, an inhalation, a grunt, and then suddenly his blunt glans was pressing at the gate of her upraised ass and demanding entry. There was lubricant on the rubber, which rendered the penetration bearable-but only just. He still burned as he went in."

limecello said...

Great post! Haha - the diy project... not one for the kids. [And the second hand trade... ack]

I definitely think condoms are important. I get extremely distracted if the author doesn't mention the use of condoms - I flip forward and back, read and re-read to make sure I didn't miss it.