Nov 13 2012 12:30pm

No Glove, No Love?: Condoms in Contemporary Romance

No Glove, No Love...Condom use in contemporary romance is a sticky subject (pun totally intended). Contemporary romance straddles the line of reality and fantasy; they are written usually in the same time period we are reading in, thus condom use is a sign of the times. In my generation, at least, we’ve been brought up knowing you MUST use a condom to prevent HIV/AIDS, but that is not the same for a historical romance.

Speaking to other readers about condom use in novels, many say they don’t mind them not being used because in their personal lives that have been in a long term relationship or married so they don’t notice the lack of condom. I have a problem with that theory because many of the couples in romance novels are JUST meeting and having sex for the first time. In my reality, I would be asking right away for a condom. The whole “are you clean, I’m clean” line I have seen in some books also bothers me. You’re about to have a one night stand with a man and you believe him right away? No thanks. Never mind the whole you could have a baby thing; kinda huge, don’t you think?

My mind works in mysterious ways, and I can drift off during a sex scene and start thinking logistics. Does this work, is it possible? When I see a first time sex scene and the male is usually a sexual fiend, I start thinking: If he’s that good in bed, he must have practiced a lot, thus he must have the herpes. See, unsexy isn’t it? Even better is the lack of condom disposal, where did it vanish to?

So Many Choices Now!I don’t need the gritty details of condom use in a sex scene; “he reached into the drawer” works for me. Or if an author makes it funny or sexy, more power to them. But the complete absence of a condom or any form of protection makes me stop and re-read to make sure I didn’t miss anything and then takes me right out of the scene. That said, sometimes the mention of birth control is a bit over done like in Fifty Shades.  All I ask is for it to be established just once; I don’t need page after page of gynecological discussion.

Contemporaries for me are more like real people and how they would react in real life situations and I sure as hell hope that someone would use a condom the first few months of their new relationship. That said, it’s not the duty of a romance novel to give you safe sex advice. We all know this! But my fantasy with a first time sexual partner always includes a condom.

What do you think about condom use in contemporary romance? 

Glove image courtesy of Anderson Mancini via Flickr.
Condom image courtesy of robertlylov via Flickr.

Natasha Carty reviews Paranormal Romance and Urban Fantasy on her website Wicked Little Pixie and lives in Toronto, Canada, with her cat, Seamus.

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Kacey Hammell
1. Kacey Hammell
I always make sure condoms are used in my contemp romances. I'm of a like mine to your thoughts, and meeting for 1st time, 1st time having sex, needs lots of personal touches -- ie: condoms! I'd want this practice used if it were me as the heroine.

If the characters become couple, know they'll be exclusive, "this is the one for me" mentality, then condoms aren't always necessary any longer.

My opinions only *g*
Kacey Hammell
2. The Mighty Buzzard
Wiseass perspective: Well, given that they're usually acting like hormones have replaced their brains in how they got to the sex scene, I don't see why that should suddenly change.
Jamie Brenner
3. jamieloganbrenner
Ugh, I'm totally struggling with this right now in my new novel. It's the first time I have a scenario in which a condom just is not feasible -- they're outside, it's not pre-meditated. But how can I leave it out? A tough call -- very tough. I hear you on this issue///
Kacey Hammell
4. Synithia W
I'm a believer in condom use in contemporary romances. If they forget the condom in my novels, they're definately freaking out afterward. But since it's romance, no one has veneral disease :-)
Kacey Hammell
5. Shelly Ellis
I try to include condoms in all my sex scenes. If they forgo condom use, its for a reason plotwise and it will have an impact on the plot later in the novel. That being said, it can be a bit awkward to write it in, but its a necessity (in my opinion) for contemporary romance if you want to make the story more realistic.
Kacey Hammell
6. CdnMrs
If I'm reading a contemporary then hell yeah I want to see condoms used. It seems more real to me if they are. I'm not a big fan of the surprise baby trope so if I don't see or catch the implied condom usage then I'm going to assume that there's a surprise baby on the way and my enjoyment of the book will kind of start to go downhill from there as I wait for that surprise baby to pop up and ruin everything.
Natasha Carty
7. WickedLilPixie
@Kacey - Yay!
@Buzz - Hmph.
@Jamie - A good man always carries a condom in his wallet? LOL
@Synthia - LOL if only
@Shelly - If it's part of the plot, I totally get it.
@Cdn - I'm exactly the same, but you knew that.
Kacey Hammell
8. alexander the so so
I recently wrote a short erotic horror piece, with a m f sex scene, and the male later turns out to be a supernatural abomination, no pregnancy or diseases possible. But he still slipped on one, because if he didn't, she'd tag to it. It's a one night stand, it IS expected these days. No one mentioned the condom use among all the commenters, but if it wasn't there, I know a few would have said something.

On the other hand, I have a sci fi erotica I'm writing in which one of the duo has access to medical files, and makes a statement of, im clean, I know your clean, and the military keeps us on birth control. And the guy in the situation doesn't protest. So I guess it can go both ways.
Sylvie Fox
9. sylviefox
I'm not a fan of condoms in contemporary romance. In real life, yes, in romance, not so much. But I love the secret baby trope and that doesn't work with a condom.

I'm willing to suspend disbelief in this one case because it's always love and HEA.

I wrote about this a couple of months ago.

Brittany Melson
10. BrittanyMelson
Whenever I'm reading a contemporary where the characters don't use a condom, what I feel is disbelief. I won't stop reading (because it is fiction, after all), but I always think it's suspicious if protection isn't at least discussed--i.e. the author is manipulating events or the heroine is self-destructive. As a hypochondriac, I also start to worry about the characters' health.
Kacey Hammell
11. chris booklover
It's worth noting that in real life people do not use condoms anything like as diligently as some safe sex advocates suggest. First time sex between people who do not know each other well? Yes, probably. Later on, it's much more doubtful. It's fairly obvious that the participants in most of the sex scandals publicized in recent years did not invariably use condoms. And many of these people were intelligent, sophisticated and well aware of the risks of STD's.

Moreover, as Jamie pointed out, there are occasions when it is extremely improbable that peple will use condoms. Some sex scenes are spontaneous or take place in circumstances where condoms are unlikely to be available. For example, in most of Linda Howard's Midnight Rainbow the hero and heroine are on the run in the jungle from the bad guys. The chances of them acquiring condoms (or, given the circumstances, practising abstinence) are close to zero.

None of this means that condoms don't belong in contemporary romance. But it's hard to see how a rule such as "no sex without a condom" can work.
Vanessa Ouadi
12. Lafka
I like my heroes/ines smart. Hence, they MUST use condoms for their first time together, especially if their encounter is meant to remain a one-night-stand. And think beyond only the "I'm clean" line before dropping the condom use.
Whenever they don't, I can't help wondering what the hell is wrong with them, have they not heard of STDs, do they not know people actually die of AIDS?
As for the excuse of the sex not being foreplanned, it just doesn't work for me. First, I firmly believe that health comes before lust _ so I do think that the hero and heroine can, and should, wait before doing the deed if they don't have condoms. Second, there are so many ways to reach sexual completion without actual penetration that I believe this argument is kinda moot.
Kiersten Hallie Krum
13. Kiersten
Gotta have the condom. Especially first-timers. I ALWAYS look for the mention in contemporaries and rom suspense, or at least the acknowledgement of need, like the guy pulling out, which doesnt work well IRL but at least in fiction, indicates some level of recognition of the realities of the situation. IRL I'm a stickler for gloved love & I'm not going to respect a heroine/hero who doesn't take themselves or each other seriously enough to do the same. Sure, passion takes over, but there are so many other ways of getting off together that dont require penetration until safety can be practiced that I dont accept that as a reason. Also, if the guy/hero is a rake or a playa or just used to getting regular sex, he's going to be prepared for a - um - fly by.

If they're in a relationship where there's established trust and knowledge AND it's acknowledged that she's on the pill or IUD or even trying to get preggers as a plot point, that's something else. But this is too big of an issue IMO even in romantic fiction to go unnoted in one way or another or just smoothed over. We're reading about sexy times, which have real consequences both inside and outside of the pages. To ignore them, or gloss over them even in the service of romance or fiction, is a disservice to all.

This is less of a hard line for me tho in PNR for obvious reasons (tho I like the guy who gloved up to protect his secret b/c he knew heroine would expect it). It "easy" to use a mystic approach/explanation for no disease & no pregnancy in PNR and make it believeable (even a major plot point!), an out contemporaries don't have.

I'm good with just a "he took out his wallet" or "she grabbed her purse" or "he reached into the drawer" moment to acknowledge the usage. Doesn't have to be a BFD. In one of my books, I made the condom issue a funny moment that (I hope) made the relationship more realistic and relatable. In another, I made it simple "he unbuttoned, unzipped, and gloved up while she got her brain back" sort of thing. A nonbrainer, which is what condom use is for me.
Jennifer Proffitt
14. JenniferProffitt
Having a condom in contemporary romance isn't something that I really notice very often (unless the author totally stops the flow of the scene and is like *HOLD THE PHONE* he puts on a condom *OKAY PROCEED*

However, I must notice it enough because sometimes I'll be reading a book and realize the guy never put a condom on and I think "okay, there's going to be a baby coming up...." So usually I notice the lack of a condom more than I notice the break in the scene to put one on.
Kat Bernard
15. Abforth
Honestly, depends on the novel and the character. It depends on the book, the scene and the tone. It can be fairly obvious that a surprise baby is coming up, and if I don't respect the heroine or hero then the lack of fore thinking totally ruins it for me. But that said, it's not a hard and fast rule. If the author's good enough I can forgive them, I like Kresley Cole's tone in regards to this, but then when you're talking other species it's different rules. But Fifty Shades was over the top, but then I hate Mr Grey, soooo slightly biased. But saying that, I did respect him for being so firm with his I don't want children line and I did dislike the heroine (Ana was it?) for being such an airhead about it. So some note or mention is appreciated and it is important when having sex and it does effect my opinion of a character but I don't need too much info...
Kacey Hammell
16. Lynnd
I believe that people IRL who don't use condoms when they have sex for the first time or while a relationship is in the early stages of being established are stupid, so if a writer doesn't have a character in a contemporary use a condom for sex outside of an established relationship, especially the first time, and there are no consequences or discussion about it at all afterwards, I going to apply the same standard and will likely stop reading the book and will be very careful about purchasing books by that author again. IRL people don't use condoms and as a family lawyer I get to deal with the consequences (inventory for me, yay), but I really don't want to have to read about these people in my fiction as well.
Kacey Hammell
17. pamelia
I always am taken aback when condom use is disregarded in a contemporary novel, but I don't need to read the words "telltale crinkle" in every sex-scene, thanks!
I have also read surprise baby books where a condom was used and failed, and that works just fine.
Conversely I love the whole tension of the H and h wanting to forego the condoms and think that can work as the new "intimacy" standard in many contemporary books wherein sex is often preceding the romance.
Kacey Hammell
18. Charlayne
Thank you for this one. I honestly don't see that many condoms used in the romances I read. And, as a woman in a long-time (starting 20 years!) committed relationship with my husband and neither of us having to worry about getting pregnant anymore (we have 9 grandchildren!), I don't think about them.

And I'm writing my own novel and it never dawned on me that it would necessary. So it's now on my "to be added" list. :) It's good to read H&H, if nothing else but to learn how to do it!!!
Candice Burnett
19. SleepyVamp
What annoys me is when an author has gone to the trouble of having her characters use protection, then when one breaks or slips or whatever it's like "oh well, shucks, wanna go bare?" I'm looking at YOU Suzanne Brockmann!

This is exactly the wrong message! Seriously, people, do not do this. Also, condoms are not just for the first time. Grr, when I read this I want to shred the book with my nails. A second date does not exempt you from STDs.

So yeah, I would rather an author suspend reality and not bother than to do it half assed.
Kacey Hammell
20. Ekatarina Sayanova
This is fiction which, in and of itself, requires suspension of disbelief - at least to a point. The fact is that people are impulsive, especially where sex drive is concerned. Get those hormones goin' and the mind turns to mush while common sense flies out the door, window and any other escape route it can locate. Sex on impulse is almost the norm rather than the exception. Condom use is responsible, but people in general may not be so. No question. However, I've got a little something authors might want to ponder...Yeah, writing that condom into the story when genital sex is about to take place is the responsible thing to do. BUT - huge caveat here - y'all are forgetting one very important thing. Did you know that oral STDs are now almost as prevalent - if not more prevalent - than genital STDs. If you're going for responsible - why are you writing stories where a condom is not used during oral play? Jus' askin'...
Kacey Hammell
21. HistoryBuff
And this is why I write historicals....condoms are almost non-existent, and the hero has already made a decision to marry her anyway due to his sense of honor, so any resulting pregnancies are happily recieved and accepted.

That being said...I have one alpha hero who is INSISTENT upon them. I'm trying to get him to loosen up, but he's adamant.
Kacey Hammell
22. Teags
What about suggesting that the hero has already signed up for a monthly condom subscription. That could be sexy, right? I bet some authors could work in mymonthlyrubbers.com somewhere in the plot.

....She followed him up the sidewalk. Having already massaged him through his pants in the taxi she knew what she was in for. She smiled and they paused at the mailbox and as he grabbed his letters she was happy to see that he had received his monthly shipment from mymonthlyrubbers.com for 18 Magnum condoms. Magnums; she smiled again. But 18? Would that even be enough, she wondered....

... thoughts?
Kacey Hammell
23. Maryes
UGH, nothing makes me realize more that I am reading a romance than the obligatory condemn/protection scene. In most cases I put the book down, go do something else and maybe come back to it, if the characters are interesting enough to come back to even after I've been preached at about the use of condoms.

Yes, I know, in reality, everyone needs protection with first encounters, but this is supposed to be my escape from the harsh realities of life, and the second I feel as if I am being preached at, I put the book down and more often then not, if I don't pick it back up, I won't buy that author again.

I want to enjoy the fantasy of the romance and condoms just ruin it for me. I know the dangers of stranger sex. But they are more than just STDs. If I am going to believe this woman--and man--are so careless as to have sex with a complete stranger who could be a psychotic serial killer, and end up with an HEA, then adding in the condom "realisem" just kills the suspension of beleif for me.
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