Safer Sex in Erotica

Lisabet Sarai blogged on safer sex and erotic romance.

For me, it depends on the story’s sub-genre.

In a fantastical setting, I don’t usually mind if safer sex is not mentioned, because in science fiction or fantasy the issue can be easily covered by the worldbuilding (everybody has an injection! everybody has a spell!) even if the author hasn’t mentioned it explicitly.

In historicals, I wish there was a bit more worrying about safe versus not-safe thoughts, but again I’m a little more accepting if safer sex is left out. However, I definitely appreciate it when historical characters think about the issue, even if it’s only in the first intimate scene and left to the reader’s assumption after that.

In contemporary novels, I prefer that safer sex be practiced, and if it isn’t, that a reason I can accept is provided (obviously, not every writer can read my mind!). I don’t mind if subsequent sex scenes aren’t shown as safe, at least not so much, because I can extrapolate from scene number one, in much the way that I extrapolate the characters are eating, sleeping, and using the toilet even though those actions aren’t necessarily described.

What do you think?

About Victoria Janssen

Victoria Janssen [she, her] currently writes cozy space opera for Kalikoi. The novella series A Place of Refuge begins with Finding Refuge: Telepathic warrior Talia Avi, genius engineer Miki Boudreaux, and augmented soldier Faigin Balfour fought the fascist Federated Colonies for ten years, following the charismatic dissenter Jon Churchill. Then Jon disappeared, Talia was thought dead, and Miki and Faigin struggled to take Jon’s place and stay alive. When the FC is unexpectedly upended, Talia is reunited with her friends and they are given sanctuary on the enigmatic planet Refuge. The trio of former guerillas strive to recover from lifetimes of trauma, build new lives on a planet with endless horizons, and forge tender new connections with each other.
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12 Responses to Safer Sex in Erotica

  1. LVLM says:

    I'm really put off if safe sex isn't practiced in a contemporary.

    In historicals, I'm not so bothered by that as much as I am about dirty sex. heh. Dirty sex equaling not bathing for days and having sex.

    In fantasy/paranormal I'm also fine without mention of safe sex for the reasons you cited.

    Also like you, if safe sex is mentioned the first time in a contemp, I don't need it mentioned every time. I assume it will continue unless throwing a baby in the mix is part of things towards the end.

  2. Victoria Janssen says:

    Sometimes, if the narrative is too pointed about mentioning the protection, then I suspect there will be a pregnancy plot.

  3. Wendy says:

    I tend to "imagine" that safe sex happened, even if the author doesn't give me The Condom Moment. The only time this doesn't work is when the author throws a wrench in the works and shatters my imagination. I see it a lot in truly terrible romantic suspense and category novels. There I am, imagining that they used a condom and then the brain-dead heroine muses "Oh noes! We didn't use protection! I could be pregnant! But that's OK, because I'll always have a little piece of the hero with me while he's off fighting terrorists, drug smugglers, pirates, etc."

    And it's always the thought of a baby. She never worries that the "little piece of the hero" might be a scorching case of herpes instead.


  4. Victoria Janssen says:

    She never worries that the "little piece of the hero" might be a scorching case of herpes instead.


    I guess that gets lumped in with wet spots and other things that Don't Exist in Erotica.

  5. Cecilia Tan says:

    Actually, I find plenty of wet spots and things of that nature in erotica, but not so much in ROMANCE. It's as if the level of fantasy wish-fulfillment necessary to maintain in a romance is higher than in any other genre and what squicks romance readers is anything that bursts that bubble… sometimes to ridiculous levels. We were laughing here the other day over a story one romance editor told about a scene where readers complained that the hero DIDN'T WASH HIS HANDS BEFORE SEX EW EW EW. So probably some of the same readers who would be thrown out of the story if he paused for a condom wanted him to pause to wash his hands first, apparently…??

    I always always always address safer sex, STDs, and pregnancy in my contemporaries and include hints of how it works in my fantasy/paranormals. If I don't, *I* will be the squicked one.

  6. Victoria Janssen says:

    I've noticed that even erotica often shies away from gritty details, unless those details have a specific reason for being in the story – but you're right, romance leaves out more of the grit than erotica does.

    If I don't, *I* will be the squicked one.

    Good point – authorial opinion is undeniably a large factor.

  7. Anonymous says:

    I'm reading some old Nora Roberts and all the heroes are smokers. They seem to have a cigarette in their fingers right up to the sex and then they stubb out the cig and start touching the woman and putting fingers inside her. Then I get a vision of a man with yellow stains on his fingers and I get an icky feeling LOL

  8. Victoria Janssen says:

    Smoking is the new "didn't bathe!"

  9. Stephanie Draven says:

    You know, I find my reaction to this thread to be a little surprising. I'm usually the girl who is all about realism and who often rolls her eyes at the constraints of a genre based heavily on fantasy-fulfillment. But I'm not gonna lie–having to worry about safe sex in a romance novel annoys me.

    In real life, I wouldn't likely sleep with a shapeshifter. I'd know better than to think I could "change" or "reform" the rake or the obnoxious alpha male. In real life, I would run from a man who didn't have enough respect for himself or for me to wrap it up. I'm a responsible woman who follows the rules, and I'm careful to temper my passions with caution.

    But in my fantasies? Seriously? I have to drag this baggage around with me there too? No way!

  10. Victoria Janssen says:

    But in my fantasies? Seriously? I have to drag this baggage around with me there too? No way!

    I have a friend who loves the "forced seduction" scenes in medievals because similar contemporary scenes are too laden with real-life negotiation.

  11. Stephanie Draven says:

    That said, I just remembered that in my paranormal romance debut novel with HQN, my hero does use a condom–in part, b/c there was too much thematic stuff surrounding blood and HIV not to include it. So I guess I'm a hypocrite. But generally, I'm not a big fan of having to worry about this stuff.

  12. Victoria Janssen says:

    b/c there was too much thematic stuff surrounding blood and HIV not to include it

    Actually, that's a very good point – you emphasized the condom use for thematic purposes, which is different from simply glossing over it for the sake of convenience.

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