I was reading a novel a little while back and was totally jarred out of the story when in the third chapter the couple had unprotected sex. This after they’d met only 24 hours before. The conversational exchange went something like this:

Him: I don’t have protection

Her: It doesn’t matter. I’m safe.

Him: I’m safe too… are you sure?

Her: I have to have you in me—now!

Er, WTF??? You know someone less than a day and a mumbled ‘no I don’t have any of those STD things baby’ is going to pass for protection? Not in my universe.

This whole thing got me thinking about how we handle the issue of contraception/protection in romance novels. I’ve been reading contemporaries for a long time (think back to those harlequin temptations with the yellow back covers and the swooning women in tafetta on the front) and I think the progression has gone something like this:

  1. Not mentioned at all for fear of ruining the fantasy element of the love scene. Protagonists didn’t make love until they’d already established they were in love, anyway.
  2. Protection sometimes mentioned, only ever by the hero. Heroine was too much of a ‘good girl’ to even know what those things were for, let alone to know where to buy them.
  3. A mutual discussion might have taken place, with the hero being ultimately responsible for providing the necessary equipment.
  4. Heroines knew what they were, how to use them and where to buy them. This is probably about the time condom companies started bringing them out in all those pretty colours. 
  5. Present day – unprotected sex is rarely seen in a smart, contemporary romance novel (except when an unplanned for pregnancy is needed as a plot device. Not my favourite plot turn, BTW, but good on you if it’s your thing). Responsibility can be taken by either or both parties.

I’m glad that we’ve reached number five. It always bugged me when I was reading my romances back in the day and the couple got ‘swept away’, particularly if the hero was a bit of a playboy. I thought the heroine was mad to trust him, but that could be me. I’m a ‘go get a blood test and give me the paperwork’ kind of girl.

A few years ago I attended a day long workshop conducted by Jennifer Crusie for hundreds of rapt RWA members. During the course of discussions she mentioned she thought it was a bit skeevy for a guy to carry a condom in his wallet. I had a mini-debate with her about it at the time (I so should not be allowed in the front row of anything). The way I see it, if we’re at point five in the politics of prophylactics, someone has to handle protection. If it’s sleazy for the man to have them on his person, what about if a woman carries them in her purse? Is this totally unacceptable? And if no-one carries them, there’s less of a chance they’ll be used, isn’t there? Isn’t making sure they’re used more important than what someone will think of you being in possession of them?

The things that occupy my thoughts. Anyone else want to weigh in on this vital issue?