~ By Abigail Sharpe
Contemporary romance novels run the gamut of closing the doors on sex scenes to describing everything in great detail. For the writer, one question should linger in your mind: If thereâ€™s no glove, should there be love?
When I wrote Who Wants to Marry a Cowboy, I didnâ€™t mention birth controlâ€¦ until my beta reader wrote in huge letters: WHEREâ€™S THE CONDOM?
Huh. Good question. If thereâ€™s no good reason to leave it out, I should definitely put it in (no pun intended). It didnâ€™t take much to add. â€œâ€¦ and with a quick grin, (Riley) took a condom out of his pocket.â€
Boom. Done. And wouldnâ€™t you know, a couple of reviewers on Amazon each commented on how much they appreciated the mention of protection?
I should throw in here that Iâ€™m talking solely contemporary romance. Paranormals can get away without condom use with species explanations, and historicals have their own set of problems. Check out Madeline Martinâ€™s squirm-worthy blog on what folks did so long ago: http://www.madelinemartin.com/ye-olde-baby-blocker/
But back to here and now. This blog topic came to me while reading a discussion on a Goodreads group. Group member Beverly commented on how the hero had gotten a woman pregnant when they were both young, which led to an unhappy marriage and a bitter divorce. He always used condoms after that â€“ until he met the heroine and rational thought went out the window. Beverly said, â€œWho else is with me that skipping condoms without a good reason makes you think less of a character?â€ (She also wrote a blog post a few years ago on this topic: http://writinginflow.blogspot.com/2012/02/captain-condom-cover-me-im-goin-in.html)
Christine said, â€œI like to see condoms used in novels as it shows the characters are acting as responsible adults. I don’t care if they have sex after just meeting because that happens in life.â€ A lot of readers agreed about liking condoms to make the books realistic, but added that reckless characters can get away without having it mentioned. Maybe if writers wanted to introduce some more realism, they could include scenes detailing watching online porn like Miss Young on Babestation, such is the trend these days.
USA Today bestseller VK Sykesâ€™s second book, Hardball, won the Kindle Book Review Best Indie Book Award and the hero covers it up. The writing team said, â€œThe hero, Nate, does cover it up, at least until the last sex scene when they have declared their love and feel committed to each other. I think weâ€™ve always had the heroes use condoms. We included it because we thought it was the right thing to doâ€”it shows Nateâ€™s responsible and smart.â€
Some readers await the unexpected pregnancy plot twist if there is no mention of birth control Megan agreed. â€œThe main reason I really like for authors to mention use of condoms or birth control is that if it’s NOT mentioned, then I’m paranoid that there is going to be some sort of pregnancy sub plot appearance for the remainder of the book.â€ I totally get this. I recently read a story where no protection mentioned at all. I kept waiting for the heroine to get sick and think it was the flu until she mentioned to a friend that she was on the pill.
Would have been nice to know that thirty pages ago!
That pregnancy plot twist is valid, though. Arlene Hittleâ€™s Diva in the Dugout centers around a surprise pregnancy. In a beginning that eventually wound up on the cutting room floor, hero Dave somewhat responsibly bring up the need to go buy condoms. The not-quite-20-year-old, impetuous heroine, Melinda Cline, unconcerned about STDs, told him they were unnecessary because she was on the pill.
The next time they meet, the daughter Dave didnâ€™t know he had is a 4-year-old T-ball star, being honored by the opposing team. He sees a kid who reminds him of his sister and thinks she might be another half-sisterâ€”until he sees her mamma and correctly adds two-plus-two. When Mel reluctantly faces him, he accuses her of getting pregnant on purpose.
Some readers think condom use breaks the flow of the scene. Katerine said, â€œI cannot help it, however, that every time the safer sex topic is mentioned in a novel before the characters jump into action, I feel like the author is trying to be political correct about it and therefore the condom is mentioned.â€ Other readers think mentioning birth control tends to slow down the story as the characters are always searching for the condom.â€ Tracey added, â€œI think whether condom use comes up depends on the story, the genre and the character. It can be done artfully, without interrupting the storyâ€¦It does need to feel like the decision is logical given the character.â€
Ah! Thatâ€™s good information to factor in when deciding whether love is cleaner with a packaged wiener. Is the character reckless? Trying to shed an image? Just doesnâ€™t care? Or was there a pregnancy scare? Does the character consider himself or herself responsible and safe? Is she on the pill and doesnâ€™t consider STDs?
Whatever you choose to do, make your readers happy and be able to back up the decision or lack of mention with the charactersâ€™ actions and beliefs.
So what will you do? Are your characters going to cover the purple-headed warrior?
Abigail is a Boston-bred Yankee now eating grits and saying “y’all” in North Central Florida. She dreamed more of being a stage actress or joining the CIA than being an author. While she still enjoys participating in community theater productions and singing karaoke, the secret-agent career was replaced by hours at her computer, writing passionate, playful contemporary romance. Her second book, Who Wants to Marry a Doctor, is scheduled for a July release with Grand Central.
Abigail lives with her husband, two kids, and one crazy princess puppy. You can keep up with her on Goodreads or on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/AbigailSharpeBooks