Is it Sweeter if He Covers His Peter?

Abigail~ 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 there’s no glove, should there be love?

When I wrote Who Wants to Marry a Cowboy, I didn’t mention birth control… until my beta reader wrote in huge letters: WHERE’S THE CONDOM?

Huh. Good question. If there’s no good reason to leave it out, I should definitely put it in (no pun intended). It didn’t take much to add. “… and with a quick grin, (Riley) took a condom out of his pocket.”

Boom. Done. And wouldn’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 I’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 Martin’s squirm-worthy blog on what folks did so long ago:

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 – until he met the heroine and rational thought went out the window. Beverly said, “Who else is with me that skipping condoms without a good reason makes you think less of a character?” (She also wrote a blog post a few years ago on this topic:

Christine said, “I 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.” 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 Sykes’s second book, Hardball, won the Kindle Book Review Best Indie Book Award and the hero covers it up. The writing team said, “The 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 we’ve always had the heroes use condoms. We included it because we thought it was the right thing to do—it shows Nate’s responsible and smart.”

Some readers await the unexpected pregnancy plot twist if there is no mention of birth control Megan agreed. “The 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.” 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 Hittle’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 didn’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-sister—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, “I 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.” Other readers think mentioning birth control tends to slow down the story as the characters are always searching for the condom.” Tracey added, “I think whether condom use comes up depends on the story, the genre and the character. It can be done artfully, without interrupting the story…It does need to feel like the decision is logical given the character.”

Ah! That’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 doesn’t care? Or was there a pregnancy scare? Does the character consider himself or herself responsible and safe? Is she on the pill and doesn’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 characters’ 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

8 thoughts on “Is it Sweeter if He Covers His Peter?”

  1. Hi Abigail,

    I was a Resident Assistant (R.A.) in college. Basically, I was the hall mommy, but I had to be the cool one who talked openly about safe sex with the girls on my hall. Many of whom were having sex with their boyfriends. I even kept an envelope full of condoms attached to the bulletin board outside my room with a sign that read: “If you need one, take one.”

    At the beginning of each semester, I’d have a talk with the girls on the hall about the importance of safe sex. And inevitably someone said, “Doesn’t using condoms kill the mood?” To which I replied STDs and pregnancy kills the mood longer.

    At my college, the Residence Life folks encouraged the R.A.’s to be frank when discussing sex with the freshmen. But to make the discussions fun. So I used cucumbers to teach the girls how to apply the condoms. My philosophy was that if they were going to have sex, they needed to know the condom was put on properly.

    Today, I write paranormal romances but whenever the lover are about to get to it, someone pulls out a condom. It doesn’t always need to be the guy. My sex scenes are usually fun, and always protected.

  2. I think my input was ‘covered’ by part of what Megan said above.
    In the novels and novellas I’ve published so far, all the sexual activity (if there is any) is behind closed doors… so the reader must guess at their conversation, preparation, state of undress, positioning, etc.
    In other words, I have not yet had to face the decision of whether to have the characters act responsibly when they jumped in the sack.
    But if / when I do write such detail in the scenes, I will now be more aware of this issue of protection and how important it is.

  3. Great blog topic, Abigail! YES, WRAP IT in every book. It shows characters’ responsibility. I shudder when there is no mention of birth control. Thanks for bringing this up – as it were.

  4. I agree, too! Especially if there’s no mention, and then the albatross of the unexpected pregnancy shadows the rest of the book. Or if the characters are written in a way where they wouldn’t care, I’m okay with that, too.

  5. I agree, Megan. It’s something a responsible author will handle in some way, because it’s what responsible people have to deal with every time. We want our characters to be as real as possible — at least I do.

  6. I feel that if someone wants their book to relate to the average woman, they need to throw in commentary about either being on birth control, someone mentioning a condom, etc. Because any woman who is about to have a sexual encounter is either already prepared for it (ie on the pill or whatever, has condoms in the house, or if there is enough time and is ready will obtain condoms if she had a dry spell), hopes the guy is prepared for it, or will go into it with a hope or a prayer that they are not near time of ovulation. Even guys should have the thought if they don’t carry one in their pocket and there should be dialogue about what the plan would be. Although granted it doesn’t have to be much since mentioning “the pill” or “condom” refers enough for the reader to know “it’s taken care of”.

    Now if the sexual encounters are “fade to black” and the juicy bits are taken out, then it doesn’t have to be mentioned because it’s just assumed that all that was discussed in the missing scene.

    In the end I feel it’s an acceptable sense of reality that is added to the fantasy that helps the reader relate more.

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