A couple of weeks ago, the Ruby Slippered Sisterhood blog (one of my faves) was host to a sometimes heated discussion on safe sex in romance novels.
The author of the post, Kelly Fitzpatrick (who you might recognize from yesterday’s post), started the discussion by asking a few questions: “I ask myself, do I write to empower women or am I writing to entertain? Are we obligated to write responsibly? Or does the law of what happens in romanceland, stays in romanceland rule?”
There seems to be no consensus on the subject, at least among the Rubies and their readers.
Since reading that blog post — and the informative and entertaining comments that followed, I’ve been kicking this post around in my mind. It’s one of those things on my “I’ll do it when I get around to it” list.
Of course I believe in safe sex. In this day and age, when sex with the wrong person can end up killing you, is there anyone who doesn’t?
But do my characters practice safe sex? Umm … as they say in “The Wizard of Oz,” that’s a horse of a different color.
I have one set of characters (Brad and Erin) who just use a condom without any fuss or fanfare. I haven’t read through Cassie and Dustin’s story lately, but I believe they, too, just do it (condom use).
Then there’s Bree and Mike, the virgin and the pseudo-playboy. They’re both drunk when they make love for the first time, and their lack of protection doesn’t occur to either of them until weeks later. (First she realizes it, then he overhears her talking with her friends and thinks she’s pregnant.) It’s a huge part of the plot, because when he thinks she’s pregnant, he starts trying to get back in her good graces … after refusing to marry her just because she was a virgin.
When Kari and Damien, from “Blind Date Bride,” have sex for the first time, they’re already married, so no safe sex for them (even though they haven’t yet decided to stay married).
It hasn’t been an issue for Bethany and Cody either, since they’re already in a committed relationship when the story begins. I do know that Bethany has always been Ms. Safety in the past (and she does have quite the past), and Cody also believes in safe sex … but they’ve been dating for nine months and he’s thinking about marriage. Maybe I can handle the issue with a flashback to their first night together.
Meg’s already pregnant (by another guy) when she has sex with Matt, so condoms aren’t an issue for them, either.
She does question her judgment the morning after, when she wakes up alone because Matt had to leave her to go to practice. She wonders if she’s made a “monumental” mistake by sleeping with an almost-stranger. But she decides, “Nothing could be a bigger mistake than ending up pregnant and alone at her advanced age. And since she’d already done that, anything that came after had to be a step in the right direction.”
Drew and Lainy haven’t had sex yet, but they are teachers, so when the time comes, they should set a good example. (They’ve already set a bad example in other ways, though, so who knows?)
My stories are romantic comedies. And while the Rubies have some ideas about treating safe sex humorously, I don’t want to draw too much attention to the unfunny, unsexy side of my characters’ lives. Nothing ruins the mood faster than a red, flashing stoplight: “No glove, no love, buster!”
I guess what I’m trying to say is this: My characters “romance responsibly” when the plot calls for it … and when it doesn’t, they don’t. If that makes them irresponsible in the eyes of some, so be it. (I’ll just have to hope those some aren’t editors and agents who refuse to publish the story because of it.)