Tuesday links: The Rise of Gonorrhea; the fall of book covers (aka digital killing everything good in literature)
Fanfiction – Deb sent me a link to this video. It’s a rather fun look at fan fiction including a historical aspect. Did you know that someone published a sequel to Don Quixote? Unauthorized?Know Your Meme
Hold the front page: cover art is going out of fashion – James Bridle suggests that ereaders have no use for cover illustrations and thus cover art may be entirely obsolete. I’m a little befuddled by this as covers are as important today in a digital world as they are in a paper world. They are one of the first things that a reader sees when she is shopping and an eye catching cover on a computer screen has just as much power as one in the bookstore. The Observer
Intel Inside ignites mobile branding war – Chip manufacturers are trying to create customer loyalty through more visible branding. Intel is seeking to get smartphone manufacturers to share branding space. Apple refuses to do it, but Motorola’s new phone will contain “Intel” on the back. This reminds me a little of publishers trying to increase brand loyalty through more obvious badging. The smaller digital publishers like Ellora’s Cave and Samhain have successfully leveraged this for the benefit of their authors and the badging on Avon/HarperCollins Voyager is becoming larger and more visible. Reuters
The Rise of Drug-Resistant Gonorrhea – I can’t read the entire article because I am not a subscriber to the New Yorker, but the abstract indicates that there is a strain of drug resistant gonorrhea on the rise and that it could be a global epidemic. Gonorrhea is the second most commonly reported infectious disease in the U.S. I did some additional googling and there is a big concern about this worldwide. Condom use, safe sex, and limiting partners is one way to reduce the spread. I’m getting fairly tired of the “I’m clean” promises in books and wish more authors would use their skill and imagination to make condom use sexy because it can be and I enjoy reading about characters who are smart and inventive. The New Yorker
Why genre fiction is an e-reader’s best friend – I feel like this is one of those “things” where the prophecy becomes a reality with very little grounding in reality. If you recall, I posted a link to David Hewson’s blog post about how his self published book which is a “more conventional horror story with a straightforward plot” was outselling his more complex book Epiphany. Hewson blames this on the fact that ereaders are suited to “less complex” fiction. Guardian picks this up and despite the acknowledgment that Hewson’s research is “far from scientific”, his conclusion must be accurate. The Observer
I was talking to a friend in his late 20s a few weeks ago. His feeling is that his generation- and slightly younger- are due for a serious STD epidemic. I thought that was strange until he said that condom use is down in his age group. As someone who just turned 40 and remembers actually getting a little bit of sex ed in school, that drives me crazy.
A friend who works in Public Health posted this link about gonorrhea. It’s a couple of months old and the focus is Hawaii, but it still has scary stats and information: http://www.aphlblog.org/2012/04/hawaiis-unique-public-health-challenges-antibiotic-resistant-gonorrhea/
In a perfect world beer companies and distributors would hook up with condom companies and get the word out. It’s ignorance that can cause a lot of these STD problems and beer companies have the – almost – undivided attention of that age demographic.
There was a discussion here at DA a while back with a lot of commentors saying they didn’t want to read about condom use and I kind of understood their point. For me, all the author has to do is mention once that they’re in play, something like “she saw the drawer full of condoms” and that will be sufficient. Just mention something about protecting against disease rather than just pregnancy.
I want cover art. I also want my Kindle to understand that the beginning is NOT the first chapter. It’s the cover, the publication page and any notes or letters from the author. I missed a few prologues and intros from the authors before I started beginning where I want to begin. Dumb Kindle. (not really, I’m sorry, I love you, don’t break)
@joanne: I also want my Kindle to understand that the beginning is NOT the first chapter. It’s the cover, the publication page and any notes or letters from the author.
On the other hand, I’ve downloaded samples, especially for novellas and shorter novels, where there was so much front matter (blurbs, acknowledgements, thanks, backlist, etc) that by the time I got to the actual story, there were about 3 paragraphs of text.
It’s interesting that you brought that up, because I’ve also seen some readers say they don’t want to read about the condom use, but then other readers say they think everyone in the book is TSTL if there’s no condom use. I think that’s a huge challenge for authors to balance. Probably there will always be someone who will be unhappy (I personally am a fan of mentioning condom use. If it’s not mentioned, I then assume the next plot point is accidental pregnancy since romance characters don’t get STDs.)
One trend I’ve noticed in the last four authors I’ve read, is that every single one of them starts out with condom use the first time between hero/heroine and then the heroine says she’s on the pill, or the hero asks if she’s on the pill, and they’re going bareback the rest of the book (because that’s the sign of true love). Even if one of them (the hero, of course, because the heroine has had sexual relationships but certainly not a lot, as is demanded of our good heroines) has had an incredibly promiscuous sexual history immediately before her. And every single time I’m thinking…but what about STDs? But, of course, as I mentioned above, romance characters don’t get STDs…
Access might have a lot more to do with genre selling so much better in Ebooks. Even simply the internet and amazon has made a difference in ability to order a paperbook. The single bookstore within 100 miles here is a Hastings, that the make up of the floorspace within the store is about 60% videogames with a few CDs, Tshirts and movies in that area, 20% childrens (and that amount of floor space is more dedicated to toys and boardbooks with a few pathetic shelves of middle reader/*young* ya books), the remaining twenty percent is shared by a large magazine area, skimpy comics/graphics, and books. The thing is the book floor space is mostly taken up by a chair here, aesthetic design and very minimal shelving.
Even when Bookstores were more books (and oh the few times I ever got to a Waldenbooks back when they existed, cramped little store in a 3rd rate mall that was *BOOKS* with a single rack of little book related toys like tiny stuffed cliffords or something at the check out) you had what the pubs told the corporate was the things to concentrate on buying. Even if you had a local manager who was an actual reader not just a manager, bulking up a resume to move on to bigger and better in corporate, corporate had a finger in it to an extent. And then there is the Indies which, I’ve set foot in three indies in my life–I’m in the boonies yes, not lot of opportunity–and that was three too many.
If I want to read Allison Weir or potato-chip level trashy fun like Lorelei James, I can find it and get it on my kindle. If my oldest geek wants to read about string theory or something about/by Michio Kaku, I can find it. If my 16yo wants to read Kathy Reichs or true crime, or the horror-leaning paranormal stuff, I can find it. If my almost 14yo wants to read Louis L’amour, Zane Gray, or Bernard…drawing blank Sharpe books, I can find them. If my 12yo wants something to read (which Goblet of Fire is devoured in about 8 hours by this kid, but he prefers ya adventure though try to find YA adventure in the grocery store or walmart racks which is only books for sale w/in an hrs drive here. Twilight, or the latest paranormal romance staring teenagers with a twilight clone cover you can find. Something like Rangers Apprentice, good luck.)
It doesn’t matter if it’s genre and the book purchases/reading lists for this family cross about everything imaginable, non fiction, biographies, horror, romance, erorom, adventure, you can actually find it, if not in e, then very likely on amazon.
@joanne: Exactly! I get so frustrated about this, especially when I’ve gone to the trouble of using Calibre to include a summary of the book so I know what I’m about to read. I’ve got quite a few books in my Kindle, so when I want to read something but the title doesn’t really tell me what the book’s about (eyes every romance novel with the words “scoundrel,” “duke,” and “seduction” in them), it would help if the Kindle would open to the cover page and not chapter 1.
Dumas wrote his own. I inherited a leather-bound, silver-fish ridden set of the Complete works of Dumas, which had been my greatgrandfather’s. It includes the Countess of Monte Christo and the Son of Monte Christo. Neither had much to do with Edmund Dantes.
I agree with Angela about the condom usage. Personally I’d love to see someone get an STD in a romance novel for being TSTL. Sure, it would probably be the bad guy ( it should probably be the bad guy she dumped getting his comeuppance) but I think that’s an edge romance novels haven’t found a way to tastefully get close to without sounding like an afterschool special for adults.
I definitely want to see more condom useage in my romance novels. The first thing that I think of when I read about the hero having had multiple sexual partners and them not using condoms is “what kind of disease is he carrying!” This applies to historicals as well as contemporaries. It is far less sexy for me to have that thought running through my brain as I read about the number of actresses etc,. the hero has been sleeping with in a hisotrical romance than it is to read about the hero using “french letters”. In a contemporary, it’s just plain inexcusable.
I also want covers on my ebooks. It the firsst thing I see when I’m purchasing the book and when I’m searching for what to read next on my ereader. It really annoys me when I buy an ebook and it doesn’t have the cover.
I’ll be the dissenting voice and say that condom use oftentimes pulls me out of the story. It’s just so silly to me the obligatory moment where the hero says ‘wait’ and then pulls the foil packet from the nightstand/pocket/interdimensional condom store and then there’s the description of the sound of the packet ripping (when did condoms get so noisy?) and then back to the sex….
If I’m reading a romance I’ve already decided to suspend disbelief so I’m okay with the “I’m on the pill”.
I also want my Kindle to understand that the beginning is NOT the first chapter. It’s the cover, the publication page and any notes or letters from the author. I missed a few prologues and intros from the authors before I started beginning where I want to begin. Dumb Kindle. (not really, I’m sorry, I love you, don’t break)
Don’t blame your Kindle; blame the formatting. The Kindle starts the book where you put a start reference in it. Some publishers (and in this I include traditional and self-publishers) have automated their processes so that the start point is set as the first chapter, and they don’t actually go back and check that the book is starting at the right place. Hence, skipped prologues and all that jazz.
The only exception to this is if you want the book to start with the cover: The only way to make the Kindle start at the cover is to include the cover twice, once in the appropriate cover spot in the file, and then embedded as an image in the HTML.
So when a prologue gets skipped, it is because someone screwed up.
And I’m going to go out on a limb and assert that the people who are saying that covers don’t matter have either (a) spent almost no time thinking about how people buy and talk about books online, or (b) have spent time, but are so clueless about it that the time they’ve spent has been wasted. They’re imagining a world where someone punches in an author name and book title and boom, buys it. They aren’t envisioning digital browsing. They probably haven’t thought about how it happens that people find a book online. In 99% of all venues, the cover is the very first thing the reader will see, and in about 30% of them, it’s the only source of information about the book the reader has, until they click on it. In the other 69%, the reader will have the cover plus a few other pieces of information, which will most certainly be limited to the title, the author name, and the price.
I want condoms and I want STD talk/scares. I have a 13-y-o daughter. I know she, like I did at her age, is probably picking up my books or seeing my Kindle books, whatever. In this day of Kindle, it is harder to keep the books away.
I want her to SEE that responsible people use condoms. I want her to see there needs to be more than “I am clean. Are you clean?”
Yeah, parents should parent. But we are all about READ READ READ, well, while they are reading, make an impression with safe sex. She can have me saying condom condom condom, but what she is reading is telling her you can trust a guy who says he is clean because 173 pages nobody has an STD and there is a HEA.
If someone can write a sexy/romantic eating-a-peach scene, they can write a sexy/romantic condom scene.
Sorry. Rant over.
I also want the back cover on my Kindle. I want to see a front cover, read a back cover, read the front plate, read the thank yous and acknowledgements. I want every word I am paying for (or leasing). It is all part of the experience for me.
I used to think covers weren’t important for e-books, until I started actually buying e-books. I’ve bought a LOT of e-books based on their covers, to the point that there are a few cover artists’ works I have learned I need to be wary of. Some of that cover art has the ability to turn my brain off and make me want to buy stuff, even knowing that the excerpts seem worryingly bad. Conversely, there have been a few books I was turned off of because of their cover art – in some cases, the description was appealing enough that I bought them anyway, but in other cases I passed the books by.
I am not all that impressed with a fanfiction video which does not know what slash fiction actually is (it’s usually m/m and occasionally f/f, though that is also known as femslash. m/f is het fic, not slash).
Covers. Condoms. In that order. The first interests me initially and gives me something (hopefully) enjoyable to look at; omission of the other drops me right out of the story because that’s just plain stupid.
@joanne: Or how about the ubiquitous car commercials on football weekends and nights? Someone could design a condom cubbyhole in the dash, right next to the usb port, for storing those all important accessories. (Can you tell I hate car commercials?)
@Ellen: Yes! Yes, the back cover is especially helpful when it’s a series of books and I only want to re-read one and all the covers are similar.
@Lori: I absolutely understand that it throws some readers out of the story. My suggestion would be that the characters who are going to have sex have already talked about these things. It can just be a sentence or two when they realize things are heating up quickly but the author needs to get it in there and then the reader can assume whatever they want when the characters get to the actual act.
And anyone who thinks young readers aren’t crossing over to ‘our’ books is foolish. They always have and probably always will. It would be nice if they just happened to also read that having an unplanned pregnancy isn’t the worst thing that could happen without protection.
@Angela James: I’m still upset about your adicting me to the author of MM so even though your points are valid I’m flouncing away.
@Darlynne: LOL about the car commercials. They should also have the condom ads in the ads for Viagara and the other erectile dysfunction drugs. I hate those with an undying passion. Maybe if they put condoms in they could actually make them funny.
The gonorrhea article was an eye opener for me and it did get me thinking about condom usage in romance novels. One of the main points of the article is that because gonorrhea can live in the back of the throat, it’s highly transmittable through oral sex (fellatio). Thus it’s being spread among populations (teenagers, for example) who have been taught to use condoms but think oral sex is a safe alternative to vaginal intercourse. It’s not. Condoms can’t prevent the transmission of gonorrhea unless they’re worn during oral sex as well.
I’m curious about if/when ebook covers will break out of the static, rectangular shape dictated by the print market and become something else entirely.
@Angela James: I’ve read four or five this month that start with a condom and run right into “I’m on the Pill.” No mention of how STDs or anything, despite a huge history of promiscuity. I’ve read very few books that deal with this, but I have a great deal of respect for the hero or heroine who makes at least a pretense of discussing testing, etc.
Re: condoms & STDs: For teens, I recommend Ten Things We Did (and Probably Shouldn’t Have) by Sarah Mlynowski (http://sarahm.com/details.php?bid=151). The events in the book are a series of teachable moments without being preachy. This novel would be good for a young teen to learn about safe sex and responsibility while reflecting on friendship and divorce. It was engaging with some minor mystery elements throughout and I think it would be a fast easy read for the average teen.
I must be an outlier on the subject of covers. I don’t think I’ve ever bought a book because of the cover, although I can imagine being turned off by a cover. But then I don’t do much browsing, looking for something to buy. Even if I did, I don’t see that the cover would make much difference. They’re all too much alike for me to be able to tell anything but subgenre from the cover. As long as I can read the title and the author’s name, the rest doesn’t matter.
You’re killing me here. In real life, I can’t imagine not using a condom. In the US, though, 50% of pregnancies are unplanned – so somebody’s skipping the birth control.
But in my books, I’m willing to suspend disbelief. I do love a secret baby, so condom use prohibits that! I’m old enough (40, oh dear) that I remember tons of category romances without condoms. Then I remember the late 1980s and the sudden infusion of condoms and nearly there sex. It can be done well, but it’s a stumbling point in many books. I hate the phrase, he took care of things, or something similar. It’s distracting.
I’m with Angela, romance characters don’t get STDs. I’m going to just have to suspend disbelief and move on to the romance.
No condoms only works for me if they never get mentioned. I have no problem pretending that STDs don’t exist in the book’s world, but it completely pulls me out of the story when they’re only used in the beginning and then never mentioned again, or if the “Don’t worry, I’m clean” line gets used. If I’m to suspend disbelief, the author has to avoid smacking me upside the head with reality.
Now I really want to read a book where the h/h get tested before ditching the condoms.
At some point in the last month, I would swear I’ve read a book where they either exchange paperwork or discuss the paperwork. I need to go back and look at what I’ve read to figure out what it was, but I just saw this done.
There’s this mention of it in On Dublin Street by Samantha Young, though I don’t think this is what I was thinking of:
“Done,” I murmured.
His next question was unexpected but practical. “Are you on the pill?”
I’d had irregular, heavy periods so yes I was on the pill to stop that. “Yes.”
“Have you been checked?”
I knew what he meant. And after my last sexual encounter and the whole not remembering
what the hell had happened, yeah… I’d been checked for STDs. “Yes. Have you?”
“After every relationship.”
“Then I guess we’re good to go.”
Putting on a condom would be a lot more romantic/hot/whatever than that exchange.
Covers: I don’t need them t0 make book choices. In fact, I liked that the original Kindles don’t show book covers because there are too many covers I really don’t like. On my Fire, I see all of them, and have removed a few from my carousel simply because I hated the covers. For print books, I find that covers are often more distracting than appealing.
Condoms: I try to get worked up about condom use in romances, but I can’t. Honestly, it’s fine when the couples discuss whether they need them or not and it’s fine if they don’t. I read for entertainment, not for public service announcements. And condoms during oral sex? That might be a smart thing in real life (although honestly, just know your sex partner well enough to trust before performing any sex act, and you’ll be better off), but if it’s brought up in a romance novel it would completely take me out of the story. Yuck. Sucking latex is a turn-off.
So ultimately the problem for me is that there is a discussion of STDs that consists of “Are you on the pill because I’m clean” which is lame. Why not just use a condom if you are going to have that discussion.
I read Down To You by M. Leighton and the female protag has sex with a stranger in the dark. It’s either one of two people. The guy who is dating her cousin or the guy who is her boss, a nightclub owner, who she suspects might have been sleeping with another bartender.
This is the most unsafe sex she could probably practice yet there is the STD discussion so it’s not that authors are avoiding any mention of safe sex, it’s that it is always the pill. Is that scene sexier than this one from The Mighty Storm by Samantha Towle:
Does it change anyones mind about h/h using condoms if the author had them using condoms even for oral sex. As a earlier poster mentioned gonorrhea can be transmitted by oral sex. Additional both women and men can catch gonorrhea of the genital tract by receiving cunnilingus or fellatio from a partner with oral gonorrhea
As an aside the only book I think I’ve ever read where they h/h actually get tested before having sex is Sarah McCarty’s Mac’s Law. Actually loved that book and even with testing before having “bareback” sex it is super hot.
There’s a Kristen Ashley book (Heaven and Hell) where condoms and testing are brought up between the h/h after unsafe sex has taken place – iirc, the heroine is perturbed by the hero starting to use condoms after they barebacked a couple of times, and then snaps – her late husband was promiscuous, she’s never been tested and the hero gets tested regularly. The exchange is used to deepen the emotional intimacy between the couple.
“As a earlier poster mentioned gonorrhea can be transmitted by oral sex.”
Not just gonorrhoea. HPV can also be transmitted that way, and HPV causes oral cancer. And anal cancer. And cervical cancer. AIDs is not the only reason for men to use condoms during anal sex. And even if both your partners are HIV+, they should use condoms because of the HPV thing *and* the fact that cross infection with different strains of HIV can mean a devastating new infection for someone already infected with HIV.
Also, just as you should never trust a man who claims he’s had a vasectomy without seeing the paperwork, same goes for claims of being ‘clean’. If he was tested two days ago, and had sex yesterday with someone else, that ‘clean’ claim is bullshit.
And if you really, really don’t want to be a baby daddy, don’t trust to the Pill alone. The typical use failure rate is 8%.
Uggggh, the condom problem. Yes, it can disturb the flow of the story, but I wish more authors would include condom use. Maybe they’d get better at it with practice? Using condoms and talking about STDs doesn’t have to be unsexy; I’ve read it done quite well before. It’d make me a lot more comfortable with the HEAs, since I have a verrrry hard time believing that not a single one of the promiscuous heroes has had an STD, considering how many women they tend to sleep with before settling down.
I read it quite a while ago, but I’m 99% certain that both characters in Maya Banks’ Sweet Persuasion get tested and show each other their paperwork before ever having sex.
@Angela James: This is an intriguing discussion. I actually had a (to me) beautiful scene in Chocolate Thief that I was very attached to, where the hero handed the heroine his paperwork and it was a very romantic gesture that touched her quite a lot. But…in each stage of edits, the reaction was negative, that it “took readers out” and I should cut it. So I did, sigh. But in my heart I know he did it. :) I am almost certainly weird, but to me it seems like both the right and the romantic thing for a hero to do–look after his heroine and make her feel safe in his arms. :)
That’s probably too much behind-the-scenes information about a book, isn’t it?
@Laura Florand: Meh. I did it in Magdalene, sorta. Hero had heroine investigated (and she had him investigated, too), but he couldn’t get her medical records so he asked for them right off the bat. It was not meant to be romantic. It was meant to be pragmatic and as both of them are pragmatic people, it suited their characters.
If it’s organic to the story and the characters, I don’t have any issues with how it’s done, and it shouldn’t matter.
I can’t see how authors are going to make the whole condom/STD/contraceptive issue sexy in every book. Or not even sexy, it’s going to be boring as hell if every author thinks they have to give a mini health and sex ed PSA in every book they write. Romance books are not sex education manuals. They are fiction, and fun, and most of the people reading are adults who can make up their own minds about real life relationships. I honestly don’t have an issue with a mention of condoms use, and I think the STD issue could be worked into some stories as part of the relationship development. BUT, if I have to read through a discussion of safe sex, STDs and the importance of condoms in every book I read it will get old fast. It will be a waste of word count to reiterate it with each new story. It will also kill the whole “This is fiction and I want to escape” vibe.
And if you want to have “safe sex” then you have to use more than one method. Condoms also have a failure rate. So if we’re going promote baby and STD free sex in every book, they need the pill and the condom, or some other combination of methods.
@Laura Florand: That probably would have worked for me, because Sylvain was such a great combination of practical and romantic. Maybe you have to be French to pull it off, character-wise.
But I don’t think so. I know I’ve read scenes where the hero and heroine (or the hero and hero) have to stop because they don’t have condoms, and the authors make them funny and sexy.
@Carrie G: I don’t think authors have to make every sex scene or even every book contain a PSA. They just have to think of it as one more routine act that needs to be infused, occasionally, with some imagination. I have faith that a lot of authors can manage that.
@Sunita: Thanks, Sunita! I think I’ve absorbed a certain French streak, from all that time in the culture, and I do get stopped sometimes in the publishing process from going over a line I’m no longer quite aware of. Hard to say–I was posting some hilarious condom-pushing boxes from Paris-gov’t sponsored contest on my FB site the other day and was a little worried I was going to offend people, I admit. (But seriously, you should see them!) I personally like the way the French can be so fundamentally irreverent, matter-of-fact, and romantic about things like this all at once.
What’s funny (non-haha) is that a great majority of the teen dramas I watched and some of the fiction I read in the 90s mentioned condoms and getting tested whenever a couple contemplated having sex. I specifically recall a scene on Dawson’s Creek where Pacey shows off his STD/HIV test to Andie after they had a brief discussion about getting physical, so since I grew up with these images in front of me, it’s kind of jarring to not see the protagonists in romance worry about safe sex.
OK, I can’t resist posting a link to the Paris-condom-campaign. It’s on my FB site down under Sunday’s posts, and I don’t know how to post a more direct link than that:
I’m not sure where the link to a non-FB site would be. Paris posted it on the city’s FB. This particular contest is fun (to me), but there was a perfectly ghastly campaign a few years ago with a condom playing the role of the moon (or maybe a setting sun) behind things like the Eiffel Tower and kissing couples. It was horrible, really. In fact, don’t look for those images, if you haven’t already seen them–you don’t want to remember Paris that way!
@Moriah Jovan: Yes, I agree. I don’t have a message I want to convey, just a story I want to tell. And sometimes that’s part of the story, and sometimes it isn’t.
Ebook cover art just isn’t as important to me as it is with “real” books. The cover doesn’t influence my purchases nearly as much (if at all). And, unlike a “real” book I don’t continually look at the cover while I’m reading.
That said, I want the cover art and really miss having them readily accessible on ebooks. A number of publishers don’t include them at all, and that irritates the bejeesus out of me. I want ALL of the artwork available on a paper book—the cover, the back, that inset thingy (whatever the term is for the “inside” cover), even the spine. I don’t like to read on my Fire, but I do like to check out the artwork, maps, and stuff that I can’t get/see on the regular Kindle. I’m really trying to limit the number of books I have in my house, but I sometimes buy a hard copy of a book I already own as an ebook just for the cover. Some books are just forever intrinsically linked with a specific cover image in my brain.
I also hate that ebooks typically start at chapter one. I like reading the acknowledgements, dedications, prologues, etc. Whenever I start a new book, I automatically go to the cover first and read on from there. I’ve tried to train my mother to do the same thing so she doesn’t miss out on important stuff at the beginning, but I had to give it up as a lost cause.
@Sunita: I am all for including safe sex in the romances when it makes sense for the story and the characters, I am also all for the authors actually going an extra mile and as you said put in one more routine act. I am however firmly against the inclusion of the condoms when it makes no sense for the plot. I hate for example when the couple is in the place where there is absolutely no way they could have condoms with them, they want to have sex and BOOM, here we go, condoms. I am not talking about established couple, I am talking for example two guys in mm going on the camping trip, trip somewhere in the wilderness, when they are still not having sex and *not planning* on having sex. And then they suddenly decide they just want so much and now. Putting aside the hilariousness of some of those plots, I do not want to see magically appearing condoms, because to me it does sound like PSA.
I guess it is all in the writing? I am mostly not disagreeing with you, I am just saying that if the plot makes it clear that there is no way they could not prepare, I would rather see them having unprotected sex, realizing later maybe it was a mistake.
I was at one time a sexual health counselor, and I hats reading contemporary romance when safe sex is not discussed and considered. For those who think that it takes you out of the story, the problem is that too many people have the same feeling about real life – that an honest and frank discussion about STDs and the use of a condom takes away from the romance of the moment. I think there is nothing less romantic than antibiotics resistant gonnorhea. Ugh. Talking honestly about risk and getting tested and using protection needs to be seen as romantic and not as a mood killer.
As to science, there is just no way that a person can promise to be disease free. First of all, HIV can take several months to detect, so they would need to have been tested twice and have had no partners in between. Also some stds are not routinely tested for, such as hpv and herpes.
I’d like to at least see acknowledgement of the risk, even if they don’t use protection.
I like to see discussions about all aspects of safe sex, in m/m there seems to be quite a bit of condom use for oral sex – or at least not swallowing (which may/may not have the effect of reducing the risk) and I’ve read a number of books where the couple m/f or m/m get tested and swap paperwork and I find it actually quite romantic – because the couple are taking care of each other in a practical way. Just because it’s practical doesn’t mean it cannot also be romantic. (reminds me of a true story about a teen couple I knew years ago – Girl: I’m cold. Guy: My love will keep you warm. Girl: I wanted your jacket).
In m/m I’ve read books where the couple get tested two or three times before giving up the condoms – which is what is supposed to happen (according to SavageLove anyways). Condom use doesn’t throw me out of a scene. Lack of protection or a proper discussion about it throws me out just the same way the misplaced hymen does actually.
I’m sure I’ve read a few m/m books where one of the heroes has had an STD as a result of carelessness or a cheating ex, and that usually means they are extra careful – which I also like.
The only type of books I don’t mind the absence of condoms or STD talk is in PNR/futuristic romances where it’s made clear that either vampires don’t get/give human diseases and pregnancy isn’t a risk or ones like the In Death series where birth control and disease control is managed via an injection or something and it’s therefore not a problem.
@Laura Florand – any chance you will post that scene on your website as an extra? I’m another who would love it.
I think a man buying and using condoms because he had unprotected sex before and doesn’t want to risk harming his new partner is incredibly romantic.
@Kaetrin: Hmm. I’ll have to think about it. With 5 revisions after that deletion, there’s a continuity issue now. (I compulsively revise, yes. Up until the last minute, and then I cringe because I can’t revise anymore and it’s all going out there.) In the first version there’s also a scene where she’s panicked and he slowly realizes it’s because she thinks he’s so irresistible (and stupid, as he puts it) that he’s slept with half of Paris. I thought it was funny and true to their situation at the time, but you know…I’m biased toward my own writing like that. :) Other readers thought it took them out of the romance. Anyway, so his gesture is a response to her worry, but all of that is gone and so far gone in my final version I don’t know if it even makes sense to people to see the first scenes.
In book 3 (not out yet, next summer), I have a character who has quite the past and tried something similar because it really made sense in his case, given his huge protective instinct and guilt complex, but it’s cut, too. :(
@Laura, I have a rant going on in my head on your behalf right now.
One last point and I’ll stop harping. ;-) Safety is wonderful. I get what people are saying, but romance books are NOT sex ed books. They also aren’t driver safety courses, or gun safety, or alcohol safety manuals. All of the above are also very real safety concerns for our teens, young people and older adults alike. But I don’t want to the driver of a vehicle to announce each time they get into the car “Everyone buckle up for safety!” and then discuss the stats on people killed in car accidents who don’t wear safety belts. Nor do I want to to read about the dangers of having guns around in every romantic suspense novel. Most readers are adults with enough sense to make their own decisions.
@ pamela–If someone in real life thinks talking about condoms is breaking the mood, I sincerely doubt that having read about it in a romance novel is going to suddenly change their minds.
I think it’s possible to read a romance novel without encountering guns, alcohol or cars- sometimes without encountering any of them. In most of them, however, you’re going to encounter sex. I think it’s unfortunate that writing about someone *using* a condom equates a story with a sex-ed book; I don’t think anyone here is suggesting that authors start incorporating the stats on STDs, the methods by which they are spread or even the general “why” you should use a condom into their stories. Just that, in the 21st century, knowing what we know, you should see that more often.
@Carrie G: If mentioning a condom turns a romance scene into a sex ed lecture, that’s the author being a shitty writer, not the condom being a buzzkill.
Condoms are part of sex with near-strangers. There’s no fantasy for me in banging someone I don’t know well without a condom. All that image conjures for me are warning bells. And to run with your romantic suspense example, I feel the same way about guns in novels. The cavalier way the characters tend to wave guns around drives me crazy. I’m not interested in reading about people who act with no regard for their safety or the safety of others.
Idiots abound in real life. Why would I want them in my fantasies?
@Carrie G: What you’re talking about would be really bad writing. It’s like saying “Romance novels aren’t history lessons! I don’t want historical facts in my Regency romance novels, because I don’t want the author to stop and give me infodumps about daily life in Regency England.” And we have some romance novels that have infodumps, some that work the information into the story in a way that doesn’t feel like a history lesson, and some that don’t bother to be historically accurate, and different readers feel differently about each kind of book. I don’t think infodumps tend to go over well, no matter the subject they cover.
Personally, I don’t need condom use (or other birth control) to be mentioned in every contemporary romance novel I read. I’ll probably imagine that safe sex is being practiced, unless the author makes it clear it isn’t – that’s when the lack of concern about STDs would throw me out of the story. I also tend to shake my head when authors make the effort to mention condom use in some instances, and then have the characters performing oral sex, with the scene making it clear that a condom isn’t being used and with no concern about STDs. It won’t necessarily make me automatically hate a story (in fact, I just finished an otherwise excellent novella with a scene like that), but it’s something I tend to notice, a blip that can take me out of the story for a moment.
My appreciation of condom use has nothing to do with sex ed and everything to do with being able to believe the hero/heroine aren’t TSTL. That phrase gets tossed around so much when the heroine does stupid things like leaving the house when she knows her life in danger, but I feel very similarly when no condom use is mentioned because it’s very much a safety issues. I want to read about smart characters, and smart characters use condoms.
@Angela James: This is where I am coming from as well. It worries me when the heroine or the hero has sex with a previously promiscuous character and then relies on the other protestations of being clean. The enjoyment of them as a couple is colored by this and I think less of the characters.
Amy Lane has an m/m where both protagonists are HIV+. It’s the third in her Promises series – don’t remember the exact title. Both men are positive when they meet, but the prologue covers how each of them became infected – one through lots of unsafe sex and the other through a broken condom. I enjoyed it – her Promises series tends to be angsty in the extreme, with after school special type problems piling on top of the characters at an alarming rate, but in that context, I thought she dealt with HIV+ characters in an engaging, non-preachy way.
If you read my posts you’d know I never said I didn’t want condoms mentioned in contemporary romance or that I equated them with the book then being a sex-ed manual. I simply said that I don’t think that “we should put condoms in every book because people in real life make bad choices, there are bad STDs out there, and we need to set an example” is a good reason to do so. Just my opinion. I don’t think we need to see romance books as a way to get the safe sex message out to the world.
Let face it, if you want to get the safe sex message out to the world through romance novel, then no romance character needs to be hooking up with a stranger to begin with. The characters are already TSTL if they do that, at least in real life. No giving a guy a blow job in the bathroom.
This is fantasy, not real life. Readers suspend disbelief about many things in order to enjoy romance novels. Again, I don’t mind condoms being used or talked about in romance novels, but it doesn’t bother me the couple decides to go bareback, either. If it bothers you, then great. Don’t read those books or give them a lower rating. That’s cool. I was just saying it doesn’t bother every reader.
I agree with you Carrie. I think it’s story dependent. If the story puts you firmly in day-to-day realities of a relationship, then yes, condoms and practicing safe would be a natural part of that scene. (But please authors – know what you talking about – saying “It’s OK, I’m on the pill” when the sexual history of one of the partners is unknown, is just plain stupid. (Unless it’s your intention for the character to be stupid.))
But if the story is a get-your-rocks-off fantasy, then that’s what I want. The fantasy. I don’t want to see people fiddling with little rubber johnnies and thinking about STDs. And I don’t want a lecture on safe sex for the sake of someone else’s education.
I have yet to see James Bond use a condom in either a book or movie. And how many partners has that guy had?
I agree with Deb, Ridley, Jane and Angela.
@Carrie – I also agree with you to the extent that I don’t want my romance novels to be sex ed books either. But I don’t think any of us here who likes to see safe sex being practiced on page would like that. I don’t equate use of condoms and/or an in-character discussion about sexual health to be a community service message or a sex ed lesson. Like Angela James said – it’s about the characters being smart in this modern world. If it’s not an issue for you that’s fine, but I don’t think suggesting that condom use in romance novels (necessarily) takes the romance out of it is accurate either.
I don’t object to condoms or discussions of safe sex in a contemporary romance novel, if it’s done in a way consistent with the characters and the tone of the story. But I don’t find it off-putting if it’s not there, either.
As has been pointed out upthread, there are a LOT of important issues related to “being smart in this modern world” that have seriously impacted real life people that I know a LOT more than condom use. Drinking and driving. Seat belts. Gun safety. For heaven’s sake, guarding your credit card numbers and Internet safety — I never have a week pass in the library when I don’t have to explain to some poor patron that no, that nice Nigerian widow isn’t going to give you a million dollars, and I will not help you send her your banking information.
But how often do we see those discussed in romance novels, despite the omnipresence of alcohol, automobiles, armaments, and electronics? I don’t need to hear about them any more than I need to know that the protagonists washed their hands after using the bathroom. For goodness sake, how many Romancelandia heroes are still SMOKING? That’s a far sight more dangerous than skipping the condom, for everyone involved!
I don’t mind if authors want to include such elements, as long as it works in the story. But honestly, this is not the battle I personally would choose.
@Carrie G, what you said was “I get what people are saying, but romance books are NOT sex ed books.” Perhaps my definition of a sex ed book is different from yours, but I don’t see how anything anyone suggested on this thread rose to the level of becoming a sex ed. book.
@hapax, yes, people still do things in fiction- romance or no- that we would consider unsafe. However, most modern characters don’t run around as if it’s still 1965 and drink at ten AM, smoke while they’re eating lunch and drive without their seat belts on. Honestly, if people eat something “unhealthy” it’s more likely to be addressed. Why? Because it reflects what we know as citizens of the 21st century.
To the argument that this is a reflection of real life and not everyone practices safe sex, yes, that’s true. But unless we’re really pure fantasy and are taking readers into a world where no one gets an STD ever, I think it’s bad writing not to address the issue, even if it’s as an implicit statement about a character. Finally, if those consequences didn’t exist but others did, that would take me out of a story much more so than someone reaching for a condom.
@hapax: What does “H’h’hr’m” mean? I’ve not seen that before. I’m thinking maybe it signifies clearing the throat??
@Kaetrin — I suppose it sounds rather like clearing the throat, yes.
It’s a noise I always associate with my genteel Southern grandmother. It would always be followed by, “Well, let me just say this about that…” After politely acknowledging my point of view, she would then proceed to utterly reject my opinions, my taste, my intellect, and quite possibly my moral character.
Which is quite a bit of freight to be carried by a simple gargle!
Me, I use it more to indicate “I see what you’re saying, but I still disagree with you.”
@hapax: oh well, if everybody agreed with each other, life would be boring. Thx for the explanation :)