Stay RIGHT HERE on top of the desk, babe–I’ll be back


To protect, or not to protect, that is the question. Are our books fantasy, or reality? Must they always use a condom, and must we say so? And if they use a condom, where does it come from? There’s just not always a condom handy. Personally, I’ve always had trouble with heroes who are carrying them around in their wallet. Tends to come off as if he’s a man ho. And what if he doesn’t even have his wallet handy? In close quarters stories, the hero and heroine may be snowbound or otherwise confined together for days and they aren’t carrying their purse and wallet into every room in the house. Do they say hold on, break the spontaneity, and rush off to find the condom? The awkward possibilities in achieving condom are endless. Can you completely ignore the condom? We know they go to the bathroom and we don’t (ordinarily) describe that, so can’t we also assume they’ve achieved condom? In reunion stories where the hero and heroine know each other and have even slept together in the past, it’s much easier to get away with ignoring the condom since they aren’t going to be worried about disease–you can always give them a baby in the epilogue. But when they don’t know each other well, what then? To condom, or not to condom?

What do you think?


  1. Jorie says:

    Well, I’m going to admit that if no condom is mentioned, even obliquely I usually (though not always, just to make it complicated) end up wondering about safe sex. This in turn leads me to think the hero and heroine are irresponsible which isn’t really what I want to be thinking at this point in the story.

    But I know other readers don’t necessarily need this to be addressed.

  2. Michelle says:

    This is why I write historicals. :mrgreen: In medieval times, they didn’t worry about it. Of course, they also died at age thirty…

  3. Rene says:

    I don’t care if there is a condom or not. Like you said, its a fantasy. In my fantasy world, STD’s don’t exist. But the AIDS fear didn’t hit until I was in college and already well-enmeshed in romance. I suppose younger readers would be more observant of such an ommission. If so, that’s good.

    I did write one where they used a condom the first few times (It was a pathetic attempt at a Blaze, so they did it alot). It was kind of sexy. And he never had it in his wallet.

    I guess that’s why I like writing about vampires: no disease and they can’t knock you up.

  4. Suzanne says:

    Michelle, that’s one of the things I liked about doing historicals! You never had to think about the condom!!!

  5. Mary Stella says:

    If the couple doesn’t use a condom, then I like it when they at least address the concern without belaboring it. She’s on the pill, they’ve both been careful with previous partners, etc. In my books, my feeling was that the guys were hot for the heroines and believed in preparing for what they hoped would be the eventuality!
    I’ve read several books where the whole condom issue was intentionally hilarious. In Linda Howard’s Open Season, the now-30-year-old Daisy decides to stop being a ‘good girl’ and prepares herself. The ultra-hot, macho police chief snags her in the pharmacy trying to decide which of the many boxes and types of condoms she should buy. In a fluster, she grabs the “party-pack”. A few chapters later, when their relationship heats up, there’s a laugh out loud part over the different colors of condoms.

    I just thought of two other memorable ‘condom scenarios’ and, what do you know, they were also written by Linda Howard!

  6. Jill says:

    I just want the scene to feel real, including the awkwardness of wondering about a condom. If it’s not mentioned at all though, without even a hint of worry, it does bring me out of the story.

  7. Suzanne says:

    Those sounds like fun examples, Mary! I think one of the reasons I’ve had more trouble addressing this issue lately is the type of stories I’m writing are dangerous, on-the-run stories. It’s the nature of on-the-run stories that there’s no time to prepare! 😮

  8. Mary says:

    I like fiction because the reader can escape–the non-condom thing doesn’t bother me.

  9. Kelly says:

    This is a tough one, Suzanne! I can read a romance and have the characters make love without a condem, but in the back of my head I’m waiting for one of the adults to bring it up that they neglected one. I rarely refer to myself as generation X, but that’s the generation we were referred to in high school and safe sex was/is always taught in health ed, on TV, everywhere, that it’s hard for me as a reader and writer to not have it mentioned or discussed, or thought about the possibility of transmitting potential disease or pregnancy. You probably weren’t expecting this long answer! LOL! Sorry! But a good question to have us think about–thanks!

  10. Alyssa says:

    I’m with Jorie. I like a mention of it at least, or I start wondering. But the characters don’t have to make a big production out of it. In part 1 of Remember When, Nora Roberts (who doesn’t usually have condoms on her love scenes) mentioned that the heroine brought condoms with her to Max’s hotel room. That was enough of a mention for me.


  11. Cheyenne McCray says:

    I think that (unfortunately) in contemporary they’re needed. However, I’ll sometimes let them get away with just birth control and saying they’re vetted. Get it out of the way and on with the show. In paranormals, it’s different because you can create characters who can control whether or not they impregnate a woman, and if in another world, “what? What’s an STD?” LOL. In Forbidden Magic, the witch’s magic protects her from pregnancy or anything else. How convenient, eh? 😀

  12. Jorie says:

    Yeah, on the run, makes it a bit more tricky, although as a reader it also makes me more forgiving about the whole issue. If it’s slice of life contemporary romance and there’s a drugstore at every corner, I find it hard to imagine a heroic hero and a clever heroine who totally forget about safe sex/pregnancy. But if they’re stuck in the jungle and adrenaline’s pumping and life might end, well, I can work with the going for the moment angle.

  13. Beth C says:

    Tough one, Suzanne. I write both contemporary and historical. I must admit, with the historicals, it’s a pleasure not to have to address the condom issue. Cotemporaries are a pain. Rather it’s a shame that we even NEED to address condoms. How unromantic. It’s not even about birth control, but safe sex. *Sigh* That said, as a reader and writer I like to see this handled in a very brief/subtle way, or with humor.

  14. Olga says:

    Indeed, it’s a tough one! I like to raise up the heat to that very moment, but then tend to use closed doors, so I shy away from the issue. To further shy away here, I received my contest prize, Suzanne, thank you so much!

  15. Suzanne says:

    Jorie, yes, I’ve used the “we’re about to die anyway” scenario before! That one can work, especially if it’s a reunion story (or they’re actually married but broken up) because there isn’t a disease question then. Or even worried about a baby, LOL, if they think they’re going to die. One thing I do write is a baby at the end in that case, since they live, and that’s a result of unprotected sex. I also have them address it after the scene that, ack, look what we did.

    Chey, I need some of that magic!!

    Kelly, I do think the generation makes a difference. My editors used to not say anything when years ago in some of my earlier books, I didn’t mention it. I let it just be assumed. In the past few years, I’ve found editors now do want it mentioned (whether they have condoms available or not–bring the subject up so you know they aren’t being irresponsible and forgetting about it), thus my constant need now to figure out how to handle it without losing the spontaneity.

    Finally figured out how to handle the scene I’m working on today. For spontaneity, they get…er….started on some other “things” –I didn’t want to break the intensity of that moment –then move on to the bedroom where it makes sense he’d have condoms handy. The scene actually came out more creative and fun this way, so I’m happy with it. Whew.

  16. Kate R says:

    My editor told to add BC to my gaslight historicals — I guess it depends on the publisher and how far back in history you’re aiming.

  17. Kate PS says:

    LOVE the title of this entry. Love, love, love it — so much so that I’d wait. hmmmmyah, baybee.

  18. Crystal* says:

    A small confession first. Back when I was recently divorced, I carried condoms in my purse. Three children in three years. I was done procreating.
    I simply look at the carrying of condoms as the way to look out for oneself. Did I use them all? No, dammit. But I used some. 😈
    And it’s a good thing I had them because the guys didn’t.
    It IS more the contemporaries that deal with such subject matter. And the straight romance erotica.
    On another note: Condoms and STD’s are a way of life.
    When middle girl and I talk about sex, she has already told me she will have her boyfriend/husband tested. She’s 10.
    She’s thinking ahead. And I’m grateful.

  19. Charlene says:

    Oooh, a topic guaranteed to make me froth at the mouth! I hate condoms in romance novels. It’s not a back-door ad for Trojan, it’s not a public service announcement, it’s escape! Mostly I hate it with a blinding passion because it brings the action to a screeching halt. It’s not organic to the story. All of a sudden the characters turn, face the camera, and read off the card, “We practise safe sex, and you should, too.” Horrible thing to do to a love scene!

    The Linda Howard scenes mentioned above actually make it part of the story, I’ve read ’em. But very, very few read like it actually belongs there.

  20. Gina says:

    This is something I’ve often wondered about myself with my own writing. Stopping to find the condom breaks the mood, and then you have the awkward moment. If you don’t have one though, it makes the couple look irresponsible. Since I also write gay erotica, this problem seems to also pop up, and with even more concern because of the concern of AIDS and gay sex. Unless the couple is already established, a mention of a condom is more than likely necessary regardless of the writer’s desire of the fantasy world.

  21. Emily says:

    I think it’s totally creepy when the characters DON’T use condoms. If they’re going at it – wham-bam – without mentioning it, I lose respect for the characters.

    Well, I’m okay with not using it as long as there’s a discussion afterwards (“What in the he!! were we thinking?”)

    That said, I just need it to be mentioned the first time. After than I assume they use BC every time.

  22. Amy K. says:

    Well, sounds like you’ve had an interesting day, Suzanne. *G* I have to admit, if a condom isn’t mentioned, I wonder about it. But it doesn’t ruin the story or the characters for me.

  23. Crystal* says:

    Isn’t there an erotica publisher that demands condoms be used? For some reason, I think there is.

  24. mary beth says:

    To condom or not to condom:
    It doesn’t matter to me either way usually. But I do understand why others do care.

  25. Jordan says:

    I personally can ignore the condom use because I know it’s make believe, not reality. It’s one of the reasons I prefer to read historicals over contemporaries.

  26. Lynn says:

    I’m personally not bothered if there’s no condom mention in the books I read.

    I haven’t used one in so long, it’s actually kind of hard for me to remember to write them in! In one story, I used it as comic relief (the hero fell off the bed when reaching for the nightstand), and I’ve been struggling with how to add it to my current WIP. I’m thinking that since my heroine didn’t notice the hero removing her panties, maybe she won’t notice him rolling on a condom… :fryingpan:

  27. ruby55 says:

    The real reason I’d advocate mention of condoms (or even abstention :grin:) is that there are too many young girls out there getting pregnant. My niece had a baby when she had just turned 16 and the father was only 15. My sister looked into the whole teen pregnancy issue and was “horrified” to discover how many of them there are. My niece elected to keep her child, a beautiful little boy who is now 3 years old. I wouldn’t say that the permissiveness was learned from books. It’s the whole sexuality of ads and society as a whole and this is reflected in the books. I remember starting to read romances when I was 12 or 13 but at that time, the couple didn’t make love until they were actually married. If they did, it wasn’t mentioned. (So you can probably tell how old I am.) My niece is trying to further her education: she’s learning to be a photo-journalist but she realizes that a child does hamper her. She can’t go out at night the way the other students can to take pictures because someone has to stay with her son. I don’t think she’ll ever regret having Seth but it’s not easy. If there is no mention of a condom, young people just won’t learn responsibility. This is why I always wonder when no condom is mentioned. Sure, it’s fantasy and escapist books aren’t educational, but I think people can learn to control themselves or not let themselves get into a situation that will lead to sex. Of course, I’m probably in a minority here. I don’t mind reading sex scenes or I wouldn’t be reading modern-day romances. I say modern-day rather than contemporary advisedly. What was the norm say 30 years ago has changed considerably. Just standing at a checkoout and reading which star is now pregnant without benefit of marriage is an education in itself. I think many have lost the ability to act responsibly and there are not enough books around to show the other side. This subject has been dear to my heart. However, as I said, it’s our culture as a whole, not just romances, that is the culprit. Everyone says if it feels good, it must be right. Is it really?:???:

  28. Anna Lucia says:

    Actually, absence of condom brings the love scene screeching to a halt for me. Horrible.

    And sometimes “I’m on the pill and we’re both clean” is actually worse for me. Like, what – we’re good people so we can’t get STDs? Um. It doesn’t work like that, people. :thumbsdown:

    If they’re on the run, and not carrying (:twisted:) then I prefer it if they, er, pursue alternative methods of satisfaction until they can hit civilsation again… I don’t know why, but I feel the urge to put the bouncing banana in here… :bananadance:

    It’s not about giving a health education lesson, it’s about our characters being heroic. We’re writing about modern, responsible, caring people. They’re out there saving the world – shouldn’t they be protecting each other, too?