February 17th, 2011

In Praise of Protection

In the United States, we are currently in the middle of National Condom Week, which is recognized in the U.S. during the week of Valentine’s Day (February is National Condom Month). Thus it seemed an appropriate time to post my ode to this rubber entity I love and appreciate so much.

Several weeks ago the beautiful and inspiring Nikki Magennis initiated a series of posts honoring the condom on her blog. I deeply appreciated the sentiment and much enjoyed reading the lovely pieces, many of which were fiction flashers, she offered on the topic. (In fact, she has now created an entire blog devoted to the loveliness of the condom—check out Rubber Soul!)

In one of Nikki’s posts, she linked to this piece, in which three authors discuss their respective perspectives about including the mention of condom usage in the fiction they write. The piece is specifically about M/M romance, but I myself frankly don’t see distinctions either among which populations it is more appropriate to use condoms or in which genres their use is appropriately included/displayed—to me condom usage seems appropriate across the board in partnered sex unless the partners are fluid-bonded (which means they consciously exchange bodily liquids, have been STI/STD-tested, and practice safer sex with partners other than each other)*—so I read it as a general post about condom usage/mentions in fiction.

In the comments, I saw a number of assertions of something I have heard before (in regard to both erotic fiction and pornography of other media): These are “fantasies,” so the realism of condom usage is not necessary and/or desired and may even seem misplaced.

I feel very differently about this. The first thing that strikes me, I think, is that I don’t feel I write erotica just to write “fantasy” (this may be different in the romance genre, to which the aforementioned article appeared to be more related). I write it because sex interests me, and its inclusion in life is what I want to reflect in my writing—the ways sex enlightens, challenges, connects us, the plethora of sensations and emotions we feel around it, how it shows us things about ourselves, others, society. For me, the idea that I’m writing an “escape” and thus should not or would not want to include real-life concerns in what I’m writing does not resonate. In fact, in my case it feels more accurate to say the opposite would be true.

As I mentioned in the interview Ashley Lister did with me for the Erotica Readers and Writers Association, I have been carrying condoms in my purse since I started having sex. Rarely am I anywhere without them. This has of course been quite deliberate, and I have made use of condoms I’m carrying with me numerous times. Often the characters I’ve written have adopted this trait as well, and as I mentioned in the interview, while some readers may find this unrealistic or “too” convenient, the first part of this paragraph may show why I do not.

It thus seems odd to me to not include this aspect of sexuality in what I write. I am, as I mentioned, aiming to write about the integral nature of sexuality in life, and to me condoms are a significant part of that. Since I myself have never found condoms a “mood-killer” or any such thing, I have not aimed to portray them as such in what I’ve written (which is not to say one would never interpret them as such—I have no control, of course, over how my work is interpreted). Rather, I have mentioned them generally the same way I have experienced them in my life—matter-of-factly, as a requisite and understood aspect of sex. I myself have often found condoms sexy: they offer a protection I appreciate indescribably, and they tend to represent that I will soon be, well, having sex. :)

Also on the aforementioned post, I saw comments such as this one, from someone who posted as Tam:

Don’t expect me to care about “real” characters who only act like “real” people when it’s convenient and I have to ignore everything else. If I’m sitting there thinking “what kind of idiot has bareback alley sex with a stranger” I’m not thinking “that was really well written and wow, that was a funny line and I loved the description of the garbage bin.”

I will admit I feel relieved to see comments like this, not because of a vested interest in regard to my own writing or because I want readers to agree with me, but rather because I have sometimes felt there has been an underlying idea permeating society that condoms somehow “aren’t sexy” and aren’t really important or desired or used in real sexual interaction. I find that very disturbing, and probably in large part given my history as a reproductive rights and health activist, I have tended to place a lot of importance on the open acknowledgement and embrace of condoms as an essential and desirable component of modern sexual landscape. It is because I feel no desire to contribute to the perpetuation of the idea that condoms are “un-sexy” or “kill the mood” or somehow decrease the quality of sex in any of the depictions of sex I offer (including in video porn), as well as due to the simple reality I have experienced of the connection between condoms and partnered sex that leaving out the mention of them when writing erotic fiction feels jarring and inappropriate to me.

That all being said, none of this is to say anyone or everyone else, writer or reader, should feel the same way I do. I am simply stating my perception and experience of condom use in life and fictitious portrayal and why I have made the invariably deliberate references to condoms in my writing that I have. On the subject of fiction, incidentally, I will say that applying a rule (from a publisher, for example) that characters must use condoms does not seem appealing to me. Characters are characters; they do what they do. To state what a character in fiction must do before the character has even been born or created (even by the author) seems dubious and intrusive to me. It is not that I support any installation of such a rule; rather, I am stating why I personally find it called for to include condom use and the reference to it in sexually explicit fiction and why I have chosen to do so (as well as why I find condoms sexy!).

Happy belated Valentine’s Day, and happy National Condom Week and Month!


*For example, Ryan Field says in the piece about one of his written works: “Both main characters are in love, monogamous, and living happily as any other married straight couple. They’ve both been tested for HIV and both were negative. So it would be pointless for them to continue using condoms as a couple. I don’t know any straight married couples who use condoms, so why should gay couples be any different?” I completely agree with this. He indicates that he still received reader feedback disapproving of the lack of condom usage, which does not make sense to me at all. When such aspects as monogamy and STI/STD testing have been addressed and established, then just as in life, condoms no longer seem an issue to me.

“Hey yeah, welcome to the real world, nobody told you it was gonna be hard…”
-Rob Thomas “Real World ’09”

7 Responses “In Praise of Protection”

  1. Excellent post, Em.

    People who feel that condoms cannot be sexy, or that they hurt the flow of an erotic scene, are missing so many truths, and you have expressed them well.

    Condoms can be incredibly sexy, as well as express caring between partners. I enjoy exploring this in some of my stories. Even fantasy must take root in reality to be plausible, and condoms are an important part of reality now.

  2. As always, an eloquent, moving and important message. I agree there should be no rules for every writer, but I personally make it a rule for new and/or casual partners to use condoms. I also aim to create realistic characters and realistic situations for them to express themselves sexually. And like Tam, a writer totally loses me when an apparently “real” character suddenly gives up all common sense for a quickie in an alley with someone they just met at the bus stop.

    And it is sad what carrying condoms represents for so many people. You mean a “decent” person would plan ahead to have sex? Don’t women have to be “carried away” by a man’s desire and show no evidence of independent sexual interest? Well, I could go on, but I’ll end by saying, that yes, condoms are sexy because they express caring for the health of our partner and ourselves and they are ultimately far more respectable than someone who pretends sex and its consequences don’t exist.

  3. Emerald says:

    Hi Craig!

    Thanks very much for your comment. I so agree that the caring condoms express between partners is sexy—it really seems to me far sexier than the ignorance or arrogance that failing or refusing to use them may be indicating.

    Thank you for coming by! Xoxo

  4. Emerald says:

    “And it is sad what carrying condoms represents for so many people.”

    Ah, Donna, a very good point. It reminds me that there has been legislation proposed in New York state that would make possession of condoms on a person evidence of prostitution. I find this infuriating in what seems like innumerable ways—as a sex worker rights activist, one of those ways is that it discourages working whores from carrying condoms…which really could hardly seem more outrageous (as well as mind-bogglingly counterproductive) to me. Then of course there is the commentary on those who aren’t working as prostitutes—like myself, for example. Um, is there some reason you think I might not want to carry condoms with me whether I’m getting paid to have sex or not? Incidentally, notice the law might discourage those who aren’t working as whores from carrying condoms as well! GRRRR. It’s one of the most @#$%ed up legislative proposals I may have ever heard of.

    Ahem…anyway, thanks so much for your comment. :) (It is probably needless to say that I agree entirely with what you said.) It’s lovely to see you, and thanks so much for coming by! Xoxo


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