Wednesday, February 06, 2008

We're All Going to Hell Anyway

Soeur Saint-Alphonse,
Antoine Plamondon,
oil on canvas, 1841,
National Gallery of Canada.

It's not considered politically correct to have a smoker as a Main Character in romance novels these days.

Neither is it PC -- unless it's a secret baby plot -- for MCs to have unprotected sex.

I've read earnest discussions about the tasteful insertion of condoms in sex scenes, and how the writer should demonstrate a social conscience by mentioning the use thereof specifically.

Writers are obligated to think of the children.

To set an example.To encourage responsible sex.

The cigar must be sheathed when lit up.

Some readers have declared they shun books where one or both of these social health details are not observed by impenitent, careless writers -- who should be forced wash out their irresponsible mouths with soap.

Yet the same readers have no problem with a description of oral sex as a pretty standard preliminary in the Best Sex Evah scene.


The thrust of a Feb 1 article from AP revealed that HPV -- the same sexually transmitted virus that causes cervical cancer -- is becoming a main cause of oral cancer among men.

This rise is attributed partly to a decline in smoking and partly to an increase in oral sex.

Dear me, she said, with her tongue firmly in her cheek, have romance writers encouraged this increase?

Social mores and social morals are such tricky things.


StarvingWriteNow said...

Romance writers never get a break, do they?

writtenwyrdd said...

I think this is an hilarious observation, Bernita. I have no intention to ever mention the use of condoms in my sex scenes any more than I would mention wiping one's bottom after using the toilet.

Having lived in San Francisco during the 90s I have read enough articles and heard enough discussion of dental dam use and condoms for oral sex that it was in my background thinking, and I never intended to mention their use in oral sex, either. Let's just take out all the romance, shall we?

Fiction. It's. Just. Fiction. *eye roll*

ChristineEldin said...

Oh my!

I saw a scene (I believe it was on "Sex and the City") where a man was going to give a woman oral sex. (wait. I'm thinking maybe it was a movie?)
Anyway, he went to the kitchen and got a piece of saran wrap.
At this point, I'm glued to the scene. I've never seen this before.
So he puts the saran wrap as a, well, barrier between his tongue and her vagina.
Maybe I *need* to read more romance so I can be up with the times.

Bernita said...

I think it's one thing to reflect social norms and values, Write Now, and quite another to be an evangelist for them.

"I have no intention to ever mention the use of condoms in my sex scenes any more than I would mention wiping one's bottom after using the toilet"
My attitude/approach also, Written.

As far as I'm concerned, Chris, that rather destroys the passion and the romance, as Written mentioned.

Sam said...

I think it's a question of personal opinion in this case. Some writers would never dream of introducing a condom to their tale, but I think it adds veracity to a modern story.
As for smoking, I wouldn't encourage it for anyone, so I don't think any of my main heros or heroines will be lighting up any time soon. Fiction is fiction - yes - but my writing teacher always told me, 'to thine own self be true!'

Jaye Wells said...

I had a crit partner yell at me for not including a condom in a sex scene between vampires. Umm, really? Cause when you're immortal, the Clap is a huge concern.

Bernita said...

Veracity is a funny thing, Sam.
Some characters in some occupations are likely to be smokers, for example.
What I find funny is a story where none of the minor characters smoke or when smoking becomes purely a villian's characteristic.

Now that's what I would call a purely PC motivation that disregards common sense and context.
They say "trust the reader," Jaye, but sometimes, really...

Robyn said...

AIEE. Again with the "he ripped open the shiny foil packet with his teeth" routine, eh?

To me, this falls under the fantasy umbrella- the one where partners can go at it first thing in the morning for an hour before eating a leisurely breakfast, then heading off to jobs they remarkably still have. No mention, of course, of having dragon breath, needing to pee, or generally looking like Lon Chaney.

Unless a plot point tells me otherwise, I'm going to assume the appropriate precautions were taken.

SzélsőFa said...

Or, as MY kids so delicately noticed: there are not any scenes involving the main character using the toilet. Will this make people stop going pee and poo? Thousands of young readers will surely die if they follow the steps of Harry Potter for example. He never goes to the toilet.

Ric said...

The cigar must be sheathed when lit up.

that's funny.

Glad to see we're discussing sex again.

Politically correct has just gotten stupid. However, I do recall in polite society when the use of curse words would cause people to stare, glare and then walk briskly away from the offender. It's just a different time.

But the idea of promoting safe sex in a romance novel is weird and not something I want to see.

Ric said...

The cigar must be sheathed when lit up.

that's funny

BernardL said...

If we could get the print media to quit delving into fiction writing, maybe the fiction writer’s wouldn’t get blamed for the moral decay of society. :)

Dave F. said...

It's just foolish self-censorship.

She opened the door. The mournful wail of a saxophone spilled into the hallway. Her blond hair cascaded over bare shoulders and surrounded her apple-like breasts. She took the cigarette from between her full, red lips with two fingers and blew smoke in my face.
"What's your problem, sailor. You never seen bare breasts before?"

in certain worlds they want that particular sentence to read: "She took the cancer-stick from her lips revealing brown-stained teeth and breath like the downwind of a compost heap on fire."

And they say romance is dead.

Seriously, the dental damns, saran wraps and condoms are leftovers of the anti-AIDS campaigns. I'm not sure that every novel requires a primer on safe sex but at least it needs to pay lip service (no pun intended) to safe sex and sexually transmitted disease.

Gabriele C. said...

Condoms throw me out of a sex scene most of the time. Geez people, this is fiction, not a Health Manifesto.

I Don't like to read about oral sex, but that's my personal taste and I won't blame authors for writing it. I do blame them for caving to poiitcs, though - something that only happens in Romance.

Or we should forbid Crime Writers to write about serial killers as well. They set such a bad example.

Angie said...

LOL! I think it depends how you write it. I agree that it doesn't have to be pounded in with a hammer, but it can be written in such a way as to add a sense of urgency, or humor, or even sexiness -- it's up to the writer.

And one of my favorite romances -- Bad Case of Loving You by Laney Cairo -- is about a doctor and a med student. They use condoms for oral sex when they first get together, and I got a grin out of the med student's momentary memory of the micro unit he did and how all med students used condoms for oral sex after that. Heh.

Smoking is one of those things that's just a matter of taste. I personally think it's a pretty disgusting habit, so I've never written anyone who smokes. If I ever write a setting or a type of character where they pretty much had to smoke or lose all credibility, then I'll do it, but it hasn't happened yet. It's not a matter of being PC -- to me, it's just like any other kink I'm not into and don't write unless the story really demands it.


sex scenes at starbucks said...

"The cigar must be sheathed when lit up."


Fortunately my characters are immortal and not susceptible to such mundane things like STDs.

I do have a smoker and damn it, he's still a smoker. When the agent sees that, though, she may not like it since she keeps trying to get me to make it YA.

Billy said...

Yes, very strange that the same readers have no trouble with scenes of oral sex. Confusing indeed.

Wavemancali said...

You'd better keep that tongue firmly in cheek, apparently it's just not safe anywhere else.

raine said...

This rise is attributed partly to a decline in smoking and partly to an increase in oral sex.

So the guys are finally catching on, eh? :-D

About half of my heroes smoke. I'm not writing reality. They live in a universe where there's no such thing as cancerous consequences (unless I choose, because I created it), and where people are free to make their own choices.

I have yet to have a sex scene with condoms. I may, if an editor demands it, or it suits the needs of the plot.
Otherwise...puh-leeze, people. It's a FANTASY. Things happen there that don't happen in real life. Like women always being hot and ready for sex, or guys going for hours without wilting.

Great post, Bernita!

The Anti-Wife said...

Sheeesh! How did we all survive so long without the moral police telling us what to do?

Bernita said...

"Unless a plot point tells me otherwise, I'm going to assume the appropriate precautions were taken" - exactly, Robyn.

Right, Szelsofa.
If readers are misled by fantasy about sex because of romance novels, as per Robyn's examples, I think they have problems that no amount of carefully inserted advice is going to cure.

Maybe I'm prejudiced, Ric. I don't think condoms are romantic.

A very good point, Bernard. There's a cause and effect presumption.

If anything,Dave, these "safe sex" scenes promote the erroneous idea that the condom is an absolute protection against infection, which, because of the oral sex inclusion, it certainly isn't.

Yes. Not to often do we hear that to describe crime is to promote imitation in the same degree, Gabriele.

You're right, Angie. Anything the story doesn't require can safely be left out.

SS,funny how even in YA, kids can do all sorts of things, some of them quite reprehensible, but should they actually light up an ordinary cigarette, the hands beging to wring.

Every issue pursued to extreme has contradictions, Billy.

You got it, Wavemancali!

Thank you, Raine.
I agree. It's fantasy, and as Gabriele said,not a Manual.

We don't have to listen, AW!

Ello said...

THat's too funny! I mean not about the oral sex and cancer linkage - although there is something morbidly funny about that also. But that readers will get morally hung up over fiction. You know I get disgusted when I see people walk out of restrooms without washing their hands, but you know I don't need to hear from the writer that the charactrs are washing their hands. Please don't take me out of the reading mood!

Charles Gramlich said...

Much would be easier if folks just recognized the difference between fiction and reality. It's not really that hard.

Chumplet said...

Okay, that just cracks me up.

December/Stacia said...

See, I feel the same way. I loathe that PC crap. I totally dig smokers.

But I admit, in Unholy Ghosts I wrote a condom scene. Well, not a scene, just a brief mention of the heroine hearing foil tear before the hero, ah, gets back in bed. Mainly because it's such a gritty yucky world I thought if I didn't mention it, it would automatically make the characters stupid. I seriously considered making AIDS an eradicated disease in that world, but figured that would require too much explanation. Although I might add it later (if I get to).

I see this discussed a lot on romance writers' boards, though, and the suggestion is always made that you can "turn it into sexy foreplay" or whatever. Which, they have GOT to be crazy if they find anything sexy about condoms. They're about as sexy as--to use your great analogy--used toilet paper. If they have to be in there, just skim over it so I don't have to focus on it. The hubs and I have used them in the past (like after the girls were born when I was nursing), and if he'd suggested I put it on him because that would be sexy I would have laughed at him. And wondered what other wierdo tastes he was hiding from me.

Sheesh, I've practically written my own post here, haven't I? Sorry. :-) This is a Big Issue for me.

Amie Stuart said... kidding!!!

i assume if i mention condoms once, that the reader will know my characters are responsible.

Chris...I've heard that saran wrap is actually pretty hot.

How in the WORLD can HPV be connected to a DECLINE in smoking? I'd also be interested to know the age range this is most rampant in. I hear oral is the big thing amongst the teen crowd (since it's not *really* sex, ya know)

Bernita said...

Ello,I was thinking about the washing of hands bit, too!

True dat, Charles.


No problem, December.
I love the smell of pipe tobacco.

Bernita said...

Amie, it's a relative statistic.
I assume smoking used to be one of the major causes of oral cancers.
With its decrease, other causes become prominent.
I've heard that too.

Scott from Oregon said...

Pardon my gross over generalization, but I always assumed readers of romance weren't getting any and therefore were not at risk for infection and therefore who really needs them to remember the condom?

Lana Gramlich said...

Forgive my ignorance, but what's an MC (besides the people who make announcements at events & rap)?

spyscribbler said...

Let me tell you, when I'm reading a sex scene, I don't want to break out of the fantasy to fumble with a ... um, sheath, and I sure as heck don't need a sex lesson.

That's just silly.

Bernita said...

A common misconception, Scott.

Lana, short for Main Character.

Considering the demographic for romance readers, Natasha, I think it is too.

Lisa said...

With all due respect to romance writers and readers everywhere, I find this pretty hysterical. I don't read it or write it, so I've never given it any thought. I'm kind of laughing because a great deal of my current project is set in the 80's and EVERYBODY smokes and nobody has protected sex. Ah, the good old days :)

moonrat said...


SOOO many things to think about here.

Bernita said...

Eh, Lisa! Hope you will not be afflicted with a chorus of Oh Noes!

Good intentions, MoonDear.

Savannah Jordan said...

Me thinks society doth protest too much.

His passion flared along every vein. His want blinded him to anything but her. Then, her lips on his ear, she spoke those most romantic words, "Honey, get the rubbers." BLAH!

Demon Hunter said...

I feel it's the writer's discretion. Fiction shouldn't make people do things they wouldn't normally do.

As for kids, it's up to the parents to discuss sex with them. I read romance when I was in middle school and I didn't run out and have unprotected sex, or any sex at all. :*) At that age, I knew that it was just fiction...

Bernita said...

Tactics of The Trojan War, Savannah!

"I feel it's the writer's discretion."
I do too, my Demon.

Lana Gramlich said...

OHHHhhhHHHhhh. That clears things up nicely! Thanks.

writtenwyrdd said...

Hey, Bernita, I discovered I'm either a liar or a hypocrite! Lookie what I just found in the smutty vampire novella:

"She's out of her mind drunk, Jake. I can't leave her to a vampire like that. I may not be familiar with the rules of etiquette around these guys, but I am familiar with date safety. And girlfriends do not let girlfriends have drunken, indiscriminate, and especially unprotected sex in bar restrooms. And that goes double for biting."

So now I have to figure out if I should take the mention out or not!!

Suzanne Perazzini said...

Spyscribbler, I agree wholeheartedly. I don't need a sex lesson while reading fiction. No mention of toilet paper then no mention of condoms either. I'd rather my characters didn't have sex than have to stop my writing flow to stick on a condom.


Bernita said...

Of course not, Written. And you're neither.
That's a likely comment by the character.
Much different than interrupting a hawt scene for no other purpose than to be "responsible."

Suzanne, I agree.
It can become officious.

kmfrontain said...

To be perfectly blunt, I'll reject a story if an author refuses to apply proper logic to the topic of sex and sexually transmitted diseases if the story is set in the modern world. There's sexual fantasy, and then there's stupid. I don't want to read about stupid characters if the story is being passed off to me as something other than a story about stupid characters. There's nothing sexy about them. All I need, if the characters are smart and likely to use condoms, is a minor mention that shows safe sex is practiced. I don't need details.

Bernita said...

Thank you, Karen.
"I don't need details"

Written's excerpt was an excellent example of how safe sex awareness can be neatly included, I thought.

Sometimes what we see is a case of straining at a gnat and swallowing

kmfrontain said...

*chortle* Oh, pity the person what swallows a camel.

It's as easy as saying, in the bar scene before the bedroom scene, "You got the condoms?"

I had an author pull her male character back long enough to get a condom on before continuing with the sex act, and she did a darned good job making him stay sexy during it while being matter-of-fact. And he seemed really sweet because of it too. Sweet guys who care what happens to a girl can be very sexy.

writtenwyrdd said...

Good point, Bernita. I shall leave it in. Sex was indeed going on but this wasn't a sex scene. I was getting my knickers in a twist over nuthin agin...

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