Fantasy versus Reality – The Condom.
Yes, yes I went there. This is an interesting debate that makes the rounds every few months and opinions change frequently within those few months.
In the m/m romance (which almost universally means m/m erotic romance) land there is always a ton of talk about condoms. What’s funny is that the condom debate in m/f romance sometimes happens but most readers aren’t as picky as m/m readers seem to be.
So what about it?
Some readers seem to draw the line at fantasy versus reality when it comes to condoms and almost always insist that condoms be used. It’s safety and in this day and age of safe sex slogans, it’s also somewhat looked upon as a responsibility.
In fact condom usage is so prevalent in m/m romance books that when a condom ISNT used is when I take notice. Most of the time I take for granted the condom and lube supplies (with the ubiquitous white tea towel) and I almost don’t even notice. Every gay man seems to have a packet of lube and a condom they carry around for those needed occasions and it’s a fact.
But who cares when it’s fiction?
There are those that say who cares! It’s FICTION! Use the condom or don’t but make it hot and sometimes bareback is just hot. And really, very few m/m romance books are depicting gay men in reality. Not to knock authors but of course their men are going to be hot, gorgeous, and packing a serious bulge. So if as readers we’re going to accept the fantasy of the story to begin with, is arguing about the use of a small detail like condoms silly?
What’s even more interesting is that the condom debate directly affects books. Authors feel obligated to include condoms even when I think they’d otherwise not. For example when reading Duty & Devotion, this monogamous couple of over a year who have shared just about everything – including swallowing hundreds and hundreds of times – actually uses condoms when they finally have anal sex? At that point I thought the condom use was over the top but if the author had –dared- not to add the condom, I’d bet readers would have commented. I’ve heard similar stories from authors that although it’s fiction, they dare not mess with the condom always rule.
So what do you think readers, writers, and peanut gallery.
Condoms always, sometimes, never?
26 thoughts on “Fantasy versus Reality – The Condom.”
One reason why I love historicals. 🙂
On a more serious note, we had this in a release with Loose Id, where we have a bareback scene (or, errr, several). For us, it was totally in character for the guys – both soldiers/mercenaries, both incredibly in love with each other and somewhat in denial, and, to quote one of the character ‘safe doesn’t even figure with this guy’.
The editor asked “dudes, condom?”
And we said: “Uhm, out of character. After six years of denial, these guys are going for it, full speed. No doubt about it.”
So, we ended up with a bareback scene. It was good that the editor raised the issue, it was good we talked about it, and it was even better than we didn’t have to change anything. It’s in character, people do risky things, but not riskier than, you know, infiltrating an enemy base or wandering around in Afghanistan while a war is on.
(So far my 0.02 pence)
EDITED to say: whether they do it safe or unsafe is totally a matter of character, time period, and mood. It’s part of your sexual morals, too, but I think mood is more important than that.
I do think it’s all a matter of those things you’ve brought up. I think a story should take those into consideration and decide if they want to include condoms or not, whatever’s natural and works.
It will be interesting if your book gets readers/reviewers asking what about the condoms. I think some readers are hard wired to expect it, regardless of circumstance.
Sometimes. It depends on the story and the characters. Are these two guys hooking up in a bar for a one-nighter? Yeah, I’d expect to see condoms. But if, as in your example, we’re reading about two people in a long-term monogamous relationship, I might do a double take.
I was once given a thumbs down review by a reader because the characters didn’t use condoms. One was a ghost, but that didn’t seem to matter to her. 😉
So yeah, hot button topic.
Seriously…. a ghost needed a condom? I mean.. that boggles the mind.
I swear some people just don’t think -laughs-
Totally agree with Vashtan, both from a reader and a writer perspective. I have no preference one way or another, as long as what happens is what SHOULD happen as far as those two particular characters are concerned. As a reader, it throws me completely out of the story if a very careful character — or two — suddenly loses his head, just because the author wants a bareback scene. It throws me equally out of the story, however, if a character who is prone to justification, hedonism and/or stupidity suddenly becomes cautious and all safe-sex-y just because the author feels he/she should follow the perceived expectation of “safe sex all the time” in gay fiction. I want the characters to behave as they’ve been set up once they hit the sheets (wall, floor, beach, whatever).
As an author, I try to live by that same philosophy. My role is to create a (hopefully) enjoyable story, not a public service message 🙂 That said, I think most of my characters end up being “safe” most of the time. Probably because I’m a nurse and it’s sort of hardwired into me, so it ends up flowing into my characters. I don’t do that as any deliberate choice, though. I think the ways in which an author’s real life affects his or her fiction would make an interesting study!
Just FYI, the risks of catching a blood-borne disease via anal sex is WAY higher than via oral sex, so using a condom for anal when you haven’t for oral is fairly common and, for most people, a reasonable choice, especially if you haven’t been tested or aren’t monogamous. Not everyone agrees, and of course if you have open sores in your mouth you should use a condom for oral too, but yeah, much lower risk there 🙂
Thanks for commenting! I agree that in the right context, let them behave as they should. Although I think you’re right that an author (and reader’s!) personal life definitely plays into how they perceive things.
I knew that oral was always considered an acceptable risk, but I figured if you did it multiple times a day for oh.. a year… you’d feel pretty comfortable leaving off the condom for anal sex versus a blowjob with a stranger followed by condomed sex. I just felt the established relationship – even considering the lower risk activity but the continued engaging in such – would negate condoms. But who knows.. maybe not!
You make a very good point. I guess for me, as a reader, it would depend once again on how the characters have been written. For some characters, I’d definitely have to agree with you, it would throw me off to see them using condoms after they’ve already established a monogamous relationship. Some others, maybe not, if they were super cautious, I dunno. As an author, I haven’t run into that yet, but if I do I’m defintely keeping this post in mind *g*
This is a great discussion, thank you!
I say it depends on the character and feel of the story.
In the case of non-humans that cannot contract blood-born diseases, it’s ridiculous. I have one story where the vampire uses a condom, but only because he and the human don’t know if the vampirism can be sexually transmitted. Once they figure it out, they stop using the condoms. In the case of stories where they are human and they can contract things, my characters tend to use condoms until the pair have been together for a while and tested together, deciding on a monogamous relationship. If they have an open relationship, then condoms are always used with the other partners, not necessarily used with the core couple.
When I read fiction where there is condom use, it bugs me how it’s usually inconsistent. Either use them or don’t. Don’t slap one on in the first sex scene and then, because the couple are in love, forget using them by the second. If the characters thought enough to use one in the first place, I think there should be a compelling reason for them to continue using them until something in the storyline changes.
Yeah, fantasy is fantasy, but safe sex doesn’t have to be unsexy. ^_^
I think whoever came up with the idea that vamps and were-animals couldn’t get STDs.. bravo! Like Wave, I totally applaud the genius in not having to figure out if condoms needed to be included.
I also think the inconsistency in rationalizing is weird. Like it’s ok to assume someone is free of disease since you “trust” them. Well I guess you trust them to be honest but what if they don’t know? I mean in this day and age of information and safe sex, I think the convention is silly. Either you choose to use condoms or don’t but be rational at least and consistent.
Great topic, Kassa! I hadn’t thought about it, but now that you mention it, there seems to be this fanatical use of condoms in m/m fiction. Everyone here in the comments has already gone to the heart of the matter, I think, which is that use or nonuse of condoms can reveal a lot about the characters and so what it reveals must be consistent with what we’ve seen so far. For me, if I encountered a scene where characters went ahead without condoms, I’d probably think, “Whoa, dude! That’s stupid!” (unless it was Vashtan’s mercenaries / wartime / unusual circumstances like that) but I’d never give a writer a thumbs-down review because of it. Like Ally Blue is saying, it’s not like they’re supposed to write us a safe-sex pamphlet, just fiction.
Thanks! I think it’s a topic that changes every few months. A lot of people here said it didn’t need to be fanatical but I know many readers even a few months ago that slammed books for the lack of condom use. I like to think that as the genre matures that some “classic” themes such as the condom use, tying the condom, and so on will gradually become something more situational than some “rule.”
This is so funny because I used that same graphic about a year or more ago when I did a post on condoms. In that case it was the stupid tying off of condoms that M/M authors always used in their books and no one seemed to know where it originated. Amazingly, since my post very few authors have their guys tie off their condoms. Anyway that’s another discussion.
I commented on the condom usage in Duty & Devotion in my review of the book and said it was rather silly because the guys had been in a committed relationship for at least a year. Amazingly some readers felt it was appropriate to use a condom in this situation. Really?
Are gay men going to run out and have “unsafe” sex just because M/M romances have guys barebacking? Wow, gay men need to be told by straight females that they should wear a jacket. 🙂 Maybe I’m a cynic. If these books are supposed to be fantasies as authors tell me when I question their characterizations, why the insistence on condoms? Are readers going to stop buying the books because there are no condoms? Whoever first made up the little “fact” that paranormals didn’t need condoms because STD’s could not be transmitted was a genius. Now if only the rest of the fantasy male population in books could follow suit. I guess I should stop my rant.
I say if an author wants to have her characters use a condom go ahead but don’t flaunt them in our faces. Do what Josh Lanyon does – if you blink you miss it.
I’ll have to go look at your review again. I don’t think I read the comments but how is that appropriate?
I’ve seen review after review slam a book for no condom usage as if that is a reality check. I’ve missed the memo that m/m fiction resembles reality. Although there is a significant movement that believes that barebacking in gay porn leads to unsafe sex. So who knows, maybe some believe the same thing applies to written gay erotica?
You know what leads to unsafe sex? Not just for gay men, but for everyone? The human sex drive. That’s it. We’d all like to think we’re smarter than that, but under the right circumstances, we can ALL be that stupid. That’s the sad, ugly fact of it.
What leads to unsafe sex, along with the human sex drive as Ally said, is when men live on the down low and go home and infect their partners. Recent statistics have shown that 95% of NEW HIV cases are young black women. Not men – but young black women.
The readers who love to have the condoms waved in front of their faces need a reality check.
Barebacking in porn movies is not the same as no condoms in an M/M romance, especially when the partners are in a committed relationship. Overwhelmingly the readers and writers of M/M are women. Do the small percentage of gay men who read these books really need safe sex instructions from straight authors or readers? I think not. 🙂
Oh no I agree with you and Ally. I was just trying to offer the flip side of the argument if there is one.
I don’t think there has to be any kind of safe sex instruction lol. Not at all.
I agree it depends on the circumstances. The mother in me wants to scream, “You boys play safe!” while the romantic in me says, “Committed for a year? Get tested then go for it!” Sadly, I’ve met too many young gay men who were HIV positive not to notice when, say, two men in a story say “I’m clean!” and go for it just on a near stranger’s word. That’s what bothers me more than the whole condom or non-condom thing, taking chances, even in fiction.
Then there is the concern that a fan who reads your work may take it more to heart than they should, believing that if the books says no to condoms then it must be safe, right? I’ll err to the side of caution. But then again, it’s a no brainer lately, as my characters have been bed-hoppers, professionals, etc…
I’d echo Wave’s great comment on both the condoms and the word “clean.” Teddy Pig also did a post on the clean/dirty connotations of using that in m/m romance which he found offensive. More so than the condom use – also a good post to check out.
As for the condoms… I’m not trying to promote no condom use. I was more so curious what people thought. A while back no one thought condoms had to be included and then there was a backlash so all authors had to add them very obviously. No some authors dare not to use it. I’ve seen authors get one star reviews based on condom use (or no). So it’s clearly an issue.
I do think fiction is fiction and I doubt people in general are learning about anal sex through romance. Just a guess but I can’t see anyone doing 1-2-3 fingers like the books do : D
(Now that I’ve said that a bunch will come forward to say thats how anal sex goes)
Personally, I appreciate your posting this topic, as it has been a big concern to me as a new writer. I realize that I have a lot to learn and reading what others think is very valuable. Even before realizing it was offensive, I never liked the ‘clean’ reference. I will definitely read Teddypig and Wave’s posts on the subject. Great input like this is why I frequent ya’lls sites.
>>Then there is the concern that a fan who reads your work may take it more to heart than they should, believing that if the books says no to condoms then it must be safe, right?<<
Here’s my take on this. Where does it say that M/M romance is supposed to be a teaching tool for gays? I think we all take the influence of these books waaaay too seriously. I get frustrated because M/M romances give condoms a life of their own and sometimes I wonder if the publishers are in bed with condom manufacturers. I’m not being irresponsible – I just wonder if there’s another reason for this HUGE emphasis on condoms. To whom are authors and publishers targeting this message? Certainly not the few gay men who read these books. Most gay men (and others) learn about sex on the streets.
BTW the term being “clean” which is used by most M/M writers to indicate they are free from HIV has major negative connotations for gay men. They equate this with saying gays are “dirty”. A gay man did a post on this topic on my site and if you’re interested in reading it send me an email and I’ll give you the link. It’s amazing how we offend without meaning to.
I agree with those who say that it depends on the relationship, the characters, the mood. Generally speaking though I want condoms, and I’ve always thought they should be more present in contemporary m/f too (but I only read the occasional paranormal or historical, so who cares). It’s not a need to have condoms waved under my nose, it’s just that this is something so ingrained in my real life that I’m as bothered by unsafe sex scenes as I would be by having unsafe sex, that’s all. I’m too paranoid to enjoy it, fantasy or not. But (it bears repeating) it really depends on the characters and the way their story is depicted.
Thanks for commenting! I think the subject should come up in m/f romance too. I mean there it’s almost 100% about pregnancy and of course STD’s dont exist in romance novels lol. In a lot of ways, m/m romance books are expected to be safe a lot more than any other genre. Especially considering there’s no pregnancy issue here.
Overall reader experience and expectation makes a huge difference, so interesting!
I hate it when a story stops just so a condom can be put on. Either make putting on the condom part of the sex or just mention the thing in passing. Ok. It’s there. We get it. Carry on. (This happens in m/f stuff, too.)
It seems like as m/m (or maybe all romance) authors we are supposed to uphold the ideal. In the articles on condom use I heard back on World AIDS Day, gays rarely use condoms any more, the younger they are and the fewer people they know who’ve died of AIDS, the less likely they are to use them. They are putting their lives at risk, sure, but my adding condoms to a scene between a guy who was recently divorced (and so his only experience with condoms was birth control) and another he just met who isn’t the type to carry condoms just in case isn’t going to stop two young men from risky behavior.
And it’s not as if condomless sex can’t be written around. There are all sorts of ways not to ‘put it in’.
Oh very good points! I often wonder how people always remember to bring condoms. I mean if you’re out and about cruising for sex.. well yes, it only makes sense or having a stash at home if you use them then sure.
But what’s funny is you almost never see in a book someone not bringing a condom on a first date. Don’t people do that when they think sex won’t happen so they don’t bother with the condom? Not everyone has one all the time I’d think and perhaps they’ll engage anyway or get into some fun situations figuring out a way around. hehe..
I agree .. there are ways around it -mind heading to a gutter-
Speaking solely for myself (and the boys I write), I think there’s a sort of implication of commitment to bareback sex (at least in a romance) that is less apparent when there are condoms in play.
Thus, when two guys who have been together for a while (in a book) eventually get tested and first go without, there’s a sort of emotional understanding that the whole barebacking thing seals their forever. That it shows that their relationship is serious and that they’re committed to making it last. Especially if neither of them has ever had latex-free sex before, which happens rather frequently within the genre, or at least within the book I’ve read lately… and some that I’ve written. LOL
That’s just my opinion, of course, and I’m not saying anyone else needs to agree with me. I just sort of see condoms, and the eventual lack thereof, as steps along the emotional-intimacy-path. And no, I don’t think I could sound more like a fatuous, love-sick teenager if I tried. 😛
You’re definitely not alone. There are many, many, many, many… many! books with characters that equate no condoms with love and trust. So you’re right, that’s the other side of the “no condoms” debate for sure.
Thanks for reminding us!