I recently read Sin and Seduction by Allison Cassatta and, while I enjoyed it, I was quite surprised to find many people on Goodreads complain about the lack of condoms used in the sex scenes. If I remember correctly, there were a total number of zero condoms in use.
So, now I’m wondering, what is the responsibility of authors of erotica and erotic romance to depict safe sex practices?
Good fiction reflects reality. And the reality is, like it or not, people make unsafe choices on a daily basis, including choosing to have sex without protection. Should an author be scolded for reflecting the very real choices that people make?
On the other hand, I’ve read more than one erotic romance where there are long passages where characters discuss how important it is to use a condom, how it is a sign of love and respect, and unprotected sex won’t be happening until both partners get tested and are clean — as going that extra mile is a true sign of love and respect… good grief. Yes, these are conversations people actually have in real life, but I doubt they’re as long and flowery as these. I imagine it’s usually like, “Yo, we’re using a condom tonight since I don’t know yet if you’re clean.”
If a writer is choosing to employ the use of condoms, then a simple half sentence — “he rolled the condom down his length” — does the trick.
In my day job, part of my work is to support safer sex practices among men who have sex with men. I know not everyone chooses safe sex — and they don’t get a lecture from me. So why would I want a lecture in a book I’m reading?
And who’s reading these books? A large number of readers of m/m erotic romance are women. Do they need to be constantly reminded in these books that it’s a sign of love and respect for two men to use condoms when having sex? I don’t think so.
Are these messages reinforced by some authors as a way to promote healthy sexuality among young gay men? It’s possible some authors do have those motives. These are good motives, don’t get me wrong, but how a writer chooses to act on those motives is where I run into difficulty.
There’s an outbreak of syphilis in a few large urban centres in my country (Canada) and it seems to be fuelled by gay hookup apps (Grindr, Jackd, etc.). I read a recent news article on how public health agencies are working to combat the outbreak, encourage testing, and encourage safer sex practices. One thing that stuck out in that article was where a health official described how safe sex ads on Grindr do not have the desired effect — because there’s a “condom fatigue” among the gay community.
The message of “WEAR A CONDOM!!!” has been hammered into the public, but gay men have been the target of most of these messages. This is based on history, with the missing generation of men who died of AIDS. That message was crucial. That message saved lives. That message was listened to.
But, now, decades later, the message hasn’t changed, but attitudes have.
Men who have sex with men sometimes choose to practice unsafe sex. Hammering home another “WEAR A CONDOM!!!” message in the text of an m/m erotic romance novel or erotica short story is not the place, nor will it be effective.
Safe sex has a place in erotica. In fact, I think for the most part, sex should primarily be shown using protection — but there shouldn’t be a lecture, it should be an acknowledgement of the condom’s presence and use. But there are times when men want to have sex, but they don’t have a condom handy — in real life and in fiction. Are they going to hold off on their burning urges until one of them can get to a drugstore? Or are they going to give into their urges, have sex, and deal with the consequences later? (And there are some men who just don’t care about safe sex, like the characters in Allison Cassatta’s book, or who feel that a condom destroys the sensation.)
A writer should not be punished for depicting unsafe sex. To not depict unsafe sex denies the lived experiences of gay men around the world.