Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Safe? Yes. Sensational? Doubtful.

Couldn't figure out what to blog about today, so I did some hopping hoping to be inspired. I was, by Smart Bitch Candy who provided links to Angie, Wendy, and Karen, gals all talking about condom use in contemporary romantic fiction.

Since I don't want to beat a dead horse or be a copy cat or any other animal cliche, I won't remark on the exact same thing as the afore mentioned ladies. Except to say that I agree that condom use is the responsible thing for non-TSTL heroes and heroines to do, that I agree with Wendy in that it is not the job of fiction to educate the masses but to reflect some version of reality, and that I've gotten so used to reading a condom-application within sex scenes that it no longer has the ability to pull me out of the story.

Where I want to dive from into this condom pool is the reality of condom use and how in the world it can ever jive with the type of sex that romance novels try to sell us.

First, let's establish that I am not a man. I do not have a penis, and I have never worn a condom. I have, however, experienced sex with and sans-condom. For my part, either way worked equally well as far as...hmmm...pleasure was concerned. With the exception of that few seconds when a pause was required for application (what is the proper word for donning a condom, anyway?), sex is pretty much the same for me, good, great, or fabulous.

However, it's my understanding that the male population as a whole would not agree with this. Wearing a condom is akin to donning a Gortex raincoat while standing outside during a spring shower. Sure, you can feel the raindrops hitting your skin. You can sense if the water is warm or cold. You can feel an increase in pressure if the rain should turn to hail or to come down heavier. But there is something essential missing.

Sex with a condom is still really good...great, even. But it's just not the same as sex without.

How can it be? How can any condom created to do the job of providing an effective barrier ever perfectly simulate the sensation of moist skin on skin? It can't.

So what I don't get when I'm reading a contemporary and the hero does the truly heroic thing by putting on his jimmy hat is how he always manages to experience the orgasm of his life. The one that rocks him to the core and makes him see things inside his and her soul that he's never seen before. Cataclysmic orgasms that cause the Earth to tremble.

Sure, this heroine is different than every other woman he's ever slept with.

Sure, this time there are feelings involved, maybe even the big L word that doesn't include a U and an S and a T.

Sure, he's wanted her for so long he's gone ahead and bought a few pair of jeans a size large than normal to accomodate his perpetual erection. The guy is just waiting to blow and no paltry condom will thwart that.

All of these can mean that when it finally happens, it happens in a big way.

But bigger than another time when he had sex without a condom and the sensations were magnified a hundred times because there was no barrier to dull them?

Or maybe it's just that the hero has NEVER experienced sex without a condom. From the moment he lost his virginity, he's always been a safe-sexer. He doesn't know any different, so naturally the condomed-sex he has with the heroine is the best condomed-sex he's ever had.

Which begs me to wonder if every romance novel that features safe sex via condom wouldn't do us readers (and its hero) well to provide an epilogue set six months after the couple has been tested and they've determined they are both disease-free and she's had ample time to pill it up. We'd love to see the scene when the hero first gets a chance to experience sex in the raw, when he can really feel that moist, silky heat he's rhapsodized about but never actually felt where it really counts.

Of course, since his mind has already been blown by the condomed-sex he's had with Miss Pretty Pretty, it's quite possible that he wouldn't survive a bareback encounter.

My other issue with condom usage portrayed in romance novels is how a hero always, always ALWAYS has access to a condom when he needs one unless it's part of the plot that he doesn't. Sex on a lonely mountain top? Condom in the backpack. Sex in a dangerous foreign country? Hero uses condoms to keep his gun dry, so no problem. Sex in the elevator of a high profile corporation. Condoms in the briefcase, of course. Sex in the hotel shower when the clothing has been left in the other room? Smart thinking hero has come prepared and, whoops, there's a condom waiting in the soapdish. How convenient.

I don't know about all of you, but I've never happened across a guy who accidentally pulls a condom out of his pocket or wallet or briefcase or backpack. It's not like us gals who keep a discrete supply of feminine products in our handbags and offer up a healthy blush should our rogue Tampax roll across the grocery store floor when we drop our purse. If guys are toting just-in-case condoms with them every where they go should they be faced with the opportunity for some wild monkey sex in an exotic location, they must have secret pockets sewn into their clothes.

I'm all for condom use. If one is not used, I don't worry about the heroine becoming pregnant unless she's a teenager because I'm just not wired to worry about that - I've read too many statistics about infertility. I do think it's the smart thing to do in this age of HIV/AIDs and other STDs. And it adds an element of reality that helps the story become real for me.

But I still have to suspend a healthy hunk of disbelief because the minute the hero pulls out that little foil-wrapped packet, I start to feel sorry for the guy. Cause dancing naked in the rain just isn't the same when you're wrapped in Gortex.


Ronn said...

I've done the deed many times, with and without the second skin. There's not really all that much of a difference. My personal feeling on the matter is that men say they can't feel as much to simply get out of having to wear a condom. Those nerve endings are pretty sensitive and a little less-than-paper thin covering doesn't do much but give most men a little more staying power. Just my 2 cents.

Wendy said...

Great post Lynn. The decreased sensitivity issue is never addressed in the wonderful world of romance. I have to believe that somewhere in heroland there is a romance hero whose sexual past includes a relationship long enough and stable enough to forgo the jimmy hat, so there would be a point of reference.

If nothing else, there must be a heroine or two who would prefer the skin to skin contact.

The general thrust of all the comments made on this subject seems to be that it's smart to wear condoms and therefore heroes and heroines should only have protected sex. It's also smart to wear sun block and eat vegetables and go to college, but it's possible to be intelligent and fail to do those things. Sometimes smart people do stupid things, they make the wrong choices. And that is what makes compelling fiction. Who the hell wants to read about characters who always do the right thing? That's boring and lacks conflict.

Oh, and thank you for actually getting the point of my original post.

Lynn M said...

Ronn - thanks for that insight. Hearing you say that helps me a lot in being able to believe that a hero in a story can have just-as-good sex with a condom as without. Honestly, I really do stop when I'm reading a sex scene for a second of feeling sorry for the guy, but now I won't so much knowing that the difference really is probably insignificant.

Wendy - totally understood what you meant. Like you said in your post, if fiction was meant to educate the masses as to what the right things are, 99% of the stuff out there would have to be burned. Besides, whose to say what's right and wrong. Catholics (of which I am one) would say that condom use is wrong since it is a form of birth control, right? Heck, if romance novels were required to show the right thing, no one would be having any sex until after marriage *g*. Who wants that?