Last week I discovered an absolutely wonderful blog – Romance Novels for Feminists. Though I’m proud to hold my hand up and shout that I’m a feminist, I don’t think you have to identify yourself as one in order to enjoy this blog.
Jackie, who runs the blog, published a very thoughtful post last week on the use of contraception in romance novels. She discusses a couple of articles in scholarly journals, including one which looks at contemporary romance novels that won the RITA between 1989 and 2009. (The article is “‘Whatever the Approach, Tab B Still Fits into Slot A’: Twenty Years of Sex Scripts in Romance Novels”, published by A. Dana Ménard and Christine Cabrera, psychologists at the University of Ottawa, in the journal Sexuality & Culture in April of 2011).
Jackie takes a closer look at the article, so I encourage you to read her post. One of the study’s conclusions was that there was quite an increase in the use of contraception. Only 18.5% of the books they studied that had been released between 1989 and 1999 mentioned the hero and heroine using contraception. Compare that to 57.9% of the novels published between 2000-2009.
Now, granted, they were studying a tiny number of books. Only one book wins the RITA for contemporary single-title romance each year, but romance authors judged them each to be the best novel published that year. It’s hard to say whether these are representative of contemporary romance as a whole, but it got me thinking about all of the romance I read in those time periods.
I probably started reading romance around 1990. I stopped around 2002, since I was doing my own studies and didn’t have time for much else, but I started reading romance again (voraciously) in 2008 or 2009 – and I noticed a massive shift in many things, including the sex scenes.
Suddenly it seemed like everyone was using contraception – condoms, in particular. In fact, I’m surprised that only 57.9% of the novels in the study had contraceptive use, but again, it might not be the most representative sample.
I noticed that even historical romances had couples discussing ways to avoid baby-making (since no one wants all those randy lords to be pox-ridden in a historically accurate way). The more I read, the more my vocabulary grew (“What are these French letters?” I asked myself as I opened Google).
When I was a fledgling romance writer, one of my critique partners read the very first sex scene I had ever let anyone read. I was still stuck in the old ways of romance, which meant a rather passive heroine and no condoms. “They need to at least discuss condoms,” Roni wrote, and that opened my eyes even more.
I remember back in the 80s, many people complained that condoms kill the mood – though I can’t imagine anything killing the mood faster than a crying baby or an itchy wang.
Romance heroes these days seem not just ready but eager to use condoms. Years ago I asked my husband, “If we ever have a son, what would you say to him about using condoms?” He replied, “I’d tell him not to see condoms as an annoyance but as something great, something that means you get to have sex.”
Romance heroes these days seem to have a similar attitude. It’s often not even discussed. The hero just reaches into his wallet or nightstand when he’s about to get lucky. If the couple decides not to use a condom, it’s usually a sign that the hero and heroine are committed.
Not only do romance novelists seem more comfortable creating responsible heroes, but they also seem to use condoms to show their heroes’ virility. Heroes never struggle to roll latex over skin. They almost always have a ready supply. Have condoms become one more way for authors to show that their heroes are studs?
Have you noticed a change in how contraception is used in romance? Does the mention of a hero ripping open a condom kill the mood for you, or do you even notice it?