Since I started writing erotica and erotic romance nearly a decade ago, I’ve repeatedly seen debates about safer sex practices in that type of fiction. Some say that the stories are fiction, or fantasies, and including condoms or dental dams or any other type of barrier or birth control takes the reader out of the moment. Others say that as authors, it’s part of our responsibility to educate our readers, and that includes making sure readers know safer sex practices are important, sometimes literally a matter of life and death.
My personal opinion is somewhere in the middle. I disagree that including safer sex practices in fiction pulls the reader out of the story. When I read fiction, especially contemporary erotica or erotic romance, I’m pulled out of the story if the author *doesn’t* include safer sex practices, or at least have the characters mention them. At the same time, as an author, I don’t think it’s my responsibility to “educate”; it’s my responsibility to entertain by portraying realistic situations (inasmuch as things like werewolves and vengeance demons can be realistic…)
In all of my fiction that includes sex, whether explicit or off the page (which is more my young adult stuff than my romances), I at least mention safer sex. Sometimes the characters decide not to use it. In my male/male novel Lost Soul, the main character, Joel, is a sorcerer who uses magic to prevent diseases, so he doesn’t have a need for condoms or other barriers. But the first time Joel has sex with Lanny, they talk about *why* condoms aren’t necessary. It’s a brief conversation (I’ll share the excerpt that includes it on Thursday, so stay tuned), but it’s still there.
Likewise in my heterosexual urban fantasy novel Beta Test, where werewolf Justin tells his human mate Tara that werewolves can’t get pregnant so they don’t need birth control, and werewolves (in that universe, at least) don’t carry any type of human illness or disease. However, Justin has failed to take into account the fact that Tara isn’t a werewolf, so while no STIs occur, Tara does get pregnant.
In most of my contemporary fiction, the characters use condoms. Those are brief exchanges as well; most of them are not much longer than, “Do you have a condom?” “Yes” followed by the guy putting on a condom.
Depending on the story and characters, this discussion can even give readers a glimpse into the personality of the characters. Does one of them hesitate about using a condom, or try to refuse? In a heterosexual interaction, is the woman terrified of pregnancy? Has one of them already experienced an STI, or lost someone to AIDS?
Safer sex practices, or the discussion thereof, don’t have to be long interruptions in the flow of a story, any more than they have to be long interruptions in the flow of a sexual interaction in real life. And an author doesn’t necessarily have to include it every time the characters have sex; I generally include the discussion and use of a condom with the characters’ first sexual interaction, and figure readers will assume (correctly) that the characters use condoms for all future interactions. But I do think it’s important to establish that the characters are playing safe.