Update: The winner of this contest is Renee Rearden! Thanks to everyone for participating. 🙂
Good morning everyone! Today I have a guest post by the awesome Kathryn Scannell, and boy is it a fun one. Let’s get going:
One of the hot button topics in erotica/erotic romance is whether or not we have a responsibility as authors to encourage safe sex practices by setting good examples in our stories. In general, I think it’s a good idea, but that’s as far as I’m willing to go. Why? There are actually quite a lot of good reasons.
First, there’s the question of whether it’s appropriate to the story. There are settings where it just doesn’t make sense, and paranormal romance is often one of them. After all, if your shifter or your vampire is immune to bullets and heals from nearly any injury, how likely is it really that an STD will stand a chance of infecting them? Although there was an entertaining story in one of the tabloids back in the early 80’s when AIDS was a new problem very few people had heard of about how it was decimating the vampires of Europe…
It’s not very realistic for most historical settings either. Options for safe sex were fewer then, and the association between the act of having sex with someone who might be sick and getting sick yourself was tenuous at best in many cultures and eras.
Even in the modern era where it’s a practical option, it may not be appropriate to the character. In the real world we all know of guys who aren’t careful, even very intelligent ones.
We’re writing for adults here. I’d like to think my readers are smart enough to realize that not everything that happens in my book is a good idea to do themselves. That includes not practicing safe sex. If I were writing stories that were trying to send a message or teach a lesson, then I’d be sure something unfortunate happened to the character as a result of that unprotected sex. But I’m not doing that, and neither are most romance/erotica writers. The point of the story is the romance, and the happy ending, not a social message. So if its useful to the plot of the story, there may be repercussions, but I won’t add them to the plot just for the sake of making a point about practicing safe sex.
Building a nanny attitude into our books is a slippery slope. Saying my characters will always practice safe sex to set a good example seems like it might be a good idea at first. I’ve been feeling a little guilty that I didn’t give some kind of nod to it in my latest book, but it just doesn’t make sense. If you’re a wizard and can heal yourself, the idea of needing to worry about catching an STD is ridiculous. There’s not even a good reason for the character to think about the fact that he doesn’t need to worry.
Here’s the problem – if you start feeling you have to avoid any kind of unsafe sex even if it would be in character, for the sake of being a good example, why stop with sex? Why not extend the attitude to other things? That character that smokes, the one who drinks too much, the one who’s overweight – they could all be fair game for things that shouldn’t be in the story because they’re bad examples. If you write nothing but good examples, you end up with a book full of perfect, healthy people, who are terminally boring to read.
I do make one exception, and I’ll freely confess that’s a personal soapbox. When I write a BDSM scene, I’m very careful that it’s something that can be done safely, and that the precautions that make it safe get mentioned. I’ll confess that’s a little inconsistent with my general feelings about self-censoring your books for health or political correctness issues. My reasoning is this – these days nearly everyone gets the safe sex message from a lot of places – school, TV public interest spots, and so forth.
BDSM is a little different. A whole lot of people get their primary exposure to it from reading it in fiction. They may never go read an introductory book on how to do it safely, or have a more experienced partner for their early experiences, or seek out someone to advise them on what’s safe. So I want to be sure that if someone decides the scene I wrote was really hot and they want to act part of it out with their partner that they’re not going to damage anyone doing it. I don’t want that on my conscience.
I do lean toward putting in at least a voice advising safe practices when I can do it without impairing the story. I’ve got someone in Embracing the Dragon who advises the main character not to drive when he’s been drinking, because it’s something a friend or co worker should say under the circumstances. It would be odd if he didn’t.
When I write in contemporary settings, my characters do use condoms, because they’re generally smart, practical people, and safe sex is the smart thing to do.
Kathryn’s latest release is called “Embracing the Dragon”, a M/M romance straddling the boundary between urban fantasy and high fantasy. Read on for more info.:
Danny O’Riordan’s life was complicated before he had the vision of a past life that forced him to admit to himself that he was bisexual. There’s a war going on, and being Liegeman to Aran, the Elven King of Avalon puts Danny squarely in the middle of the politics of two worlds, Earth and Avalon. Adding a romantic relationship to the mix could be explosive.
His lover from that previous life has been reborn as Mordellir, the ruler of the Tengri Empire. The Dragon of Heaven is the most powerful person in his world. Will he want Danny back once he knows he’s been reborn? If he does, how far will he go to get his way?
Danny knows it isn’t smart to get involved with the Dragon of Heaven. Aran hates the Tengri. Following his heart and renewing that old relationship with Mordellir will leave him torn between his commitment to Aran and those old feelings which are still frighteningly strong. If he yields to temptation, can he balance his love for both men?
Mordellir looked more at ease than Danny had ever seen him. Was this what he’d been like before he became Emperor?
Looking at him now, in this mood it was easy to see the resemblance to Demeth. Certainly there were differences. Demeth had been only part Tengri. He’d been shorter and a bit heavier built. Demeth’s hair had reddish highlights, which hinted at demon in his family somewhere. But there was still something in the body language, and the aura which reminded Danny achingly of those memories of Demeth. It wouldn’t be hard to put this man in place of the image of Demeth in those memories…
Thinking that had not been a good idea. Danny realized his mistake when he felt his cock start to swell. Just remembering the damned dreams he’d been having was enough to get him hard again, and the bathrobe he was wearing was not going to hide it. He could see a telltale bulge already. He shifted to cross his legs, hoping to keep things under control, but it just didn’t work.
Mordellir had noticed, too. His gaze followed that moving bulge, and he gave off a mix of amusement and interest. All the extra blood that wasn’t already in Danny’s cock rose promptly to his face as he realized that.
Mordellir grew even more amused as Danny turned bright red. “I didn’t think you were interested, Daniel. It’s certainly nothing to be embarrassed about. You’re a handsome young man. I’m not intimate with all my Favorites, but it’s certainly an option.”
Danny cursed inwardly. This was rapidly becoming a disaster. “No! I’m not– I mean I don’t– Oh Hell.” He ground to a halt. Doing anything would be stupid, and guaranteed to make settling the problem of those old memories worse, not better, but how did he say no without insulting the Emperor? Especially when his cock was obviously saying yes.
“Slowly, Daniel,” Mordellir said gently. “If I read that wrong, I’m sorry. Will you tell me why you’re so confused and embarrassed? It can’t be just having an erection in front of someone else, not after living among the Elves and the Kennakriz. What is it?” He looked probingly at Danny out of his good eye.
Danny took a deep breath to try to calm himself. “No. This isn’t simple to explain. You didn’t misread my reaction, but it would be a terrible idea to act on it.”
“Why?” Mordellir sounded genuinely puzzled.
“Because you’re the Emperor of the Tengri, and I’m the senior Liegeman to the King of Avalon, who happens to hate Tengri in general, and you in particular. That gives whole new levels of meaning to conflict of interest,” Danny said, wondering why he was explaining the obvious to someone this experienced in politics.
“So?” Mordellir felt perplexed. “Is this an Earth thing? A little sex hardly constitutes anything important. It’s not as if there was a commitment involved. There isn’t even a chance of children to worry about negotiating.”
What could he say to that? From an Avalon or Empire perspective, Mordellir was entirely right. The problem was that Danny was sure that if he let himself get any closer to Mordellir that those old memories would hit him full force, and he’d want something more. A lot more. That would be a serious political problem.
His first impulse was to explain that, but doing that could be opening a huge can of worms. He didn’t really know Mordellir. He might not be anything like Demeth. There were vast differences between Danny and Emrys, thanks to the different worlds they’d lived in, and the things that had happened to him in this life. Emrys had trusted Demeth, but everything he knew about Mordellir told Danny not to trust him. This was a man who’d schemed his way to the Imperial Throne over a trail of bodies, including his father, the previous Emperor. Then he’d held his own against his remaining siblings and children to keep that throne for more than 10,000 years. He had to be a master of manipulation and deceit. It would be ridiculously risky to lay a vulnerability like this out for him to exploit. But it was so very tempting. It felt right to do. Danny’s thoughts spun in circles, his impulses arguing with his common sense.
Mordellir waited for him to answer, looking faintly puzzled. In the end, that pushed Danny over the edge in favor of explaining. The expression was so like one Demeth had often directed at him when Emrys was new to the Empire, and reacting oddly to everything. This was still Demeth, and some deep part of him trusted Demeth.
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What are your thoughts? Is it a total turn-off for you if the characters don’t think about safe sex, or do you feel that you’ve had your nose rubbed in it too often, and want to enjoy a good fantasy where you don’t need to care about that level of realism?
One lucky commenter will win a copy of “Leap of Faith”, Kathryn’s short story set in the same world as “Embracing the Dragon” (selected via random.org).