A.J. Llewellyn approached me about a month ago and asked whether he and two other male authors could write a piece for this site on condoms in M/M romances. As you know, I believe that authors and readers should be able discuss topics that are important to them in a non-confrontational environment, so I indicated that I would be happy to post whatever they wrote. Whether or not you agree with their point of view AJ, DJ Manly and Ryan Field have a right to express their opinions on this hotly debated topic. I know how controversial is the issue of condoms in M/M romance, having experienced some backlash from my own post on this topic. Here’s AJ’s, DJ’s and Ryan’s post:
The issue of condoms seems to have sprung up out of nowhere in recent months. We asked Jessewave if we could, as male authors of M/M novels address the ‘controversy’ on this site and got the go-ahead.
Wave warned we would probably not get a warm reception and sent me a post she’d written several months ago which is linked here. I still think this issue needs to be discussed. Whilst I vigorously promote the use of condoms and other safe measures in the real world, I personally don’t think it’s always necessary in romantic fiction…or even plausible.
And where do we draw the line?
Will readers demand that weres and vampires or shape shifters glove-up?
Three and a half years ago, when I started writing gay erotic romance novels, I followed my publisher’s website guidelines to the letter. No golden showers, no bestiality, defecation, no rape as titillation, no incest, no sex involving minors and, an interesting point, no explicit details of a male penis.
Nothing about the mandatory use of condoms.
You won’t find that in many publishers’ guidelines…I fact I have yet to see this listed as even a suggestion for writers of romantic fiction, gay or straight.
I called my Uncle George, a pioneer of straight romantic fiction – the man churned out five hundred books under a variety of intriguing-sounding women’s names for fifteen years—for Mills and Boon (the UK equivalent of Harlequin).
“Do I need to address the issue of condoms?” I asked him.
“Darling,” he drawled from across the pond. “You’re writing fiction, romantic fiction. Nobody wants to know about that stuff.”
And they didn’t.
Until January last year, when my first Mingo McCloud book came out, I’d never had anyone say a word about my characters not using condoms, when a female reviewer chastised me for it and even sent me a link for Mingo to get free AIDS testing.
He is a fictional character!
A reviewer then chastised my high-class call boy Mio for not using rubbers in The Book and the Rose for a client who paid for it. I was floored. Evidently the reviewer is unaware that gay male prostitutes – and straight ones for that matter — are paid very well for “no glove love”. In fact I stole this particular idea straight from the headlines of New York governor Elliot Spitzer’s spectacular downfall when it emerged that he’d been frequenting a call girl. Ashley Duprey revealed he paid extra for condomless sex.
As an author, it’s my job to get facts straight and as I have written more and more books, my stories have become more complex. I’ve had fun pushing the bar a little, such as the high-class call boy who of course finds true love and gives it all up. I’m still stunned by the critique since what I wrote is a slice of life. And that’s my point.
Rick R. Reed addresses the issue of gay men not using condoms in real life in his marvelous book, Tricks.
Gay men are aware of the necessity for safe sex. Most do, some don’t. It’s a fact of life. HIV and AIDS continue to invade the gay community. This is not the place to discuss why some men have slipped up on er…slipping on a rubber, but it’s a fantasy of many men to be able to have bareback sex. When I think back to the countless romance novels my uncle wrote and I read out of sheer fascination, there was never a mention of the pill, menstruation, vaginal infections, or any type of STD.
As authors, we need to be mindful of trending topics, but I find it interesting that gay men don’t want to read about safe sex.
DJ Manly received an email from a male reader chastising him for mentioning condoms in his story.
“Why do you need to beat me over the head with it?” he asked DJ.
DJ was stunned. As a matter of fact, this may end up being a controversial point but I have only ever had female readers/reviewers comment on the lack of condoms in a story.
My Uncle George says it’s because male readers know the stories are fantasy.
How many times have you been to the movies and the characters stop to glove and lube up? Not many.
I’ve read books where the presence of rubbers was simply ludicrous. In one highly-regarded crime novel, the protagonist is on the run hiding out in sleazy motel rooms being moved around by the US Marshals until he can give testimony in a trial.
His lover manages to find him and breaks into the room. They fall on the bed and begin making love…the protagonist just happens to have rubbers and lube in his nightstand.
How convenient! How utterly…stupid!
I never lie about the fact that most of my sex scenes are taken from personal experiences. So I’d like to begin with a personal story that happened to me about twelve years ago. I’d gone out to a bar with friends and met an adorable, athletic, guy, with short blond hair and huge biceps. I’d been to this particular bar in the past, and this type of guy was not their normal client. He told me he was just passing through town, on his way home from college, and decided to stop in for a drink.
Then one thing led to another, and before we knew it we were in the back seat of his car making out. He was very aggressive, and I didn’t mind in the least. Though I knew this guy wasn’t going to be the love of my life, there was a strong sexual energy between us. By the time we were both undressed, he asked me if we could do something very specific. And I asked him if he had a condom. I didn’t want to ask, I didn’t want to even bring the subject up. But I knew I had to do it. I normally have condoms in my car at all times. But I was with friends that night and didn’t even have my car. Unfortunately, this gorgeous guy didn’t have any condoms either and my heart sank.
He continued to persuade me, without being shy about it. He even said, “I’ll just pull out fast toward the end. I swear I will. I know what I’m doing.” And for a moment, I even contemplated letting him do this. I was almost ready to submit completely. It was one of those moments where you either move forward, or everything comes crashing down. He tried to coax me for another twenty minutes, and I kept refusing. I felt like the prom date that wouldn’t put out, and I didn’t want him to think I was teasing him. But it all came crashing down anyway. I even picked up a hint of annoyance in his tone when I started getting dressed. All the chemistry between us disappeared just as fast as it had appeared. He didn’t even open the door for me when it was time to get out. But I had no regrets. For me, growing up in the New York area and watching people die with HIV/AIDS, left a strong impression. And I didn’t care whether his feelings were hurt or not. I wasn’t going to have unprotected sex with anyone, and to this day, I still haven’t.
But when I started writing gay erotica and gay romance almost twenty years ago for publishers like Alyson Books and Cleis Press, I wasn’t this strict with my characters. I felt that my readers were tired of safe sex and frustrated about all the things they couldn’t do themselves. They were reading these books to escape from the real world, not be reminded of it. I didn’t think they wanted the characters to use condoms. This was fantasy, not reality. I was making it all up as I went along, thinking “what if” all the time. If there is such a thing as poetic license, I believed what I was doing benefited the reader, not the socially conscious. And, to be honest, I was enjoying what I was writing just as much. Though I’ve always used condoms, I can’t admit I’m a huge fan of them.
But I do think the world has changed in the past twenty years, with regard to being both politically correct and socially correct. Most readers nowadays don’t even know Times Square was a huge sex attraction. They have no idea what went on down at the docks in the West Village. When I go back today and read some of the things I had published almost two decades ago, I’m shocked at myself sometimes. Did I actually do that? And we were in the height of the AIDS epidemic then? In the past five years or so, I have rarely written a sex scene without condoms. I try to make it fast and get the condoms out of the way, but they are almost always there. Sometimes I try to make the condom scene sexy, but that’s often hard to do. And I’ll be honest about this; I’m always worried (concerned) that someone might get the wrong impression. I’m not as concerned about professional reviews as I am readers. I receive a lot of e-mail from young men all over the world who are just starting out and I feel a responsibility to educate them. I know we’re taught about the importance of condoms here in the US, but I’m not sure about other parts of the world. And I don’t want to assume anything.
But I don’t always write about characters who use condoms, and I still seem to get heat for this. I think I have valid reasons, but not everyone agrees. For example, I’m finishing up the third in a series of three books right now. Both main characters are in love, monogamous, and living happily as any other married straight couple. They’ve both been tested for HIV and both were negative. So it would be pointless for them to continue using condoms as a couple. I don’t know any straight married couples who use condoms, so why should gay couples be any different? And I still receive complaints about this. I’m not sure what to think. Is it so strange to think of two gay men sharing their lives the same way straight men and women share their lives? Millions of gay men all over the globe are in relationships and they are monogamous. And to suggest they need condoms is to suggest there is something flawed about their relationships, which I won’t do.
Then I wrote about a young gay couple who were not monogamous. They were in love and they were a couple. But they had an open relationship with one important rule: whenever they fooled around with someone else they had to use condoms. These characters respected each other and trusted each other, as people in love tend to do. And they set this rule up early in their relationship so they wouldn’t have to use condoms when they were together. In other words, if they were both using condoms if and when they were with other people, they were practicing safe sex all the time. This meant they would remain HIV negative and there would be no need for condoms when they were with each other. But some readers either didn’t get this or took offense to the entire concept, and they all let me know about it without being shy. And there’s really no way to defend something like this. It is what it is. And, for the record, I know several gay couples in real life who have open relationships like this.
After that experience, I decided that if my characters weren’t going to use condoms, I’d explain why in more detail. Maybe I didn’t explain it well enough in the past? And most of my characters, in fact, do use condoms these days. But I’m not advocating this for all authors as a set rule. I do agree with those who believe many readers are reading these stories and books to escape. They want the fantasy; they want it, so to speak, raw. As a gay man, I can understand this need to escape. I still look back on the incident with that gorgeous blond guy and still kick myself for not having a condom with me. And whenever I read an erotic romance where the characters are not using condoms, I don’t take offense and I understand that this is fantasy, not reality.
What to do, what to do about a rubber? Um. Well I try to be politically correct but damn, I sometimes don’t work the rubber into a scene. What’s a poor author to do…my male readers don’t want it, and my female readers demand it! In reality, when I was a single guy, I used them religiously, but when I did, I remember not liking them much, but I got used to them…and I do go on about realism in books so….. I guess…hey, listen, I don’t write fluffy love stories…don’t want to…no matter how much they appeal to the masses… (with a few exceptions like sweet Christmas stories.) Given what I write, my readership is pretty sophisticated. I have lawyers, and doctors, and accountants that read me and write just to discuss my characters. Therefore, I guess, I need to fit the condom into the reality of the story…don’t I? But like many gay men on the prowl, doing away with the need for condom use completely is about a dream…’sigh’…even when we’re a one man kind of guy…as promiscuous as us guys can be… (ducks) we sometimes aren’t one hundred percent sure that ‘Charlie’ was sleeping alone when we were out of town. Do we take the risk, or do we go the secure route? If we’re intelligent, we roll on the rubber when we’ve only been with the guy a week or more. You got to be pretty sure to go bareback honey.
My new policy is to put a disclaimer at the beginning of my books…if any author wants to steal this idea, feel free…just three easy payments of $29.95…kidding… I think a disclaimer which tells readers that I am a big proponent of condom use, and if you’d like to stay healthy, USE ONE… maybe….just maybe if my characters sometimes don’t use one, it doesn’t mean I’m recommending they should do that. A disclaimer might just solve the problem. Sincerely, I doubt some young virgin guy is going to read one of my books and run out and have unsafe sex…but you never know….so I will cover my butt and put a disclaimer. “Don’t try this at home, guy….even if my book made you want to go out and try these things immediately…please, use a net.”
That’s really all I can say about this topic. I don’t write commercials for rubbers, I write fiction….but I do have a social responsibility as an author to give the right messages to my readers. I love my readers. I want them to be safe and happy. So love one another, but please, cover it in rubber and do it carefully….