>The Condom Conundrum

>What Makes a Romance

When I read a romance there are a couple of things I demand. First and foremost, a HEA. Don’t have it? Then it ain’t a romance and don’t try to sell it to me as one. Second, when I’m reading a love scene, I don’t want to be thrown out of the read. I want to enjoy the fantasy of romantic, uninhibited, steamy sex. I read a love scene the other night where the hero stopped to put on a condom and the heroine was worried it (the condom) was going to bust as the hero was rolling it over his erection.

I’m guessing it was the author’s way of saying the guy was HUGE *and* how thoughtful and caring he was by putting a condom on before he had sex with the heroine. Unfortunately the great sexual tension that had been built up to that moment was completely lost as I burst out laughing at the image of a guy with a fat c*ck trying not to break a condom he was putting on. Not the image I’m sure the author was going for. As a result, I couldn’t get back into the read. I’m still chuckling as I think about it! LOL So I thought it might make for a fun blog or at the very least give me a bully pulpit to do a point/counterpoint on the issue of condoms in romance books .*grin*

Jane You Misguided, Miserable Slut

The points in the following mini-debate are paraphrased commentary I’ve heard from several different sources over the last year or so. The counterpoints are my POV. Neither side is right or wrong. It’s just about what some readers (including me) are comfortable with in a book and what they’re not.

Point – Condoms are necessary because I expect characters to act responsibly in a book. If the hero doesn’t pull out a condom during a love scene, it’s not realistic. I want the hero to say “I care” by pulling out that foil wrapper. It doesn’t have to be added into the love scene, but I need to know wrappers are laying on the floor either before or after the scene. When I don’t see a condom used, it throws me out of the read and most of the time I’ll put the book down.

Counterpoint – If we’re talking realism, how about this, if the condom goes on, it has to come off. When it comes off, it’s got that ick factor, because one hopes that the guy’s been satisfied. Why don’t authors show that realism too? Probably because it’s not romantic. I find it curious that we don’t demand similar standards for love scenes in movies. I watched Maid in Manhattan this past weekend and I didn’t see one single wrapper the morning after. Same for James Bond and all the women he’s had over the years. If we can assume protection is used in a movie’s love scene is there some reason we cannot assume the same thing for a romance book. Or are we to apply a different standard of entertainment to a book versus a movie simply because it’s a book, or more specifically a romance book? Is this some way of legitimizing romance?

Point – A condom used by the hero in a romance shows he cares about the heroine. It makes me believe he cares and respects her enough because he’s aware of STDs or doesn’t want to impregnate her. He’s more heroic when he pulls out a condom. It shows he cares.

Counterpoint –
When reading a sexy romance we generally assume a couple having sex for the first time is either in love or almost in love. If a reader can take that leap of faith, why is it so difficult to assume protection isn’t being used just because the author doesn’t actually show it? As for being heroic, if a couple has sex in a book without being in love or at least halfway there that first time or two, I find that even more unheroic than a hero who doesn’t pop on a condom. Even if the work is Erotic Romance or Erotica, why would a hero wear a condom, but turn around and perform oral sex. You can get STDs from oral sex, just like unprotected sex. Again, it’s about letting the reader make up their own mind. I believe readers are intelligent people. They don’t need things dumbed down for them. I’m sure they can assume that protection is a logical part of the sex act and it’s not necessary for a satisfying read.

Point –
It’s an author’s responsibility to add in safe sex issues in their work because we live in a society where STDs and unwanted pregnancies are a major issue. We need to consider that there are impressionable minds out there. To not show safe sex in a book is irresponsible of the author.

Counterpoint – While STDs and unwanted pregnancies are a societal issue, and can be addressed in a romance if an author so chooses, it’s not an author’s responsibility to educate readers on safe sex, particularly when awareness about the issue is quite prevalent in our society.

One can also turn the STD issue around and view it as maybe the hero is using a condom because he’s got a STD he doesn’t want to transmit to the heroine. If that were the case, why hasn’t he been cured? If it’s incurable, then that needs to be addressed LONG before the couple has sex. If the hero doesn’t tell the heroine he’s got a problem, that’s unheroic. If he doesn’t have an STD, is he perhaps afraid the heroine will give him something if he doesn’t put on a condom? Naturally, these are exaggerations and unlikely points that would appear in a romance (although it might make for an interesting read), but the point is that using STDs as a reason for including a condom in romance is to me ridiculous.

The fear of pregnancy however I understand, and I could buy this factor if it’s stated that’s the reason for a condom being used. But again, this is fiction and the heroine won’t get pregnant unless the author deems it so (or the character) so it nullifies the need for a condom.

Point – Romance is supposed to show realism in the development of characters and their relationship. Authors need to be cognizant of this issue and ensure that realism is added into their books.

Counterpoint – If realism is the point of using condoms, then I put forth the argument that realism needs to extend beyond the condoms to more realistic heroes and heroines. Men who aren’t super hot sex machines (although I do love a hottie in a romance). Forget about men who’re drop dead gorgeous with abs that are hard as a tree trunk or flat stomachs or perfect bodies in general. We need heroines that don’t have long silky hair, lovely faces, a svelte figure or other fabulous qualities. Let’s add to our love scenes those moments of skin flapping against skin as lovers copulate. What about those flatulence sounds that occur occasionally when a c*ck pops in and out a certain way. (*evil grin*) Those are all realistic sounds and images. Why aren’t they depicted? I don’t know about you, but there’s a definite, eeewwww factor in there for me. It just doesn’t make for a hot, steamy, ROMANTIC love scene IMHO.

For me personally, condoms in a love scene just aren’t romantic. They’re about being politically correct and the promoting of a safe sex agenda. I don’t write them because I believe they detract from a love scene. I think writing condoms into a love scene has to be a decision of each individual author. If a reader expects political correctness, it won’t be found in my books. I write romance. Romance that entertains. Romance that’s escapism and fantasy with core values such as love, empowerment, hope and HEAs, because the reality is life doesn’t always come with HEAs. I’m not about preaching safe sex to a reader. I think my readers are intelligent enough to figure out that safe sex is something you practice in the real world, and it’s not necessary to have it in a romance book that’s created to entertain you. When I explained this blog to the DH, his reaction was a *snort* and then “Get real, it’s a fantasy.” Guess I’ve got one believer in my court. LOL

>Excerpt – Dangerous Now In Print

>Dangerous by Monica Burns
Samhain Publishing
eBook — ISBN 1-59998-882-8 MBaM
Print – ISBN 978-1-60504-121-6
Available Borders, Amazon, MBaM and Other Bookstores

Read Excerpt Below

Behind the mask lies love-a dangerous and deadly emotion.


Constance Athelson, Viscountess Westbury has a gift she can’t reveal. She sees things others can’t, including the dead. The only thing she can’t see is into the heart of Lucien Blakemore, Earl of Lyndham. After one blissful night in his arms, she knows if she’s ever to win his heart, she must free him from his tortured past.

Lucien Blakemore met the Egyptian goddess Isis at a masked ball, but she vanished into the night before he could learn her real name. It’s just as well, since the Blakemore Curse makes love a dangerous and deadly emotion for him. But the erotic night he spent with his mysterious lover makes him want to throw caution aside-if only for one more night with his masked goddess.

Excerpt

God help him, but the woman was a siren. And all the more powerful because she had no idea how erotically sensual her body was. Returning to her side, he slowly wet her lips with the taste of the berry he held in his fingers.

“Open your mouth, yâ sabāha,” he said as he slid the red fruit across her bottom lip.

Half of the berry entered her mouth and she bit into the dimpled temptation when he told her to. Even beneath the blindfold, he could see the look of pleasure the fruit gave her as she slowly relished its taste. Leaning into her, he breathed in the scent of strawberry as he popped the remainder of the berry past her lips.

“You have a touch of juice at the corner of your mouth,” he murmured before his tongue licked the droplet off her skin.

The touch made her entire body tremble, and he didn’t stop her as she reached up to explore his face with her fingers. He grew still at her caress. The tenderness in her soft touch tightened his throat, and he swallowed hard. A sudden longing for something he knew better than to even dream about rose up inside him. With a violent mental blow, he crushed the thought. Instead he lowered his head and captured her mouth in a teasing caress.

“You’re ripe and succulent, just like that strawberry,” he murmured as he enjoyed the sweetness of her lips.

The pulse at the side of her neck pounded a frantic beat beneath his fingers. Eager to taste the warmth of her skin, he pressed his mouth against the fluttering beat. A soft moan whispered out of her, and the sound sent elation shooting through him. Before the night was through he’d have her doing more than simply moaning. He wanted to hear the aching need in her voice when she pleaded with him for release.

Impatient for the sound of that husky plea, he trailed his mouth across her shoulder and down her arm. For a fraction of a second he paused at the stiff peak of her breast. The silk of her nightgown was stretched taut over the tight tip of her. It betrayed her heightened awareness, and instead of suckling her, he continued to blaze a fiery path down her arm. Her whimper of protest filled him with satisfaction.

“Sweet heaven, Lucien, surely you’re not going to tease me like this all night.” She blindly stretched out her hands to him.

“This is far less of a torment than what I’ve suffered these past several months, my sweet.” He fought to keep his tone light. Admitting the depth of his torment would only give her power over him. “Months of aching for you. Nights needing you, but the only release my cock had was my hand and images of you.”

She gasped at his words as a pink blush filled her cheeks. Coming upright, he rubbed his thumb across the plump fullness of her lower lip. “My words shock you.”

“A little,” she said. He saw her throat bob as she swallowed hard.

“Shall I describe the fantasies I had about you every time I grasped my hard rod?” Slowly, he traced his finger along the edge of her bodice where the lace met her jasmine-scented skin. “Fantasies of me licking the insides of your thighs then sucking on that tender little nub of yours. Sucking on you until you drench my tongue with your hot cream.”

The pink color in her cheeks darkened to a rosy hue as her mouth formed a wordless cry of shock. He watched her carefully as his finger slid down toward the shadowy valley between her breasts. She might have found his comments shocking, but they excited her as well. The slight flare of her nostrils and her shallow breathing were enough to tell him that. He reached for the ribbons of her nightgown, then used the tips of the silk fasteners to tease her skin as he unlaced her bodice.

The almost-transparent garment slid off her shoulders and floated downward to pool at her feet. The dark mauve hue of her rigid nipples made his mouth go dry as he lightly rubbed his thumb over one stiff peak. She jerked at the touch.

“Lucien—”

“Hush, sweetheart. Just let me look at you,” he rasped.

She was beautiful, and his groin tightened with an urgency that troubled him. Christ Almighty, was he going to be able to finish this seduction? His body grew taut with tension as he fought the need to take her without another word. No. He needed to resist the temptation—remain in control. It was the only way to manage this insatiable need she created in him.

Critical Acclaim

2009 EPPIE Finalist

4 1/2 Stars
“Jane Eyre meets The Mummy…[her] characters are so multidimensional that readers will swear they’re based on real people.”
— Romantic Times BOOKreviews

“[She] writes lovely erotic romance with plenty of heart and passionate soul.”
— Michelle Buonfiglio, Romance B(u)y The Book

84 out of 100
“Burns manages to have Constance breaking a few stereotypes without coming off too much like a contemporary character… I find Dangerous is a pretty good read…”
— Mrs. Giggles

“…a powerful, sensually driven historical paranormal that is a testament to Ms. Burns’ gift of keeping her readers spell-bound. Highly Recommended Reading!”
— ParaNormal Romance.org

“Burns writes the kind of sexy, paranormal historical stories I want to read, and I look forward to her next offering!” — Romance Reader At Heart

“Ms. Burns is masterful at escalating the sexual tension and suspense with her characters. Three generations of murder, stubborn ghosts, and an aging matriarch with attitude are the perfect compliment to a fantastic love story that is a joy to read.” — Coffeetime Romance

“Readers will definitely find themselves riveted to the pages as Constance and Lucien’s story unfolds.” — Fallen Angel Reviews

“I truly enjoyed reading Dangerous…it was a delightful and interesting read. Well written and imaginative.” — Romance Reader Connection

>Cooking With The RITA/GH Categories

>Whenever RWA’s National Conference rolls each year something generally creates some friction within the organization. One thing that just reared its head then died a quick death because of a missed deadline was a request for the RWA Board to consider adding an ER/E category to the RITA/Golden Heart contests. There’s been some heated discussion about this topic in a couple of quarters, and over a year ago, I posted about why a separate category was needed.

The Ingredients

They say it’s a woman’s prerogative to change her mind, but I rarely do unless new info on a particular subject comes to light. Here’s the crux of it if you’re in the dark. A large number of writers in the ER/E community want their own category in the RITA and GH. The predominant reason I hear is an ER/E category is needed so our work is judged fairly. Writers want to be judged by others who’re familiar with the structure of ER/E. I understand this mindset given letters to the RWR this past year as well as debacles at the AGM over the past few years. I also keep hearing that ER/E deserves its own category since Inspry has their own.

As I understand it, RITA and GH categories are defined based on established subgenres. From my limited perspective and knowledge, my guess is Inspry got their own category because it became an established subgenre. If this is true, then this is the strongest justification for an ER/E category, primarily because ER/E is its own subgenre. It’s been around for quite some time. Ellora’s Cave was founded in 2000 to provide ER/E to readers, and that was eight years ago. I’d say that qualifies as an established subgenre. However, the real question is what the parameters RWA uses to define a subgenre as established. If they only define the establishment of a subgenre based on print publication (which is my guess), then ER/E is probably not be an established subgenre from RWA’s viewpoint, despite the subgenres birth and roots in ePublishing and its continued growth in that medium over the past eight years. In terms of NY print, it’s only been around for about three years. That might not be enough staying power for some of RWA’s powers that be.

Mixing The Batter

Added into the mix are a lot of ER/E works that easily fit into the categories that are already established subgenres. But then I believe that’s true of a number of inspry books as well. All of this still points back to a desire by writers to have judges reading their work who understand the subgenre of romance. Particularly fiction on opposite spectrums that can incite strong emotional reactions (religion and sex, hell doesn’t get any hotter than discussions on these topics!). Further complicating the issue for me is my recent discussion with writers who received their scores from this year’s RITA contest.

In a recent discussion with several ER/E authors, I learned their RITA scores ranged from 4s to 9s with a number of the scores leaning toward higher numbers (7s and 8s) as opposed to lower ones, and I don’t recall any 1s, 2s or 3s either. I pointed out to one of the authors who’d received all high scores except for one low number that she’d done really well given the fact that there are up to 1200 entries allowed in each category (and her category is a popular one). I mean she was sporting numbers over six in all but one score. That’s great given it was an ER/E with some quite erotic elements. I interpreted the results as saying that the judges who read the book were able to look at the book objectively and not judge it harshly simply because it had erotic content. So for me, this discussion on RITA scores seriously impacts the argument that ER/E won’t be judged fairly. Granted, this was a small group of writers, but I’m going to encourage the special interest chapter for ER/E, Passionate Ink, to poll its members for scores so we can study the issue more closely.

Oven Set to 350 Fahrenheit

So has this new information changed my mind completely? No. I can still see the devil in the details, and I am convinced ER/E is a legitimate, fully established subgenre. But I’m not convinced that we can claim unfair judging as a reason for establishing the category. However, I can see the possibility of an entry being entered into say the paranormal category and then SLAM the entry is marked as being in the wrong category because in the judge’s opinion it’s ER/E. This is one of the downsides to having an ER/E category.

New Recipe

What I’d really like to see is something so radical that it won’t ever happen! I’d love to see the RITA’s and GH condensed down to the best top 10 or 20 books out of all entries. Claire Delacroix mentioned that idea to me not to long ago and I loved it. (Claire said 10, but I think 20 would be more fair and well-rounded). There would be no subgenre categories at all. It would be about what the majority viewed as being the top books of the year. On top of that it would make the awards event not so long and drawn out.

Then there’s THIS idea. Why doesn’t RWA work with booksellers to establish a reader-based contest? Yes, RT does this, but I’m suggesting something that is coordinated via the booksellers versus a magazine. This could be a way of promoting romance in a way that RWA’s never done before. Let the reader decide what they consider the best of the best.

The Icing

In the end, it really doesn’t matter, because IMHO, the RITAs and the GH are like the Oscars of the romance fiction world. It’s really nice to be recognized by your peers. The only difference is that our awards don’t generally carry that much weight when it comes to money (i.e., increased reader sales, and I’m not convinced it means more money in advances). I think a final or win in these two contests are more like an accomplishment on a resume as opposed to greater financial gain. It’s earning respect for your work from your peers. While that’s important, it’s the opinion of readers that help us butter our bread. Thus I’m slowly coming to the party with the thought that what my peers think of me isn’t necessarily as important as what my readers think of my books.

See, I was half-baked and I’m still cooking!! LOL

Monica