Sex in books (or in general)

I read a review a few months ago (will not say who wrote it or on what book, as this is not intended to call out a specific person) that contained a statement that has stuck with me, and bothered me, all this time. I feel the need to address it now.

This statement said, in effect, that authors are responsible for making sure readers know about safe sex. Reading between the lines, there was an implication that authors are supposed to make sure that readers have safe sex.

I strongly disagree with this statement. Here’s my first thought: I’m a 35 year old divorced mother of two. If I have not yet figured out that my partner and I should use a condom when we have sex, it’s probably too late for me to learn it from a book. My second thought: why is it my responsibility to teach you about safe sex?

I have children. It’s my responsibility to teach them to use protection. I don’t expect any book, unless it’s a nonfiction book specifically about sex, to teach them about protection – and even then, the book is a supplement to my teachings. They are the only people on this earth for whom I am responsible when it comes to teaching about safe sex.

I do not write nonfiction. I write fiction, romantic suspense specifically. I write purely for entertainment. Let’s face it, people don’t want to read about real sex. They don’t want to read about fumbling in the dark, heads hitting walls or noses bumping because you both turn your head the same way. No one wants to read about stuck zippers or sex that stops before it gets started because the condom in his wallet ripped before he could even put it on. We want to read about sex that generally goes smoothly from start to finish, where everyone has an orgasm and the characters fall just a little more in love (or lust, depending on the genre).

There are times when including condom usage is important to the scene (just like there are times when including the fumbling or the stuck zipper is important), but if authors make a big thing about including mention of a condom in every single sex scene we write – we’re not teaching our readers about safe sex. We’re beating them over the head about condom usage, and that not only will not teach them to use condoms, but just might cause them to turn away entirely.

Perhaps this reviewer had their own reasons for feeling that authors have some kind of responsibility to teach about safe sex. And maybe if I knew those reasons, I might be able to see where they’re coming from. Right now, though, I can’t.

There’s no expectation that authors should make sure all the characters in our books have legal guns and concealed carry permits, even the bad guys. There’s no outrage that we let bad guys steal cars, run people over, stab them to death, or any of the other things that happen in books – and in real life. Yet if our characters have sex without a condom, we’re somehow not living up to our responsibility?

My responsibility, as an author, is to entertain. I have to entertain you, whether that’s with my bad guy getting what’s coming to him or my hero and heroine getting it on. My responsibility is not to teach you how to have safe sex. Generally speaking, most of my readers are adults, anyway, which means that by now, you really should know how to have safe sex and if you choose not to, that’s on you.

Some might argue that some teens read my books as well, and I suppose that’s true. But those teens have parents. Their parents are the ones who have a responsibility to teach those teens about safe sex. If they don’t or won’t, I somehow doubt that reading a scene in a book where two characters stop everything to grab a condom is really going to make that teen suddenly realize the importance of protection.

When you read a book, read it for its intended purpose. If you’re reading fiction, its purpose is to entertain, not to teach. If you want to read a book that will teach you something, whether it’s safe sex or how to knit or how to build a website, you need to grab nonfiction. Only when you read nonfiction can you claim that an author has any responsibility to drive home a point. The only point to fiction is entertainment. If I entertain you, I’ve done my job.

Simple as that.

(P.S. I realize the survival uses of condoms article really has nothing to do with this topic, other than being about condoms, but I thought it was interesting, so there you go. My teaching moment for the day.)

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