Thursday, December 9, 2010

Subliminal virtue.

There's one good thing Cosmo does in every issue. They have a recurring feature, "Red Hot Reads," where they excerpt sex scenes from romance novels for your "his stalwart member plunged between her quivering petals"-reading pleasure. And in every single scene, there's something like this:

"Janey," he said, "I can't wait."
Janey felt the same way. All she could think was more. Jason slipped on a condom, and she guided him inside her. She lifted her hips to his... then pulled away. She lifted again, taking all he had to give her. Then he was grinding too, matching her rhythm. The sensation was so unbearably good. Rich, erotic, amazing. Soon he increased the pace.

It's never declared with fanfare, but the Red Hot Read always includes a condom. The condom is mentioned in passing and treated like a normal thing. It takes just one line--hell, half of a line--to mention, and although one instance of it doesn't do much, the preponderance of stories that include condoms in this way spread the idea that a condom is just a regular part of sex. It becomes part of the audience's model of how sex is supposed to go.

(Now I feel sorta bad that I don't often mention condoms myself. I use them absolutely every time; I just have a habit of considering them so normal that they go without saying, and my audience sufficiently sophisticated that you would understand that.)

In a way, this is more effective sex education than a straight-on screed about how you must use condoms because they're very important and you'll get horrible diseases and give your partner horrible diseases. Direct speech has its place in education--casual mentions in cheesy sex scenes won't tell you how to use a condom properly or what it's for--but sometimes fails as persuasion. Some people will use a condom because they're told it prevents AIDS and babies, but some will only use it when they're convinced that's what normal people do.

Now I just wish Cosmo would go further and model, say, consent in their stories.
"Janey," he said, "I can't wait."
"Neither can I," Janey said. All she could think was more.

A tiny difference, but it changes the heroine's reaction from lying there sending out consensual thought waves, to giving explicit enthusiastic consent.

Stealth propaganda isn't as much fun to write as direct screeds. It doesn't vent your spleen, and it can sometimes feel like a dishonest practice. It also raises questions of "do I want to perpetuate the beauty myth and heteronormativity in my consent-modeling romance novel, or do I want to risk losing my audience?" But it reaches people whom no degree of "Come on guys, you gotta wear a condom because it's really really important, listen to me" ever can.


  1. OK, I know nothing of your relationship status, but if you're in a committed relationship there's no need for condoms. And that includes a triad, if all three stick to safe(r) sex outside said triad.

    Just from a cost point of view this makes sense, not to mention the completely different sensation.

    (Hmmm, I have this deja vu idea of where the comments will go with this one...)

  2. Anon - If you're in a committed exclusive relationship where all parties have been tested and there is birth control (or you want a child), then yes.

    But if someone is having outside sex, even safer sex, I would stick with the condoms. "Safer" isn't perfect and when I'm playing odds I'd like to square my safety margin.

  3. Holly, I'm glad you brought this up. I've got a couple of stories I intend to publish on Literotica. In my head they are about couple in an exclusive marriage in which the man has had a vasectomy, but I never made that explicit.

    Not much P-in-V in my stories anyway, though. What's you opinion on condoms for fellatio?

  4. Mousie - I confess I don't use condoms for blowjobs. I probably should, but the risk of getting the truly nasty diseases orally is lower (and of course I can't get mouth-pregnant), and the taste and texture of a mouthful of condom are just so terrible.

  5. Good post, Holly. While I can't stand those stories, that is a really good point to make, and I appreciate them for that (more or less that alone). That's super smart thinking of them.

    Reminds me of a sex-games book I picked up once that had an entire section on condoms and why they were so wonderful (flavored condoms, putting them on with your mouth, playing with them with your hands...) it was delightful. I never thought them as anything more than necessary and routine, like brushing teeth, but that book changed my mind about how boring/nasty they had to be.

    Still doesn't excuse the time I mixed up 'flavored' and 'extended pleasure' and ended up not being able to feel my lips!

  6. Hershele OstropolerDecember 9, 2010 at 12:07 PM

    Stealth propaganda isn't as much fun to write as direct screeds. It doesn't vent your spleen, and it can sometimes feel like a dishonest practice.
    That and, ironically, it can come across as more self-righteous and ostentatiously virtuous. Though in a different context than "Holly is pointing out something positive about this" I probably wouldn't have noticed the condom bit; it's less intrusive than actually putting a condom on is.

  7. Man, fanfic is full of the stealth propaganda. Condoms are a normal-people thing! Consent is very important, and the lack of explicit consent is a minority taste which must be warned for! Not everyone is straight (sometimes shading into 'everyone is not-straight')! People find lots of different body types attractive, and just because you're not an obsessed Jack Black fangirl is no reason to criticize!

  8. Hershele OstropolerDecember 9, 2010 at 2:46 PM

    As for consent, I had to read it over two or three times to even notice a difference between your modeling-consent version and the original. Even one I spotted the difference in wording I had to read the rest of the post to realize they weren't just two different ways of expressing the same thing. I don't know if that means I've already absorbed the lesson of if it underscores the need to teach it.

  9. To be fair, cosmo doesn't WRITE the stuff, they just print excerpts from books.
    On the other hand, I don't know if the writers aren't writing explicit consent, or cosmo just doesn't choose those scenes.

  10. But they choose scenes with condoms. I assume not every romance novel features condoms.

    I also wonder if those excerpts might be slightly edited.

  11. Hershele - They seem similar because the writing puts you inside Janey's head, where either way it's clear she's happy about what's going on. But Jason isn't in Janey's head, and from his point of view her consent is only obvious when she says it.

    (Yeah, "guiding him in" is kinda consenty too, but at that point he's already condomed up and poking at her with it, and things should really be clarified before that.)

  12. @anon -
    Buy condoms on Amazon - Okamoto Crown (very good condoms, minimal taste) 100 for $13, (only $0.13 a fuck), or Skyn non-latex for ~$.50 each, or Sagami Original (crazy thin polyeurethane condoms) for $2 ea. Waaaay cheaper (and/or better) than you find in the drug store.

  13. Heh Rowdy, yea I figured someone would note that condoms are not so expensive. And you don't (can't) know that I'm not in the same country you're in. Over here, condoms that fit me are "premium". But I still buy them for special occasions, being the maybe dozen times a year I shag someone outside our triad, as opposed to the two dozen times a month I shag either my wife our our girlfriend.

    Holly : yup, with you. Had the vasectomy after breaking a condom with someone else's wife only to afterwards learn that they use his vasectomy for birth control...

    (Anonymous because of stuff sortakinda explained in a rambling email to the lady of the blog)

  14. Thanks for mentioning the consent issues - it left a bad feeling in my stomach when reading your quote from the excerpt, and your comment/correction removed the bad feeling instantly:-)

  15. I wonder what it says about me that I misread "Red Hot Reads" as "Hot Redheads" for a few seconds.

  16. lxr:
    I did exactly the same thing. And I also didn't notice it didn't say that until I read your comment, haha! Thought it was a bit odd, though...

  17. That is awesome, though that said, I am also aware of an unfortunate trend in other romance novels to have condoms for the first few times, but then have them finally have sex without condoms to show how much the love each other. Because the "risk" that comes with sex without condoms fully shows a man's commitment! He wants to have babies! It's true love! Only then, without that artificial man-made barrier can a man and a woman truly become one!

    Or something. I don't know, but it's really annoying.