Condoms: fictional contraceptive of choice

I’ve written several times (here, for example, and here), about why, in real life, I’d always rather be on the pill. I like semen. I like spontaneity. I like intimacy. To a certain extent, I think condoms interfere with the enjoyment of all those things. But in erotica? In erotica, I think they come in to their own.

There’s been a lot written by erotica writers about whether we have a responsibility to write condoms into our sex scenes, a responsibility to write safe sex. That is not the purpose of this post: this is less what about what we do through obligation to reflect best practice in real life, and more about how condoms can actually serve a fictional purpose.

In fiction, you can almost argue that the pill is the contraceptive of deceit and stability (almost, because right now, helpfully, I can’t think of any specific examples – I thought Gone Girl was one, only to be reminded that what Amy does is worse still.) It’s the form of contraception that women ‘accidentally’ forget to take, or the one they make an active decision to stop taking when they want a family. It feels, to me, more about conception than sex.

Condoms, and other barrier methods, on the other hand, are visceral – though condoms more than say, the diaphragm, since they’re on the outside of the body, not the inside. The pill, the coil, the implant – they’re intellectual decisions, made in a GP’s surgery, out of the heat of the moment, separate, really, from desire. The rip of that foil packet? It screams desire.

The sheer physical presence of the condom is a great device in fiction – I made my own attempt at writing that here, but it’s better shown, I think, in Kristina Lloyd’s Asking for Trouble, which is my go-to novel for demonstrating how to do stuff well – not least because unlike my fictional take on condoms, it has actual sex! Condoms recur throughout this novel – they’re symbolic…

‘Just a sec,’ I said, and scurried to get a condom from my desk drawer. That had been a real treat for me when I’d first moved in: hiding little condom stashes here and there, making every room in the flat a potential fuck zone. No more having to worry about other people. The whole place was mine.

… but that symbolism works on a very real level …

When he withdrew, I saw the rubber wrinkling on his prick, its teat drooping with liquid. I just hadn’t felt it. I guess my vagina wasn’t concentrating. Thank God one of us is in control, I thought.

There’s so much in those three sentences. The comedown from the out-of-control desire that fuels this sex scene is captured in ‘drooping’ alone, but the fact that Ilya, the hero, puts on a condom despite Beth not realising, and that she goes on to frame that as ‘Thank God one of us is in control’ foreshadows the way that she relinquishes control to him all the way through the novel, and it’s all captured in one perfectly written piece of latex.

Symbolic objects in fiction fascinate me. And condoms lend themselves perfectly to symbolism, whether your characters use them, or whether they don’t. It’s why a blanket insistence that we include them just to remind readers of the importance of safe sex denies the writer, and the reader, so much damn potential.

 

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Machine

She glances at the dessert menu and then abandons it, despite the chocolate fondant.

He raises an eyebrow. ‘You don’t want anything?’

Her foot rests between his legs, caressing his stiffening cock through the fabric of his shorts. She smiles at him and draws her finger through the damp circle her wine glass has left on the table. She feels, for once, like she’s the one in control.

‘Not dessert.’

‘Oh?’

How does he do that? How does he flip the dynamic so quickly, so easily?

She holds his gaze. ‘I want you.’

This time, he’s the one to smile. ‘Likewise.’

*

He asks for the bill. The minutes seem endless. He only has a fifty, and the waiter takes an age to bring the change. She’s so wet she’s worried she’ll leave a mark on the canvas chair.

He leaves a tip, gathers up the rest, and deposits three euros on the table in front of her. ‘Your turn to buy condoms.’

‘But we have – ‘

‘I’d like you to buy them there.’

Next to the restaurant is a pharmacy. A pharmacy which is clearly open for business. A pharmacy whose flashing green sign indicates that the current temperature is 28°C. Her face feels at least ten degrees hotter. Because she knows he doesn’t mean her to buy them there. He wants her to use the machine.

It looks as if it hasn’t been used in years. Graffiti covers its rusting surface, along with the tacky remains of stickers long ripped off. There’s a lump of what she fears is chewing gum stuck to its side.

It looks dirty, nasty. Exactly how he likes her to feel.

She wouldn’t mind, late at night. Late at night, in a deserted street, she’d do it willingly. But it’s 14:24 on a sunny Saturday afternoon. People are watching, and that’s his thing, not hers.

She’s frozen to her seat. He reaches down, adjusts his cock in his shorts. She feels her cunt twitch in sympathy. She needs him inside her.

When she finally moves, the backs of her thighs are actually stuck to the canvas. The chair clatters against the concrete as she stands. A few people look up. He grins, half in amusement, half in malice.

In her clammy palm, the coins feel huge. She feels like she’s clutching something secret, or precious. Suddenly she’s reminded of her childhood: of begging to buy Minstrels from an equally tired machine.

‘No,’ her mum had said, dragging her away. ‘You don’t know how long they’ve been in there.’

She feeds the coins in as fast as she can. They clunk down into the depths of the machine and she glances round nervously, convinced the noise is echoing round the entire square. The maitre d’, who seated them a couple of hours earlier, catches her eye. He’s thinking about what she looks like in bed, she’s sure of it.

She presses a button, any button. It doesn’t matter what kind the machine dispenses, because the condoms aren’t the point. They probably won’t even use them. The point is making her burn hot with shame.

The machine doesn’t budge. She presses a different button. Still nothing. She tries the first one again, but to no avail. She turns to look at him, begs him with her eyes to come and help, or to tell her It’s ok, leave it. Instead, he stands with his hands shoved in the pockets of his shorts, visibly erect. He shrugs.

She turns back to the machine, and in frustration as much as desperation, she thumps the side of it. This time, people really do look up. She can hear titters, and somewhere in the crowd a man whistles.

She hates this. She loves it.

Finally, a packet falls down the chute, and she grabs it and scoots back to the table as fast as she can, eyes firmly on the ground.

He catches her arm, pulls her tight against him, grinds his cock into her stomach. He holds out a hand and she drops the packet into his palm, ridiculously proud of herself.

They kiss, all the heat and shame finally channelled. When they pull apart, and he takes her hand and leads her back in the direction of their hotel, she doesn’t notice him casually abandon the square packet on the table behind them.