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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