Monday, December 12, 2005

SB Day: where I ask, "But is he Sponge-worthy?"

The fabulous Miss Beth, she has once again declared that today is the day of the Smart Bitches! I thought about writing the entire blog in this the bad accent, but I am weak. I do not know how the Manolo he does it!

Speaking of bad accents:

“Waiter, there is too much pepper on my paprikash. But I would be proud to partake in your pecan pie.”

Okay, done now. Moving on. Smart Bitches, intelligent thoughts, caffeine, blend on high for two minutes and you get…nothing.

Hmmm, must concentrate harder.

Oh, I know. Birth Control. Let’s talk about female birth control and the amazing lack of variety to be found in Romancelandia.

I’ve pretty much come to accept it as a requirement that at some point during a contemporary romance love scene the male character and the female character will discuss birth control. Usually there’s some blatant mention of him putting on a condom (as discussed by the Smart Bitches in “Oh, Jimmy, your hat!”), or she says something about being on the Pill and off they ride into bare-backed orgasmic happiness. Ultimately the mention of the Pill will later be explained as something that her doctor put her on for hormonal problems, not because she likes to get some action, thus assuring the reader of her non-sluttiness, and the story will go on.

Well, gee, glad to see we’ve broken out of the confines of the patriarchal restrictions based on women and are comfortable with our own sexuality.


It’s not that I have a problem with the whole “she’s on birth control for hormone regulation” idea, that’s why I originally went on birth control. Hormones, especially weird fluctuating hormones, do not make anyone happy. In fact, the make many people unhappy when you suddenly turn into a raging bitch for no apparent reason. No, my issues with the lack of variety in female birth control mentioned in romances stem from a couple of different areas.

I’m afraid the reason why so many fall back on using the Pill and not the patch, IUD, Depo, diaphragm or sponge stems from the belief that all of these other forms of birth control have less to do with hormone balancing and more to do with allowing the user the freedom (or perhaps a better word would be protection) to have sex whenever they want. Sure, female birth control does not prevent the spread of STDs. I know that, you know that, everyone knows that. A condom should still be employed. But the “greater” threat of pregnancy is reduced by their presence (personally I fear STDs more than pregnancy, but I’m not a romance heroine).

We wouldn’t want our heroine to be sexually active. Oh no! She must be the next thing to a virgin (if not a virgin), so that the hero can teach her the ways of lurve.

Nargh! Ugh! And other sounds of disgust.

What century are we living in people? I’m not quite sure. Did someone do the time warp when I wasn’t paying attention?

Maybe the reliance on the Pill has something to do with the secret baby plot always lingering there in the background. Maybe romance authors/editors love the Pill because there’s always that chance that the heroine will forget to take it, and ta-daaaah nine months later we have an epilogue where they are welcoming little Sally or Susie or Tommy into the world.

Gag me with a spoon.

This plot devise (which screams Deus Ex Machina) would be less possible if the heroine had an IUD, IUS, or NuvaRing. There would still be a chance of failure, yes, but not because the idiot forgot to take her pill a couple days in a row.

Hmm, I used idiot. How pejorative of me. Let me rephrase: It is possible to forget to take the Pill, many women do so. It is also possible to be so fertile that forgetting to take one pill (which would have to be a low dose to begin with) at the wrong time of the month could result in some baby-making. The large number of babies resulting from this phenomenon in Romancelandia is a statistical improbability.

Still, my bigger worry on why these other forms of birth control aren’t mentioned has to do with the level of health comprehension on the parts of the readers and the writers. If in the middle of a hot-and-heavy love scene the heroine told the hero that it’s alright because “I have an IUD,” would everyone be completely thrown out of the scene due to not knowing what she meant?

I’m afraid they would be. I’m afraid the average reader would be all, “What the fuck? A whats-it?”

I’m afraid it’s a sign that most women don’t have enough knowledge about their options to make an informed decision. Sure, everyone laughed when Seinfeld had Elaine consider whether or not the new man in her life was “sponge-worthy,” but were they amused by the reality of it or by what they viewed as the exaggeration of the reality? Why can’t we have some female character take a look at her reproductive health and ask herself, “IUD, NuvaRing, or the Pill/Patch, what would be better in my situation?”

Sure this might be a question better suited for a character to ask in a Chick-Lit novel, and maybe I’m just being too picky about something that shouldn’t even factor into the plot. It’s just that if they are going to go through all the trouble to have the obligatory mention of the condom, maybe we should allow the heroine some options when it comes to her own protection. Maybe we should try and believe that the reading public will think, “Oh, IUD. Makes sense because she travels so much through so many different countries,” instead of, “A what?” And maybe if they do have some confusion, they’ll look it up, learn something, and take control of their own reproductive care.

Maybe. I don’t think that “Is he IUD-worthy?” will become the next catchphrase, but I would just like a little variety. Is that too much to ask?

Obviously coherence (from me) is.


Anonymous said...

DISCLAIMER: I am male. I have no right to an opinion on pregnancy. Nevertheless...

Is it absolutely necessary to even address the issue of birth control at the magical moment? One writer once lamented how when she was less experienced, she used to worry about where the coffee cup was on the table (i.e., did the character pick it up, hold it, set it down to the left or right, etc., ad nauseum). Finally, she realized she was obsessing about the unnecessary. Isn't it possible to just describe the magical moment and let the reader fill in the birth control of choice? Too much realism might detract.

P.S. And forget about historical romances! In the old days people did some intriguing stuff to avoid pregnancy. How about a condom made from animal intestine? That might take the shine off the magic to a modern reader, I think.

Kate R said...


Every fiction editor (four) I've worked with says it's necessary. I'm not sure why. For some category romances it's a requirement (or it was a couple of years back, at any rate. I don't keep on these things.)

The man is often responsible because that makes him A Caring Dude--we're talking a woman's fantasy after all.

Nicole said...

lol as one who has never been on the Pill, I have also wondered at the lack of other bc in romances.

And one reason to use depo - NO PERIODS. I abso-freakin-lutely loved that part of it. And now I'm on the Ring and love it. And it lends itself to humorous moments during sex at times. you can see I have no problems talking about my bc choices with complete strangers. *g*

Bookseller Chick said...

Jason--as Kate said, it's seems to be a requirement for most publishers producing contemporary romance. To the point where women remark if the condom isn't mentioned. Could it be the warning for a sudden pregnancy plot? As for historicals, some do employ the sheep-skin condom, while others talk of pulling out and other methods. Of course, the risk of pregnancy becomes a plot device for them to.

Kate--exactly. What I want to know is why This Caring Dude never has this conversation with the woman before the heat of the moment! And why does she never ask to see his test results just in case, even if he says he's clean. People lie.

Nicole--obviously I have no issues either and am now considering the world of absolutely no period. It seems like a dream, a fantastical realm. You mean I would go a month without wanting to rip out my ovaries? Glorious day. Certainly we aren't the only women who consider this a joy, so where's our romancelandia equivilant?

BSC who fears she may have scared off the masses by talking about the reproductive cycle.

jmc said...

What an excellent SBD topic! And thank you for writing about bc beyond the pill and condoms.

I can remember reading a category by Suzanne Brockmann (one of the SEAL ones, with Bobby the Native American and Colleen, sister of his swim-buddy) that became a wallbanger when bc came up. The condom broke, and they wigged out about a possible pregnancy. Hello, did they even think about the morning after pill? How can anyone get through college and into grad school (like the heroine) without having been exposed to least one lecture or seminar by Student Health Services that at the very least mentioned it? [I think the birthcontrol talk by SHS is an excellent thing for hormone-riddled teenagers. I appreciated it and hope it still goes on during freshman orientation; it was a mandatory part of mine.] I didn't expect a whole conversation about it, but something other than resignation about waiting to see if she became pregnant would have been welcome.

It is as if Romancelandia permits only one form of bc; if you screw it up, you are not entitled to even attempt to use another. I wonder sometimes if that is an implicit expression of the conservative messages that 1) you shouldn't be having extramarital sex anyway, so if you get caught it is your own fault, you've made your bed, now lie in it; 2) sex is supposed to be for procreation and pleasure is ancillary, subversion of the procreation portion in order to enjoy the pleasure only will be punished by unwanted creation' and 3) preventing a pregnacy via the morning after pill is the same as an abortion and is a no no in romance novels.

jmc said...

Clearly, I'm having a spelling problem. Procreation, not creation'. Pregnancy, not pregnacy. Sorry about that.

And the other thing that made the Brockmann book a wall-banger was the fact that pregnancy was the ONLY thing either of them worried about. STDs apparently don't exist in Romancelandia, unless you are a villian (see Geoffrey in Gaffney's To Love and Cherish).


Bookseller Chick said...

jmc, I read that book too, and had the same reaction. Wasn't she training to be in the medical profession or something? The thing is, I would have accepted it if she'd said something along the lines of not wanting the morning after pill for religious reasons (I once had a doctor tell me that she didn't have a problem prescribing it--it was the patient's body--but she would never take it herself), but instead they just waited!

I, too, had the orientations and the talk with the health center. I, too, had to make the walk with many a friend after a night of having fun turned into a night of having fun and forgetting to use something. And then do the walk again a couple of days later for the round of STD testing. Thank God for student health insurance.

I think that you are right that it comes from the taboo. Sex in romance novels does most likely lead to procreation. Sex for sex sake is considered "spicy" in that it stretches boundaries, and even then it is going to end in marriage. Personally, I've got nothing against love and marriage, but I would like to have some self-aware female characters who know their needs and their bodies before they have a man show them how it should be.

Cultural restraints are a bitch.