Now, to a certain extent, if you are still reading, I assume you have or are planning to include contraception in your fiction. But let’s talk a little about why.
As previously discussed, novels are not a replacement for sex ed, nor should they be.
But as we’ve also discussed, given varying levels of education and information among readers, you cannot assume that readers know that they shouldn’t put the condoms in the glove compartment even though that’s where you had your character stash them, or that they know to sterilize the dildo between uses.
Reasons your characters might discuss and/or make use of contraception: - Realism/reflection of contemporary life - Insight into the character. I assume this one has mostly been explained at this point but the choices characters make regarding sex, even and especially regarding contraception, are not value neutral. They provide insight into the character.
- Demonstration of the character’s emotional mindset - Showing the characters’ comfort (or discomfort) level with one another. - Modeling ideal behavior I often think of contraception in fiction, much like seatbelts. If you watch older movies or TV shows before they made the rule that everyone had to wear seatbelts, it now looks terribly odd. Didn’t they care about themselves and their passengers? Why would they do that. But if a TV or movie character puts on a seatbelt, it just seems normal. Even if they are in a hurry.
A lot of sex ed in this country focuses primarily on penis vagina contact. That may be the only sexual contact occurring in your book. But. Some notes. LGBTQ teens (and adults) tend to zone out during a lot of this, because they assume it doesn’t apply to them. However, as we know, contraception can also provide prevention against infections and that applies equally to everyone engaging in sexual contact where genitals are involved. There are dental dams. Condoms can be used for anal sex. For characters using a dildo, they may choose to use a condom if it hasn’t been sanitized since the last usage. There has been some pushback particularly in the gay community that condoms are used too much in male/male romance. That a lot of this has to do with the inherent assumption that men engaging in sex with men are at higher risk for disease. This is an unfair stereotype. Anal sex does carry a higher risk of disease transmission, but gay men are not the only people who engage in anal sex, and there is no evidence that gay men engage in anal sex at a higher rate than any other population.
This is particularly something to consider if your story or series features couples across the spectrum of sexuality.
Another thing to keep in mind is the age of your characters. In the US, we have been seeing a huge rise in sexually transmitted infections (STI)s among senior citizens. There are a variety of factors contributing to this. They include: no pregnancy concerns, a population less accustomed to navigating multiple partners, and a gender imbalance.
Your story may not feature senior citizens engaging in on page sex, and that’s fine. But it leads into another issue.
If your characters make the choice to go for testing rather than a barrier method of contraception, in our world (your world may vary, of course) that test demonstrates infection that is detectable that day. We’ve already touched on how apps might mean you are no longer in communication with a prior partner. Tests can take up to three months to show contraction of an STI. Depending on the timeframe of your story, that may be longer than your characters are willing to wait for sexual contact.
Another point I want to make, is that regular readers have been trained to a certain extent. When I watch a TV show and see a character in a car just humming along and doing nothing else, I now brace for the car to get slammed by something.
Similarly readers have become accustomed to a variety of mentions of contraception. Any time an author leaves it out, the reader is likely to assume there is either pregnancy or disease on the way.
AARP – STIs Rising in Older Adults: https://www.aarp.org/health/conditions-treatments/info-2017/std-exposure-rises-older-adults-fd.html