The choices characters make regarding sex are an expression of their values. For romance authors in particular, this should not be new information, but it’s true for all authors. If your protagonist is careless about the feelings and pleasure of their sexual partners, that is saying something to the reader about the character. If the character is interested in, and willing to work for the pleasure of their sexual partners, that also says something about them.
The choices and conversations that those characters have about contraception can also indicate interest and concern about the well-being of both themselves and their partners.
Values can be kind of a loaded word sometimes, but in the end, as authors we are often trying to show how characters learn and grow. We are often trying to demonstrate that a character who hadn’t felt appreciated or like they had something to offer, realizes that they do. Or a confident character can discover vulnerability doesn’t make them weak. Or a grumpy character can discover some interest in softness. In the end, these are all an expression of values.
Romance authors with on page sex scenes, sometimes find themselves defending those scenes, noting the character growth that happens on those pages. This is true for non-romance authors, and also for authors who don’t include explicit sex scenes. The ways the characters treat each other, and demonstrate their attraction to each other, are expressions of their values.
Now of course, an author may wish to start off with characters that have values that are incorrect. To show those characters learning they had the wrong values. All of that is fine and good. We just want to make sure that that growth is clear on the page.
Am I saying that the author must write a thinky scene where Bob sits there and says, wow, I sure have come a long way from chapter 3 when I still thought consent was unnecessary and boring. No, I am not.
But I think as writers, in leaving space for the reader, we sometimes forget to wrap up some of those growth arcs. If Bob thought consent was boring in chapter 3 and the author wishes to show Bob has learned, then the author needs to show Bob seeking consent in a later scene.