When I give a basic definition of my chosen genre, written erotica, I usually say, “writing intended to arouse.” But what does that look like in terms of safer sex? Do erotica and erotic romance writers owe their readers the courtesy of making their characters act responsibly when it comes to birth control, sexually transmitted infections (STIs, often called sexually transmitted diseases) and BDSM? On the heels of the criticism E.L. James has received for what many considered unsafe BDSM practices in “Fifty Shades of Grey,” this is a hotly debated issue by authors, readers and reviewers, with no clear answers.
For some readers, the lack of safe sex practices is an immediate red flag, not out of “political correctness,” but because it detracts from the reading experience. In a review of KD Grace’s “The Initiation of Ms. Holly,” blogger Reading With Analysis called out the author: “I am in favor of safe sex in erotica (and romance), because it reinforces our cultural reality and could — perhaps — help contribute to the idea that the only sexy sex is safe sex. So I noticed right away that there weren’t any condoms present during any of the crazy sexual encounters in this book…. Everything was tracking along OK, until one scene … when a dude is about to have sex with a lady, and he puts on a condom and remarks in his inner monologue that he doesn’t know where she’s been. Hold up. No one in this book knows where anyone else has been, either, so…. And that was the only condom in the book! It made all the other scenes — especially the pet sequences — seem incredibly questionable and more than a little disturbing.”
Grace isn’t sorry, and defended her work’s right to exist in a fantasy zone. “Erotica, like all other fiction, is indeed fiction,” said Grace. “We don’t become cannibals after reading a Thomas Harris novel, and we don’t go biting people’s necks after reading a vampire novel. Surely people who read erotica are no less intelligent than people who read crime or horror. Though safe sex and the need for condoms is the reality of the world we now live in, I seriously doubt that using a condom is a part of our fantasy life, if we’re honest.”