Monday, 9 March 2015

Special guest Charlie Forrest

It's my real pleasure today to welcome Charlie Forrest, a British gentleman and author who is debating a subject that most erotic writers have pondered during their career. I'd love to hear your views at the end - take it away Charlie...

Reading between the lines.
I spent a full morning recently updating my entire back catalogue. The reason for doing so was that I wanted to insert a little two-line disclaimer into the front matter:
" Author's note:

The events depicted in this story are fantasy. In real life practice safer sex."
My approach to the inclusion of contraceptives in erotica is very much that it is a matter of individual preference. I certainly won't ever object to another writer including it, but I won't necessarily include it in my own writing. Currently I am working on the idea that the use of condoms can, all else aside, act as an interesting literary tool. The use and conversations around safer sex (or the lack thereof) can give a very useful window into the psyche of the characters.
I chose to include the above disclaimer mainly on the principle of "it can't hurt." However, even this is somewhat divisive.

The general principle goes that the writer usually assumes a certain level of self awareness and accountability on the part of the reader. Classic examples trotted out are for other genres. There are no disclaimers on Ian Rankin's books saying not to murder people, or that police work should be left to the proper authorities. So why is there a pressure on erotica writers to model good practice?
I would argue that a big part of the problem is that erotica, somewhat like porn, is a large part of many people's exposure to the world of sex, and that the reason this pressure is placed on erotica is simply that the education given in schools on this matter is woefully inadequate.
Let me expound a little from my own experience. It has been a number of years since I went through sex education at school so I'm aware that this information is out of date, however I understand that the general emphasis of sex education hasn't changed much.
My abiding memory of sex education at school, aside from the basic biology, was an emphasis on the use of condoms. Hours were dedicated to showing us horrifying images of the consequences of some STIs and hammering home that the barrier methods were the best method of protecting oneself. This was all well and good and probably operated on the principle of, "if you take away just one thing..."
What is worrying, is all the things that are absent. My sex education was a blunt instrument, designed to educate to a certain extent, and ram home a safe course of action through fear. For example, at no point was it ever even suggested that HIV was anything other than an automatic death sentence as opposed to its current status as a difficult, chronic but manageable illness on which there has been and continues to be tremendous progress.
Of particular relevance to erotica, however, is the lack of context for media. There was no discussion of erotica, porn, or other media representations of sex. Neither was there discussion of emotional and physical abuse or the importance of consent. Instead we were sent off into the world with the assumption that we'd pick up the rest as we went along.
And so the baton falls to the producers of porn of whatever format to provide the forms of education that were missed out at school.
So where does this leave me? Caught in the middle of a pincer movement calling for porn to be a surrogate sex education, while at the same time being snooted, sneered and censored.
I'd like to think my modification to my back catalogue might make some kind of difference, that it would thread the impossible needle of expectation.

However, the contents of this paragraph are a fantasy; in reality... it's more complicated.


Thanks Charlie - what do you think? Should erotic authors remind readers to practice safe sex? Please join the debate in the comments below or tweet us! @8britbabes
You can find Charlie at
and on Twitter

9 comments:

  1. Fascinating post Charlie- thanks for coming by today. I tend to add condoms to all MF or MM stories, unless the characters are in a long term relationship. As you rightly say, sex education is often poor, and I feel a certain responsibility to keep my readers safe- while indulging their fantasies at the same time. This extends beyond the use of condoms to making sure than each and every sexual position I describe- however elaborate- is physically possible. I'd hate to be responsible for broken limbs, damaged kidneys etc!!! xxxx

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  2. Great post Charlie - thanks for being our guest.

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  3. This is a fantastic. post. I critique and beta read a lot of manuscripts from various romance subgenres and in those there are rules about when you have the safe sex / contraceptive discussion and how essential it is as part of the dialogue between the protagonists. In paranormal and historical, you can get away with little to no discussion, but in contemporary romance, I have seen readers practically riot if an author forgets to mention the condom or birth control. I know of an author who got a 1 star review for her book even though the reader enjoyed the book just because the reader felt that the author had "inadequate condom use" in her book and said so in the review. I think it's a lot looser in erotic romance and erotica. I always notice if it's not mentioned in a contemporary and I am less likely to notice or more forgiving if it is only loosely mentioned in an erotic romance. All that said, for me, if I were to give feedback to an author who has sent me a manuscript to critique or beta read, I will always point it out if there is no condom use or at least a discussion of why not does not take place before sex in anything that is set in a contemporary context.

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  4. Context is everything for this.
    In Keira Andrews Amish stories 2 young men from a very closed community get together. Condoms aren't discussed and would have been highly inappropriate in the situation. The men were virgins, etc. However, I recently ast aside a highly recommended book by a well known author when a couple got together for their second sexual encounter and just agreed to go ahead bareback because they were so desperate and didn't have condoms to hand (simply saying I'm safe/ clean to an almost stranger is not good enough, I wouldn't do that in real life). It didn't seem likely the characters would really do that AND they could have done OTHER things. It put me off the book.

    As KJ said mostly there needs to be some obvious reason why sex without is OK, such as long term relationship or some amazing technology (I read Sci-fi).
    Alternatively something about it being total fantasy is good.

    But I think including safety isssues, where it is about condoms or safe words or safety shears for cutting people out of their bondage in an emergency should figure in erotic scenes because they add to the scene and to the characters. It shoulds they are thoughtful, caring, organised, etc... How it is written can also add to the drama.

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  5. I live in the US and grew up in the "AIDS Scare" era which meant that my sex education was largely about safe sex practices. That was then...

    Fast forward twenty years and own son's "sex education" was a collection of diseases that he was going to catch if he ever had sex, because everyone has diseases, so he had better remain abstinent. This "abstinence-based" education is a shameful conservative swing in the health and emotional education of our children. If I hadn't investigated my son--by asking the important questions--he would have been woefully unprepared. They never once mentioned condoms or any other type of contraception.

    So, no, we cannot rely on schools to tell people what safe sex is, or how to practice it. That said, I like there to be discussion about safe sex, at the very least. I feel this is a level of realism people would have in real life.

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  6. I'm a serious believer in condom use (or other safe sex practices) in ALL contemporary but especially erotica. The authors note it's assumed is one that kind of gripes me actually. I need to see it in the book on the pages. For me there's a couple of reasons I think it needs to be included. One it just glecks me out when it's not because oh man some of the characters get around and in many romances the sexual relationship between the characters moves very fast (hours/days/weeks) and just the thought of where bits have been is a huge turn off, plus if not included I'm always waiting for the big pregnancy scare. But I also think it's important from a safety side. Many people are influenced by what they read (especially fiction) and not including it makes it seem like it's fine and dandy to not in real life as well. One thing you read about romance/erotica is it empowers women and I've seen many women say that it's expanded their horizons, made them more confident sexually, etc. If fiction is influencing them that way it stands to reason it would on the condom front as well.

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  7. Once it has been established in a story if the couple (or menage) are using condoms it gets a bit wearing reading 'I heard the crinkle of foil being opened' or 'the telltale sounds of a condom being opened' ..... I dont need to read this every time there is a sex scene ....

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  8. Its a great point. I don't think Author's are responsible for educating people, but I agree that it could help more people if it was communicated more. Now for Author's including it in their books, it all depends on the story for me. Sometimes I'm fine with no discussion or mention of safe sex. Other times if don't right it can help the bond with the characters to mention their past etc Great topic, thank you!

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