Study: Do Romance Novels Influence Condom Use?

Our friends at io9 recently dug up a study by Northwestern University from 2000 that found that a lack of proper condom use in romance novels was leading to a lack of proper condom use in readers’ lives.


The study began by noting that very few romance novels depicted safe sex, despite the fact that many included random hook-ups, spontaneous poon tang, and stranger bangin’. As plucky and clever as these supermarket damsels are, their refusal to insist that their partners wear a condom leads us to doubt their gumption and commitment to their own safety.

The study found a correlation to real life: that women who reported reading these novels often had an overall negative attitude towards using condoms in real life and were, by their own estimates, not very likely to use them.

But the study also found that women who read novels with positive condom scenes ended up reporting a rise in their own willingness to have their partner wear one.

So, that seems like a pretty easy fix, doesn’t it? Romance authors, just add in a line here and there about the sexy smell of his Fun Bumps or the feeling of all-natural lubricant and we’ll have to close down all the STD clinics in the country in just a few years, right? Not so fast, Fabio.


As someone who learned more about sex ed in middle school from many precocious trips down my backwoods library’s pulp fantasy section than in my public school health class, you know I am pro-representation. But is adding in an extra line about slipping on a sexy Midnight Orchid going to really cut STD and unwanted pregnancies in half?

There are several reasons why these scenes might not be showing up in your favorite literotica.

The first has to do with the fact that most people just don’t find condoms sexy. And I don’t mean sexy the way you’re thinking. Reading about someone putting on a condom might just not be interesting. So, the characters could still be using one, but just like we don’t get to hear about our favorite literary characters putting on deodorant or doing the dishes, the mundanity of putting on a latex might just be excluded.

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The second could have to do with the fact that there’s nothing more exciting in a romance novel than a secret pregnancy plot line! If there’s not a chance she could be pregnant by her suave, highwayman lover (who’s actually the duke’s son gasp), well, that’s kind of boring.

The third reason is that many of these novels are historical fiction. Many historical romance authors tend to use, ‘condoms are an anachronism,’ excuse. But birth control has been around for thousands of years. Condoms alone are an an ancient invention, never mind hormonal forms of birth control and abortifacients, which have probably been around since the dawn of time.

And let’s not even talk about the lube.


That’s right. Lube, too, has been around for thousands of years.

The final reason could be that the folks reading these books might not find condoms sexy. This time, I mean actual sexy. Romance novels are great at, well, romanticizing sex. There’s a lot of soulmate talk, a lot of hot thrusting, a lot of stuff that’s really just meant to get the motor going. Much like traditional pornography, it’s all about the fantasy. And fantasy soul mates simply don’t have trich.

Now, please keep in mind– this study was done nearly fifteen years ago. Have things changed? A novel about a BDSM relationship (albeit a very unhealthy one as judged by the kink community) went mainstream recently, bringing a kink community into the spotlight to the point where adult toy companies (like our sister store, Spicy Gear) even noticed a spike in sales. A condom package that looked suspiciously like a Durex XXL got a shout out on MTV hit Teen Wolf recently.


How does your favorite genre stack up in terms of contraception representation? With more laws passing regarding the use of condoms in adult films, and with sitcoms embracing the condom love, we could be on the verge of a safer sex revolution in popular media.

Where have you seen safe (or very unsafe) sex in your favorite media? Read a YA novel recently that really got that first-time condom experience down pat? How about a fantasy novel with a skilled apothecary who knew all about a certain magical compound to make anal easier?


Let us know on Tumblr, Twitter, or Facebook and we’ll compile the best examples!

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