086. Sex Education & Romance Novels: Not Medical Advice (with Dame Jodie Slaughter)
Dame Jodie Slaughter joins me to talk about sex education, the messages about safe sex in romance novels, the symbolic nature of sexual choices in romance, and discussion of research on these topics.
Dame Jodie Slaughter joins me to talk about sex education, the messages about safe sex in romance novels, the symbolic nature of sexual choices in romance, and discussion of research on these topics.
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Guest: Jodie Slaughter
LOVE MEANS NEVER HAVING TO BE CAREFUL: The Relationship Between Reading Romance Novels and Safe Sex Behavior
Amanda B. Diekman, Wendi L. Gardner, Mary McDonald
086 Sex Education and Romance Novels: Not Medical Advice (with Dame Jodie Slaughter)
[00:00:00]Andrea Martucci: Hello and welcome to episode 86 of Shelf Love, a podcast that unpacks romance novels with nuance. In conversations with scholars, readers, and other experts, Shelf Love contextualizes, the popular romance genre within the broader critical discussion of identity, culture, and love and sex.
I'm your host, Andrea Martucci, and on this episode, we're talking about safe sex with Dame Jodie Slaughter. Dame Jodie Slaughter. How are you this fine evening? And who are you?
Jodie Slaughter: I'm doing really well. The question of who am I is deeply philosophical. I can't answer it particularly well right now, but I am an author.
Like I write romance. And I'm a scholar apparently of romance, who's never written a single dissertation but still.
Andrea Martucci: Look credentials, not necessary as evidenced by this girl right here.
So we're going to talk about safe sex today. And I feel like it's important like just laying the groundwork for what this conversation is trying to accomplish and not trying to accomplish.
I think it's fair to say that there is a lot of stigma in the romance genre against people with STI's or people who have unexpected pregnancies. There is stigma, there is stereotype. I would not say this episode is going to try to address positive or negative representations of people living with STIs or people who had unexpected pregnancies or whatever.
We're not really covering that. We're talking about in romance novels in the text, on the page, how safe sex is represented. I think we're primarily going to be talking about characters who we assume do not have an STI and are actively avoiding pregnancy if possible until, or unless they get to the stage of the relationship where they decide they want to become pregnant.
So I just kinda wanna throw that out there because that's a whole other conversation. But I do also feel like it's important to acknowledge that there is a lot of stigma against people who have STIs and the intention of this conversation is not to say that people living with STIs can not have fully enjoyable sex lives and fulfilling relationships, et cetera. However, I think it is reasonable for sexual partners to have a discussion about how to prevent transmission, if possible.
Jodie Slaughter: Sure.
Andrea Martucci: This is going to be like a fun, interactive thing just before we started this conversation half an hour ago at this point, I put a poll out on Twitter. We're going to come and revisit [00:02:30] this poll at the end of our conversation and see how many votes we get in like the next hour or so.
But I asked Twitter, what source of info was most influential on their ideas about safe sex? I throw this over to you Dame Jodie Slaughter. Did the knight education involve safe sex practices?
Jodie Slaughter: Okay, this is odd. So I'm trying to think about like where I was getting my information on sex in the first place.
And then trying to figure out if in that, like there was discussion about safe sex. So I didn't tend to have super candid conversations about sex that were specifically like geared towards me as a young person from my family. I did listen a lot, my family is like very candid, like my grandmother, especially.
So there's that. I have an uncle who is an OB GYN. So I do know that there was always discussion and not so much shame about things like abortion and stuff from when I was very young. But not, here's what you need to do when you have sex.
I'm also born and raised in Kentucky. As there's no like federal mandate on safe sex education. Most Southern States are allowed to teach what they want. I'm not sure if my school district was abstinence only, but I do remember that we had just a unit in my health class, my freshman year of high school.
And my teacher was candid, teaching us about STIs. I remember very distinctly that once she was like, and you never use two condoms. Cause if you're going to use two condoms, you might as well not use any because they're good or no. Yeah. You might as well not use any because it's not going to feel like anything.
Andrea Martucci: That's you, and you might as well not use any because two is less safe than one.
Jodie Slaughter: Exactly.
Andrea Martucci: More importantly.
Jodie Slaughter: So yeah, that's what I, but I think that most of my sex education, period, and my safe sex ed came from like the internet.
Andrea Martucci: Like, are you actively searching or embedded in other media on the internet?
Jodie Slaughter: So as we know, as we discussed in a previous episode, I got into fanfiction pretty young.
And so there was a lot of discussions in certain like fandom surrounding like, Oh, we should use condoms or Oh, if there's a fisting scene, this person's going to put something on their their hand to make sure things are safe. And so that, I feel like so much of [00:05:00] what I learned about like safe sex comes from that. Came from like engaging in fandom and fan fiction and romance fiction because that's the kind of stuff I was reading, but not romance novels.
The romance novels I was reading as a younger person tended to be YA and if they were adult, they were like the Sookie Stackhouse series where I don't remember condoms. I'm trying to remember, but I don't.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah. When you're having sex with vampires, I don't know if pregnancy is a concern.
And I don't know, can vampires get sick? And so can they transmit, or have,
Jodie Slaughter: Depends on the lore. I've never come across a vampire that could pass an STI to a partner, right?
Andrea Martucci: Viruses and bacteria can't grow on them. Have you ever thought about that?
Jodie Slaughter: There is there I can't remember which vampire lore it is, but they're definitely like they have a certain sun sickness or some,
Andrea Martucci: Oh, sure.
Jodie Slaughter: Because everyone has their own lore. Everyone makes up their own thing about vampires. Like Stephanie Meyer's vampires could go in the sun, they wouldn't die, but Christine Harris's, would they would die if they went in the sun. So everyone's different. But anyway,
Andrea Martucci: which is a good lesson because everyone is different, even if you're not a vampire..
Jodie Slaughter: Yes, definitely. Everyone is different, but yeah. So like hodge podge stuff, and then when I was around 15 or 16, I got on Tumblr (Andrea: "oof") and then there was, for all its faults of which there are the majority, I did get a lot of like pretty okay comprehensive sex ed, not related to fandom. And then obviously I had peers,
Andrea Martucci: You had friends? I never had friends.
Jodie Slaughter: A couple, at least one.
Andrea Martucci: Good for you.
Jodie Slaughter: So yeah, I don't know, somehow I've managed to live and learn a couple things.
Andrea Martucci: It's amazing how basic some of this stuff is and how much people are kept in the dark somewhat intentionally. And then, like the information's available, but you have to go searching for the right things to find it, but, so I think it's fair to say that a lot of people get the majority of their information about sex from media or peers. I think that if you have the kind of parent who is actually going to have a real conversation with you about it, the information is probably pretty good.
That is of course not the kind of conversation that's like, "don't do it!"
Jodie Slaughter: Yeah. That's the thing is that I also [00:07:30] didn't get an anti-sex at home. I did not grow up in a conservative family. I didn't grow up in a family that was super religious. I think my mother is religious, but she doesn't go to church and she wouldn't have forced us to go to church.
And even I remember, when I turned 16, my mom was like, if you want to go on birth control, you need to let me know because my grandmother put her on birth control when she was 14. And my mother was always like, listen, I've been a teenager. I know what happens. If you need things But I don't think she knew how to talk to me about sex. And I, think she kind of just was like, yeah, maybe she's learning in school and granted, we still don't talk about sex.
Andrea Martucci: Even now that you are in the I'm trying to think how I want to mischaracterize romance novel writing right now.
Jodie Slaughter: I write smut. And that's the thing is that I'm actually, I was, I've actively been like, I don't want you to read my books. Luckily she's not a reader, so she probably won't, but I was like, I don't want you to read my books. And she's like, why, I don't.
And I'm like, there are things that I don't think you ever need to know that I know. And I feel like My books are like, as of now, or like pretty tame or, you know what I mean? I don't know, maybe not tame, but I don't know.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah. Heat levels. Let's talk about the heat level of your book, Jodie.
Jodie Slaughter: Oh God, the thought of this teaching my mom, anything new about sex, you know what I mean?
(Andrea cackles) Like she knows about, Oh, I imagine she knows about all of these things.
Andrea Martucci: At least a few of them.
Jodie Slaughter: A couple, I assume, so yeah. Yeah. We don't and when we do talk about it, it's very Very euphemistic and a lot of it is on my where I'm like,
Andrea Martucci: Yeah, it's awkward. It's awkward. I'm trying to be the cool mom who can have these conversations. We talk about body parts as body parts, and I'm not going to mention the body parts now on the air, but in our home. No, I'm just kidding. Vaginas, penises, vulvas.
Jodie Slaughter: Yeah. We said pocket book, your whatever, like
Andrea Martucci: When a hot dog slips into a hot dog bun.
Jodie Slaughter: I do remember once being like 12. And so my best friends, anytime I would go to church as a kid, unless it was maybe Easter Sunday, it would be with my best friend whose family was pretty religious. And I would stay with her a [00:10:00] lot. I would go over it and be like, Oh, I'm going to spend a weekend at so-and-so's house over the summer and I'd ended up staying for a month.
And they went to church like three times a week. And I do remember her mom once when we were like 12 being like, Hey, do you know what a pimp and whore is, and this was out of the blue. I don't remember if we had been listening to
Andrea Martucci: Was it in a bible verse or something?
Jodie Slaughter: I don't know. I just remember standing in her little foyer and I do remember that I did know what they were, but I said no. Not to get so into that trauma, but that whole relationship was like this person is not my friend anymore ultimately, because we grew very far apart.
There was always a part of me that felt a little judged because my family wasn't as keen on shielding me from certain aspects of life.
And I felt like I would not matured at a different rate, but just, I don't know. She had a lot more like rules
Andrea Martucci: She had been taught to associate stigma with things and your upbringing did not attach that same stigma and she expected your values to align.
Jodie Slaughter: Exactly.
Andrea Martucci: And if they didn't, you were judged to be immoral in some way.
Jodie Slaughter: Yes, exactly.
I was like 15 and I didn't feel like I could go to who had been my childhood best friend about somebody, you know, putting their fingers down my pants the first time.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah. I think that's like a common issue in friend groups. There's a certain tone about if this is okay. And I think there's a lot of secrecy about what people are actually doing because there's this dynamic where friends don't want their friends to know they're doing certain things because they're afraid of being judged. And so meanwhile, sometimes they're engaging in similar sexual practices, but like not sharing information.
So I grew up in a family that was Catholic and went to church every week. I was in the choir. I was a Eucharistic minister, I was the one standing up giving the body and or blood of Christ to people. I have always been an atheist by the way.
Literally, always. (Jodie laughs) My parents were highly involved in like the choir and anything I did was because I had to go to church and I was like well, I might as well make this interesting.
So I would say, I have never believed in sort of the morality aspects of anything I learned in church.
I would not say personally, I was very influenced by that, but I think my parents hew at least moderately to ideas about like sex and pregnancy and [00:12:30] queer people and stuff like that, so perhaps needless to say, not the most open dialogue about safe sex practices.
So just for like generational purposes, I'm a millennial. I went through sex ed at a school in a suburb of New York City in Connecticut. And I would say I received a fairly good sex education, curriculum at my school.
Jodie Slaughter: Brag.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah. Sorry. You know, I mean like at least a week or a couple of weeks, every year after a certain point such things were covered. And then, when we got to biology later on, things were handled very frankly, like in biology class, it's not like you're talking about STIs or anything, like I know how babies are made.
Jodie Slaughter: Right, this is a fallopian tube.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah. This is how this happens. I truly believe that most of my friends were probably not having sex.
So I know some of them did and they were fairly forthcoming, but the rest of us were just like, Oh, cool. Tell me more. So we're fairly open-minded, but just not a lot of experience between us. So I think that a lot of my sex education and I'm going to maybe put that in scare quotes, came from romance novels, and these would be romance novels, because of the time at which I was a teenager, were published like pre 2000.
I definitely read stuff from like a range of periods. I read Kathleen Woodiwiss from the early seventies. I definitely read categories that were published in maybe the eighties and nineties. So I'm reading stuff that in this point of time is 40 years old. And at that point was maybe 20 years old.
This is all to say that I'm incredibly curious about the possible impact of what one reads in romance novels impacting one's understanding of what safe sex looks like and how sex works.
I think that like some of the benefits of getting information about sex from romance novels. First of all, I don't recommend it as your only source of information for sure. And unfortunately, if it is your only source, it's not a super accurate source. However, there is something about romance novels, where generally it's sex positive and, or at least present sex as a pleasurable thing most of the time.
Jodie Slaughter: Right. that's very much how I view the fan fiction thing. Certainly not, should not be, anyone's main or even I would say, I wouldn't even want someone like being introduced to sex through that [00:15:00] avenue because there's so much actually traumatic shit to get through when it comes.
Cause there's no barriers, there's no publishing house to be like,
Andrea Martucci: ehhh, maybe we shouldn't do this.
Jodie Slaughter: Or even just an editor or especially on like Archive of Our Own, they allow anything, (laughs) but I did learn a lot of things about sex. A lot of, even if we're just getting down to the brass tacks of okay, sex is something that people like enjoy it is something that is supposed to be pleasurable for all parties involved. It is something that does not have to look the way you've seen it look on TV, which is to say one cis het man, one cis het woman
Andrea Martucci: yeah.
Jodie Slaughter: Just panting from the waist up at each other, like
Andrea Martucci: Under sheets with the bra on and
Jodie Slaughter: Yeah. And then it's always just the guy just humping for 15 seconds and somehow she has an orgasm.
Andrea Martucci: Yes. I think there's definitely an aspect of that script that also carries over into cis het romance, novels, there's a lot of the like, because we are so in love and on the same page, we're going to have a simultaneous -what's it called? A simultaneous orgasm.
Jodie Slaughter: Yeah.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah. Like we're going to orgasm purely from penetration together at the exact same moment,
Jodie Slaughter: that's pure fantasy, listen, it's ridiculous. Sometimes I'm a sucker for it. Sometimes I'm like, Oh God, they just love each other so much that they come at the exact same time every time when it's that's never happened, that's never happened to me.
Andrea Martucci: It's not impossible, but it's also more of a rarity than it is portrayed in romance novels. so I should also say then the romance novels that I am learning from in that period, which you can imagine based on the years that they were published and what I would have had access to generally in tried pub Almost, I want to say entirely white people.
And also entirely cisgender people in heterosexual relationships. You know so
Jodie Slaughter: I am
curious about, because as we've talked about, that is not my romance canon, I don't know. I think Beverly Jenkins and LaVyrle Spencer are kind of the only two romance authors who have works published, like even in the nineties that I've read. I've heard a lot of talk about, since you said, like romance is published in the seventies and eighties, was there a lot of sex that was [00:17:30] enthusiastic on the part of the heroine or was it more often than not a coercive type where it has to be, for lack of a better term, taken from her until she enjoys it.
Andrea Martucci: I would characterize most of what I read as not the coercive rape fantasy. Like if I'm thinking about authors, I would say probably Judith McNaught and Kathleen Woodiwiss stand out as having the most sexual relationships that kind of hewed to that formula of the sort of like resisting, it is literal rape. Can't enjoy it until they're in love type situation.
I would say that the majority, just to name some authors, I was reading that did not fall into that camp, like I read a lot of Jayne Ann Krentz AKA Amanda Quick, AKA Jayne Castle. And that was not her formula for sure. Obviously, like I've mentioned before, Jennifer Crusie, through the nineties and closer to the two thousands where the women were enthusiastically engaged in sex with their male partners.
I am ashamed to say, I read a lot of Linda Howard. She is probably the author who I have the most conflicted relationship with, because I would say probably a standard script in her books were maybe more of that resisting slash very passive female participant, you know, much more, just like, Oh my God, I have no idea what's going on. I've never enjoyed sex before. If I've had sex or I've never had sex before, I have no idea what's going on, I'm completely at your mercy. Super alpha, abusive men who are kind of like, I can't help it. I'm a man. I have to fuck you right now. It was like, honestly, like I need to do an episode on Linda Howard and her impact on my ideas about sex because they're super fucked up.
And also some of the things she has done in Romancelandia one could say, have been racist. And I think that also her work backs up that worldview. Very complicated, but I'm going to admit that I read a lot of Linda Howard. I've read everything Linda Howard has written. Oh, wow. Okay. Yeah. I didn't know any better, so
I mean, I read Twilight, which is,
Jodie Slaughter: yeah. Like it's all, we've all read, just
Andrea Martucci: we've all read shit, man.
Jodie Slaughter: It's garbage. I told you my secret shame earlier, which I won't be sharing here,
Andrea Martucci: exactly. And then I'm trying to think of the other stuff I read. I read a lot of Johanna Lindsey where, [00:20:00] which I feel like hers were fairly sex positive. I didn't prepare a list of the authors that I primarily read.
Jodie Slaughter: Cause I'm having a Google, like all of these people and I'm, we just yeah, no context for like, any of these people.
Andrea Martucci: The thing is this is, so what was in my library, like what was on the library shelves? I worked in this library book sale, like sorting books. So what was there? These are just like the books that were available to me.
So we've talked a lot about how have we encountered, in our real lives, what safe sex looks like and then what are we getting from media? And the main reason I wanted to talk about this with you. There's two reasons.
One, I was talking to Julie Moody-Freeman and she was talking about how Brenda Jackson made a point to include condom usage in her romances. I want to say in the nineties in kind of response to the HIV crisis and knowing that her nieces are going to be reading the books and wanting to show that the male partners in these heterosexual relationships cared about protecting their female partners.
And so they said let's use condoms. And this was like an important thing. And, you could maybe get into how because of ideas at the time and perhaps even publisher guidelines, the women in those relationships, it was encouraged maybe for them to be more passive less active participants in safe sex.
Jodie Slaughter: Sure.
Andrea Martucci: Like in preventing pregnancy or preventing STI transmission. So we're talking about this and I had read about this study that came up in this book that I'm reading about the difference between fantasy and reality. And I was like, Oh, I need to go find the study because it talked about how romance readers were less likely after reading a scene without condom usage in a romance novel, less likely to use condoms in their real life. And I was like, Oh my God I need to find that study.
Jodie Slaughter: I have thoughts on this.
Andrea Martucci: So I found the stuff.
Jodie Slaughter: Okay, good. Okay, good. I have thoughts because I, you're right. So I noticed that in a lot of romance novels that are coming out today, in 2010s, et cetera,
Andrea Martucci: in the last decade.
Jodie Slaughter: Oh, has it been, it's a decade. Okay. Yeah. There's a lot of focus and of course I don't have a ton to compare it to before, but there might be very short discussion on condom usage whether that's for like pregnancy or STI prevention.
First of all, as you said, there's always [00:22:30] something that's geared towards like morality. And normally that is the cisgendered heroine who either she's a virgin or it's " I haven't slept with anyone in 10 years" type of thing.
And whether or not the cisgendered hero is a billionaire who's like sleeping with someone new every week or similar, I think the lack of condom usage symbolizes a certain security in their relationship. I think it's like a symbol of these two people are going to be together. They're good. They're not going to break up.
Andrea Martucci: and they've used condoms or whatever protection with every other partner. So they're safe now with their one true partner to not do that.
Jodie Slaughter: Yeah, it's very one to Love. And it is also very, he's like, I'll take care of it if we get pregnant, because oftentimes like she's not on birth control or whatever. Do you know what I mean?
Andrea Martucci: Yeah.
Jodie Slaughter: And I think it's very much symbolized as like a security type thing. And now granted, I have been guilty of this myself in White Whiskey Bargain? They do not use protection or condoms.
Andrea Martucci: They are married. Okay. So they're married, however, since they have a marriage of convenience you would think that they would perhaps have a conversation about family planning or test results or something. And I'm not knocking you, but like just, in the context of the story, like that would be realistic.
Jodie Slaughter: It would be. But it was very much a like when I was writing that book, it was like, the second book I wrote, which I mean, okay, I'm not trying to like, make justifications, I'll just say is that I was using a lot of those things that I'd read and that sort of symbolism of like security to say, these are two people who are quote, unquote, safe with each other.
In that, I imagine, the reader was supposed to assume they didn't have any STIs, either of them had anything that they needed to disclose or whatever. And then also that there was an underlying thing of both of these characters were very interested in like family and continuing lineage.
So there was no accidental pregnancy, but even if there had been, it would have been like, okay. Cause this is what
Andrea Martucci: Like culturally and their individual family experiences, that would [00:25:00] not have been perceived as a tragedy for either of them.
Jodie Slaughter: Yes, exactly.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah.
Jodie Slaughter: Yeah.
Andrea Martucci: I think there's totally a symbolic nature to how choices in sex are presented in romance novels.
So on the sort of quote unquote safe sex front, I think that there's a lot of symbolism around, as you said, I'll protect you, I'll take care of you.
Jodie Slaughter: Yeah.
Andrea Martucci: I am committed to this. And therefore, if there is a pregnancy like, obviously we're going to raise the child together and it is not a great tragedy.
I think that this study that I read also was talking about this concept that true love is demonstrated by being swept away in passion.
Jodie Slaughter: Yeah.
Andrea Martucci: And so I think that there's totally a symbolic nature of that. Just like how I was joking with you. I read, this was a while ago, I was reading this romance novel and they fall asleep, a cisgender man and a cisgender woman fall asleep with like his penis nestled inside of her.
(Jodie and Andrea laugh)
Jodie Slaughter: Yeah. I remember this. Yeah.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah. We had a grand old laugh about this because we were literally trying to figure out the logistics of this whole situation.
Jodie Slaughter: And also everybody's getting a UTI.
Andrea Martucci: Yes. Very concerned medically for the situation.
And, but I feel like even in that conversation, we acknowledged that the symbolic nature of falling asleep joined together. They don't want to be separated. They're one now. There's so that's what, that's the simultaneous orgasm thing. Like we, we understand why this is happening, however...
And so you acknowledge that as a baby romance novelist, you're picking up the cues from what you have read and what you've read isn't even like that old.
Jodie Slaughter: Yeah.
Andrea Martucci: And so we kind of have these choices that get perpetuated because they become ingrained as " "that's just the way we talk about this in romance novels," right? That's just, that's how we symbolize these things. So what's interesting about this study, which is called Love Means Never Having To Be Careful: the relationship between reading romance novels and safe sex behavior.
This was published in Psychology of Women Quarterly in 2000. And it's written by Amanda B. Diekman, Mary McDonald, and Wendi L. Gardner. So this study is 20 years old at this point. Just so you know, just let me lay that out there.
Jodie Slaughter: And I'm 26. So
Andrea Martucci: Yeah. So Jodie Slaughter was in kindergarten when this study it was written.
Jodie Slaughter: The knife is twisting because Katrina Jackson I'm calling her out again, [00:27:30] today in a message said that I was, and I quote practically a teenager. (Andrea gasps semi-dramatically) Can you believe?
Andrea Martucci: That's rude.
Jodie Slaughter: The microaggression anyway. Okay.
Andrea Martucci: That's age discrimination.
Jodie Slaughter: That's ageism Katina.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah. Okay. The study basically has three parts. And so again, keep in mind that the study was published in the year 2000.
Number one part, one of this study is they looked at romance novels that had been published. Like they went into a bookstore and grabbed like every sixth romance novel they found or something.
And then they looked at just the contemporary romance novels, and they had some criteria whatever. They then had people code what happened in the sex scenes, in these romance novels. They narrowed it down to books that had sex scenes on the page. They narrowed it down to contemporaries because they didn't feel it was fair to, look at a historical novel in the same light.
They were all cisgender heterosexual relationships which is not surprising given again, that they're looking at the romance section in the late nineties. And I think actually they first did this in 96. Because the most recent books were published in 1996 and the books had been published over like a tennish year period.
And what they found was " only eight of the 78 novels portrayed the character discussing condom use during their first sexual encounter. And importantly, all of the discussions were initiated by the male character. Only four discussions mentioned STD prevention. The others mentioned birth control."
And in three discussions. So , that's like a third of the discussions where it actually happened, "the female character ultimately rejected the suggestion. One rejection took place during a birth control discussion. And two during STD discussions." I think this definitely backs up that sort of " no we're in love. I can't catch an STD from you." Which do you know what that reminds me of? People like believing that they can't get COVID from people they love.
Jodie Slaughter: Oh my God. Yeah. Yeah. That's, that very much seems same vein, but this is also telling me it's making me question- so I don't question the numbers. What I'm questioning is, what is this saying about like cis het women, and how we are supposed to be -I'm not heterosexual, but as a cisgendered woman, like
Andrea Martucci: Maybe particularly in a relationship with a cisgender male.
[00:30:00] Jodie Slaughter: Yes. Yes.
Andrea Martucci: If you were
Jodie Slaughter: We would be remiss if we hadn't talked about like how there has been exponentially a huge rise in sex education among a lot of like gen Z. My younger sister is 19. I think she knows more about sex, safe sex, her body and other people's bodies than I did when I was her age. And I wasn't even her age, a full 10 years ago.
And also like our views on cis-gendered women who are on birth control, would it have been, what was their coding about a woman is only on birth control if she is immoral. If she is actively having sex ? Because I know that my mother who I imagine probably would have gone on birth control somewhere sometime in the late seventies about how my grandmother was judged quite heavily for allowing her to be on birth control. And also I know that there were plenty of cis girls, my age, who couldn't get on birth control in their teens because their mothers viewed it as this is an allowance for you to have sex. So was the sort of rejection of like birth control, the lack of discussion, was that supposed to symbolize a woman who isn't having sex or pure heroine worthy of love?
Andrea Martucci: Yeah, I think that - there's a lot in here, honestly. I was like, cramming, I read this two weeks ago in detail and like didn't take notes. And then I was like trying to remember everything just before this call, but I do recall there's a lot of discussion here and they're also laying this on top of a foundation of other research that might have looked at these things like separately, but part of their conclusion in this section, "thus the romance script depicted in the modern romance novel does not portray women as suggesting or using a condom. As expected from past examinations of the passive role of women in the romantic script, the male character initiated the discussion or use of a condom in every instance. Furthermore, the female character was portrayed as rejecting condom use in almost half of the discussions. This was a disturbing finding. Quote unquote, 'true love,' according to some novels, is apparently expressed through the female character actually disregarding the risks to her health. In fact, the female character who rejected condom use gave reasons such as 'I want no barriers between us.'
Jodie Slaughter: Oh, that's a lot that it's still very much alive.
Andrea Martucci: I found that in one of the recent romance novels that- I'll [00:32:30] share the exact quote later. But I think they discuss, they are very aware in this study that there are cultural scripts that are different based on people's genders about what what it might look like if a cisgender woman in particular is too engaged in this discussion, too active in this discussion. So the second study, so this is basically like laying the foundation of how commonly is condom usage and or STI prevention discussed on the page in romance novels. Low.
And by the way, also, I found this to be an interesting factoid. They also state in here that based on a study from like the mid nineties, it looks like, "the proportion of couples who engage in safe sex behavior remains low. Nearly one third of sexually active college aged people report recent use of condoms."
So I was like, I wonder how that number has changed.
Jodie Slaughter: no, that's another thing that I was going to bring up is that it's messy, the safe sex
Andrea Martucci: It is messy if you don't use a condom right.
(Andrea and Jodie laugh) Jodie Slaughter: If I'm going to like really open myself up here, I would say that if I'm talking about like sexual encounters that I've had with other specifically, like cisgendered women I've never used a dental dam or had when used on me or one of the finger protection.
I'm actually, I don't even know.
Andrea Martucci: I think some people use like gloves.
Jodie Slaughter: Yeah. They have gloves, but they have small, they look like condoms.
Andrea Martucci: Oh like finger condoms.
Jodie Slaughter: Yeah. I imagine they have a name and are not just called finger condoms, but that shows how much I've never used one,
Andrea Martucci: some barrier method.
Jodie Slaughter: Yes. So you know what I mean? Like it's messy. I know that there are plenty of people who, are like, yes, I use condoms, except I don't use condoms to give blow jobs, which you are supposed to.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah. Yes. And I remember in sex ed in school, they were like, like the safest thing to do is - this is of course the scenario that was presented in sex ed 20 ish years ago, was like a cis woman giving a cis man a blow job. Use a condom. I do not know one person slash have not myself ever used a condom in a blow job.
Jodie Slaughter: I know that in the context [00:35:00] of like sex work, it is very, I think if we're talking about who's having the safest sex,
Andrea Martucci: it's probably sex workers,
Jodie Slaughter: like period. And the rest of us are just not, like I said, it's messy. There are so many instances of people I know, whatever, where you do, some people do get swept up in the moment. So it's like, I had one encounter and it was like the safest sex we could have possibly had. And then the next encounter I had with either that same person or someone completely different was not at all.
Andrea Martucci: I think there's an aspect of it that has to do with, what is your greater concern? Is your greater concern STIs or is it pregnancy?
Jodie Slaughter: Yeah. And I think for a lot of people, especially my age, it is pregnancy. Cause I know a lot of us are like, if I'm on some sort of hormonal birth control or if I cannot get my partner pregnant or my partner can not get me pregnant, I feel like I can quote unquote, trust them enough to disclose whether or not they have tested positive for an STI, but even that would mean that they would need to be getting tested regularly. Which I think, again, I don't know what the numbers for that are, but I would say that probably the majority of us are not getting tested regularly. I would genuinely say that most of us are not engaging in sex that is
Andrea Martucci: the safest.
Jodie Slaughter: Yeah.
Andrea Martucci: Like best practice.
Jodie Slaughter: Yes. Or even sometimes safe at all. Which is why I'm a little more, I certainly don't condone it. I feel like we should all be like doing our best to take care of ourselves and our partners.
Andrea Martucci: But to that point, I think that there's a common understanding of yes, of course we do certain things, but other things that's a little much, like who's really going to do that? Where do we get our ideas necessarily about like where that line is?
Jodie Slaughter: I think it's very much
Andrea Martucci: . (under her breath) the media.
Jodie Slaughter: Yeah, it is. It's very much, okay. So I'm going to use this talking about cis women, I'm going to talk about like having sex on the first date. Cause this is a conversation that's constantly happening and it seems like it doesn't matter what generation you're in. If you're a cis person who like dates people who are like a gender that is not your own, there's always conversation about is it okay to have sex on the first date? And so we're getting to a place [00:37:30] where like a CIS woman can be like, yeah, I slept in my cis male partner on the first state and that's great. But they can't say, I had anal sex with my cis male partner on the first date, because that is like, Whoa, that's fucking wild.
Right. But if we talk about two people for whom like anal sex is their preferred way to have sex in any situation, that's not wild. So why would it be wild? That's just like a, sort of an off topic example of what we view as being wild, who we view it as being wild for, and like the stigma attached to that particular act.
Andrea Martucci: No, you're, I think you're completely right. And I think that is definitely related to our, our ideas about quote unquote, real sex slash quote unquote, adventurous sex. Because I think that there is this perception of like, same scenario you just outlined. A blow job on a first date or some sort of like oral sex is, I think particularly when the oral sex is performed on a cis male is perceived as like, not a big deal like on the spectrum of sex acts is considered more minor. And there's like air quotes all over this entire thing. I just said, right? This is like, I'm talking about like perception.
And then what you're talking about is there's been this like gradual evolution towards attitudes about vaginal intercourse on a first date being normalized, let's say, right? Neither here nor there.
Whereas as you were pointing out, anal sex between cisgender heterosexual partners might be perceived as a more adventurous act, right?
Jodie Slaughter: Deviant is the word I would use, yeah..
Andrea Martucci: Yeah. And whereas then that becomes Nope, that's too far.
Jodie Slaughter: A hard line, yeah.
Andrea Martucci: Or oh, that's risky, all of a sudden. When in fact all of these things carry similar amounts of risks for different things.
Jodie Slaughter: There it's yeah, that's exactly it.
And that point to like us as a quote unquote society viewing this particular act as deviant. And then, because we view the people who are more commonly known for performing this act, meaning if we're just going to talk about two cis gay men, as like culturally, deviant, like for two cis gay men who want to have sex.
Andrea Martucci: Penetrative sex? Why is oral not penetrative, but anyways, whatever -it is penetrative!
Jodie Slaughter: This is how they would do that. Or one of the ways in which they would do that. It's [00:40:00] all the same. This is why I don't always love the sort of- I'm like if you're 16 and you're using first base, second base, third base, whatever. But when you're like
Andrea Martucci: Romance novels use that very similar progressive understanding of sexual relationships as well, which is just another example I think, of where we are getting these scripts for how things progress and
Jodie Slaughter: that's true. Cause it is often even if we don't, we're not always super cognizant of it. It is often the ways in which like a lot of us in our real relationships do progress sexually, as viewing like the penetrative sex as being the final act , which is ridiculous because not everyone has penetrative sex, not everyone is interested in penetrative sex.
So I don't know, but yeah, you're right, like romance novels definitely do follow this script. And I hadn't thought about that before but yeah, but in general, I'm like as grown adults, we should, I think get more to like viewing sex as just like an even playing field that we could play adult soccer on. Of just like sex. It's all sex and whatever type you are having, is going to differ. But I think that we do ourselves a disservice at holding certain acts to certain hierarchy standards because we do ourselves a disservice with like, when it comes to safe sex. Because we should be treating oral sex the same in terms of both risk and reward as we treat penetrative sex, but we simply do not.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah. And I think even along with that, it's not like you need to save your conversation about STIs and testing until just before you're having a particular type of sex. Like maybe the best time to have that is before having any kind of sex. As part of a first step there.
And so just to wrap up the condom conversation specifically. I can't help it. I'm a dad joker.
Jodie Slaughter: I found a kind of in my purse this morning and got so sad. Oh. But yeah. Anyway.
Andrea Martucci: So just in case, you're curious how things have progressed in the 20 ish years since this study came out, I found a study from 2020 with high school students. It's not one-to-one because the other study was with slightly older people, they were college aged people, but it was the best I could find on short notice. In the 1992 and 1997 [00:42:30] study, so these are people who are having sex, which proportion involved in safe sex. I think one third of sexually active college aged people.
20 ish years later, the high school students reported, the female participants noted about 50% any use of condoms versus 60% for the male students. Which seems to be in a doubling ish of the previous 20 years, which maybe is indicative of greater awareness in that time.
Okay. So I think that before we get into the latter parts of the study, which are more about like how reading things in romance novels might impact one's attitudes and behaviors around safe sex.
Let's talk about our specific experience with the texts of romance novels we've read recently, which we've already started talking about.
is this going to be two episodes? I don't even know Jodie. I don't even know what's going to happen here. Okay. There might have to be some tough cuts. I might have to cut out the part where you talked about the guy lighting the condom on fire.
Jodie Slaughter: Yeah that's fine.
Andrea Martucci: Thank you listener for listening to episode 86 of Shelf Love. A transcript and show notes for this episode can be found on shelflovepodcast.com Thank you for joining me and Jodie today. If you have any thoughts on the show you can either talk to your school pastor, or you can talk to your parent and guardian, a certified mental health counselor, medical professionals.
Jodie Slaughter: We can mail a pamphlet to each and every one of you.
Andrea Martucci: Yes. We'll prepare some what do they call them? Prepare some take-homes for you. Some deliverables. No, just like,
Jodie Slaughter: a powerpoint.
Andrea Martucci: Please show up for our Safe Sex In the Year 2021 in Romance Novels Lecture, which will be happening on
I'm cutting this whole thing out.
Jodie Slaughter: People are going to be like, when is this happening? Really?
Andrea Martucci: Mark your calendars.
Thanks for joining me today. If you have any thoughts on this show that are within the realm of what I can answer, not as a medical professional, I'd love for you to reach out to me. You can send an email to [email protected] This episode is produced by me, Andrea Martucci. Thank you to Shelf Love's editorial advisory board members, Katrina "stealing Jodie's gifs" Jackson and Tasha L. Harrison.
That's all for this week. Black lives matter, stay safe, stay mad, and keep reading romance.
Alyssa Cole, Amanda Allen, Amanda Cinelli, Amanda Diehl, Andrea Martucci, Andrew Piper, Angela Toscano, Arielle Zibrak, Ash Dylan, Becky, Bree Hill, Candice Ransom, Carter Sherman, Charish Reid, Christina Fattore, Copper Dog Books, Dani Lacey, Danielle Knafo, Denise Williams, Diana Filar, Dr. Margo Hendricks, EE Ottoman, Emma Barry, Eric Selinger, Erin Leafe, Esme Brett, Fangirl Jeanne, Felicia Grossman, Funmi B., Hannah Hearts Romance, Helena Greer, Hsu Ming Teo, Huike Wen, Jack Harbon, Jayashree Kamble, Jennifer Crusie, Jess, Jessica Lyn Van Slooten, Jhen, Jodi McAlister, Jodie Slaughter, Joe Martucci, John Jacobson, Julie Moody-Freeman, Karelia Stetz-Waters, Kate Clayborn, Katee Robert, Katrina Jackson, Kelly Reynolds, Kennedy Ryan, Kianna Alexander, Kini Allen, Kit Rocha, Leigh Kramer, Lucy Hargrave, Lucy Score, Lynell, Margarita Guillory, Margo Hendricks, Maria DeBlassie, Megan Erickson, Mia Sosa, Nicola Welsh Burke, Nicole Falls, Norma Perez-Hernandez, Penny Reid, Philippa Borland, Rebecca Romney, Rebekah Weatherspoon, Reformed Rakes, Renee Dahlia, Rosie Danan, Ruby Lang, Sandra Kitt, Scarlett Peckham, Sionna Fox, Sri Savita, Steve Ammidown, Suzanne Jefferies, Talia Hibbert, Tamara Lush, Tasha L. Harrison, The Swoonies, Tif Marcelo, Tina Benigno, Whoa!mance, Whoamance, antagonist april, audience reception, book discussion, book recommendations, business of books, category romance, contemporary romance, crossover podcast, fairy tales, fanfiction, fangirl jeanne, film discussion, genre discussions, historical romance, joyful hag book club, joyful problematization, joyful problematizing, original scholarship, paranormal romance, pop culture in the classroom, problematic favorite trope, quarantine romance book club, queer romance, romance in pop culture, romance myths, romance novel discussion, romance novelist representations, romance scholarship, scholarly, scifi and fantasy romance, tell me about, tv show discussion, video available, young adult
antagonist april, audience reception, book discussion, book recommendations, business of books, category romance, contemporary romance, crossover podcast, fanfiction, film discussion, genre discussions, historical romance, joyful hag book club, joyful problematizing, original scholarship, pop culture in the classroom, problematic favorite trope, quarantine romance book club, queer romance, romance in pop culture, romance myths, romance novel discussion, romance novelist representations, romance scholarship, scholarly, scifi and fantasy romance, tell me about, tv show discussion, video available, young adult