Shelf Love

087. Clutch Your Pearls & Think of New England

Short Description

"Safe sex" in romance novels with Dame Jodie Slaughter, part 2. We'll finish discussing the research published in 2000 about if reading romance impacts condom usage, and then I'll share some Twitter poll results from the community about condom usage in the last contemporary romance they read, as well as some results on where folks learned information about safe sex - what's your guess on how many were impacted by media including romance novels?

Jodie and I brainstorm some ways to incorporate less commonly covered aspects of safe sex and sexual health in romance novels. Plus, how do WASPs teach sex education?

If you haven't listened to episode 086, you probably want to take a listen to part 1 of this conversation before diving in.


genre discussions

Show Notes

"Safe sex" in romance novels with Dame Jodie Slaughter, part 2. We'll finish discussing the research published in 2000 about if reading romance impacts condom usage, and then I'll share some Twitter poll results from the community about condom usage in the last contemporary romance they read, as well as some results on where folks learned information about safe sex - what's your guess on how many were impacted by media including romance novels?

Jodie and I brainstorm some ways to incorporate less commonly covered aspects of safe sex and sexual health in romance novels. Plus, how do WASPs teach sex education?

If you haven't listened to episode 086, you probably want to take a listen to part 1 of this conversation before diving in.

Episode 086:

Show Notes:

Shelf Love:

Guest: Jodie Slaughter

Twitter | Instagram | Check out Jodie's Books

Research discussed:

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

Twitter Polls:

Safe Sex in last contemporary romance novel you read

Sources of sex education


087. Clutch Your Pearls & Think of New England

Andrea Martucci: [00:00:00]Hello, and welcome to episode 87 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.

I am your host, Andrea Martucci. And on today's episode, I am joined once again by the one and only Dame Jodie Slaughter, back again for part two, to discuss safe sex in romance novels.

We'll finish discussing  the research published in 2000 about if reading romance impacts condom usage in real life, and then I'll share some Twitter poll results from the community about condom usage in the last contemporary romance they read, as well as some results on where folks learned information about safe sex.

What's your guess on how many were impacted by media, including romance novels.

And while we don't get prescriptive, Jodie and I do brainstorm some ways to incorporate less commonly covered aspects of safe sex and sexual health in romance novels. Open your minds to the possibilities.

If you haven't listened to episode 86, you probably want to take a listen to part one of this conversation before diving in, but make the best choice you can make. Okay, sweetie?

Marker [00:01:26]

     I asked this question on Twitter. It's a bit anemic, as far as my polls go in terms of results. I only had 55 votes it's, you know...,   

Jodie Slaughter: That's a good sample size. I mean, you know, moderate.

Andrea Martucci: I expect better for my Twitter polls, but anyways, I asked, think of the last contemporary romance novel you read that had sex scenes . Would you describe the sex "safe" with regard to pregnancy, STI prevention or testing, et cetera? Who was the more active quote unquote initiator of the conversation or practice of safe sex?

And then I had more detail kind of talking about okay, look, this is context dependent. Whatever makes sense for these people there's know caveat, caveat, caveat. The four options that were presented were " safe sex with a female character or a femme character initiating," "safe with a masculine character," initiating "safe with a non-binary character initiating," and quote unquote "unsafe sex."

And I characterize unsafe sex as at least one instance of something that would be considered [00:02:30] risky in terms of STI prevention or like unintended pregnancy. Okay. So as, as completely expected, 49% of people said that the last contemporary romance they read, the sex scenes were safe, but the masculine character initiated.

So the largest category was safe sex with the masculine character initiating, which is as expected. And I'm honestly pleasantly surprised by the high percentage there.

Jodie Slaughter: Yeah.

Andrea Martucci: In terms of safe sex. About 75% of the responses were quote, unquote, safe sex. One response had a non-binary character initiating and then about 24% with a feminine character initiating. If I think about romance novels I read with low grade safe sex, think about how many romance novels you've read, where it's kind of like the crinkling of a foil packet.

Jodie Slaughter: Yeah.

Andrea Martucci: Tearing a condom packet open with their teeth, or he slipped on a condom

Jodie Slaughter: Sorry, my first thought is like, on a banana peel? (We are cracking up)

Andrea Martucci: The floor is just littered with tied off condoms. And he's just like a roller skating.

Jodie Slaughter: Sorry. I don't know why

Andrea Martucci: Oh my God, the visual image I have in my head.

So like, I feel like most contemporaries I read do mention condoms or something like that. Or, I mean, I want to say mostly condoms, it's mostly condoms or like "I'm on birth control."

Jodie Slaughter: Yeah.

Andrea Martucci: And I feel like particularly in heterosexual relationships, I would posit that the majority of like cisgender, female character initiated safe sex conversations are birth control related, at least in my experience.

Jodie Slaughter: Yeah.

Andrea Martucci: Reading, where it's like, I'm on birth control, let's go for it. (snaps) And we talked before this, about the dreaded word clean

Jodie Slaughter: yes.

Andrea Martucci: Is often used

Jodie Slaughter: fuck that word.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah. So the context this often comes up in is like, "I'm clean. Are you clean?"

Jodie Slaughter: Yeah.

Andrea Martucci: Now Jodie, if anybody is kind of like, wait, what's wrong with clean? What is wrong with using the word clean in this context?

Jodie Slaughter: I think clean is the, it's the implication that someone having or who has had an STI is dirty which just adds to a stigma surrounding like morality and all kinds of awful shit when it's really just someone who has a sexually transmitted [00:05:00] infection. They're not like a dirty person.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah.

Jodie Slaughter: That's it.

Andrea Martucci: Right. It's the same way that - there is obviously social stigma about this, but for the same reason that it is not cool to stigmatize somebody who gets pink eye or - there's probably not a ton of social stigma about pink eye, unless people think you don't wash your hands after you go to the bathroom.

Jodie Slaughter: People don't like poopy eyes.

Andrea Martucci: But also again, like other medical conditions, either infections or medical conditions people have like diabetes.  Living with diabetes is stigmatized.

Jodie Slaughter: Which is also stigmatized.

Andrea Martucci: Yes, exactly. But for the same reason that it's kind of like, Hey, shut up and stop being a jerk.

Same thing.

Jodie Slaughter: Exactly.

Andrea Martucci: So 25% though said that the last contemporary romance had quote unquote unsafe sex, which is shockingly high.  I do want to say, I didn't ask what year these books were published.

Jodie Slaughter: I think even if they're recent, I don't think that's shocking to me.

Andrea Martucci: I'm shocked.

Jodie Slaughter: I think about a lot of the, okay, first of all, I'm like deeply more problematic than you. But whenever I delve into dark romance, for instance, and we're talking about like organized crime type stuff or whatever, I think  there are a lot of books that are just like, we're going to fuck. And oftentimes the cis woman character is not on any birth control and that doesn't matter to her cis male partner. Sometimes it matters to her. Sometimes it doesn't. Condoms are not really used because it is often a claiming type of situation.

It is often a heroine who is if not a virgin, often as close to virginal as possible, or it will be these two characters who like, if we're talking about like On the Edge of Love, these two characters, it's simply just not on their mind, you and I mean,

Andrea Martucci: Because they're like in a very dangerous situation.

Jodie Slaughter: Yes, exactly. If you're having a life affirming sex where you're like, "we might die," I imagine the last thing on your mind is

Andrea Martucci: you're like, we'll figure this out later if we manage to survive.

Jodie Slaughter: So it's often scenarios like that. So I would say I'm not super surprised. I think the number's probably low.

Andrea Martucci: Okay. And that could be reflective of the 55 people who are my Twitter followers. Right.

Jodie Slaughter: Right, exactly. I think that's very much,

Andrea Martucci: There's a sample [00:07:30] bias or whatever.

Okay. So at the very beginning of this conversation, I was like, I want to talk about this with you for two reasons.

And I said, one of those reasons, it was this study that I was looking for. The second reason was I had just read To Be Alone With You by Dame Jodie Slaughter,

Jodie Slaughter: oh hi

Andrea Martucci: which has a really fantastic, in my opinion, handling of safe sex, which I'll get to in a moment. So that was the last thing I had read. So it was like fresh in my head.

Jodie Slaughter: Okay.

Andrea Martucci: To Be Alone With You by Dame Jodie Slaughter, in which the characters have a conversation about STI tests. And not only say, here are the results show each other the goddamn documents. And I was like, Oh my God.

Jodie Slaughter: Yeah, so this is the first time I've done that in one of my books.  I think it's important to me to be like, if we're going to have the conversation, let's go ahead and show the proof. You know what I mean? Now, granted, these two characters do not use a condom in that scene.

Andrea Martucci: Yes. I do remember when they talk about having sex, did they say something about no barriers between us?

Jodie Slaughter: I'm one of those people I'm like, I don't know. Maybe? I think it's very possible because here's the thing. I agree with your, the thing about it's not so easy always to separate fantasy from reality, especially if we're not examining it. As someone who does examine it, and if someone who recognizes that I do also have filthy little kinks

Andrea Martucci: You're allowed to have your filthy little kinks,

Jodie Slaughter: I'm really trying to use like tamer words. Cause I don't want to say barebacking on your podcast.

Andrea Martucci: You just did though,

Jodie Slaughter: but do you know what I mean? And also it is very possible that I did say that because sometimes I'm just like really cheesy. But I think what I mean to say there,  particularly no barriers, I think what I was shooting for

This is a ridiculous thing to do as a writer to be like, actually I should've written this instead. Not "barrier" in the way of like, I don't want  emotional," but literally in the physical, like "I want to fuck you raw. I want to"

Andrea Martucci: that might be what they said.

Jodie Slaughter: Yeah, that's what I was going for. Because It does feel good,

Andrea Martucci: but I think it -sure, sure, sure, sure, sure, Sure. I get you. I think that in the context I would call it safe sex though, because first of all, they have literally explicit conversation and showing of test results in terms of like STIs.

And then I believe [00:10:00] she's on some sort of like hormonal birth control or something. So that's- okay. Like in the context of their relationship, everybody's comfortable with it and everybody knows it. They have an explicit conversation about what they're doing, what they're comfortable with, et cetera beforehand.

Cool. I loved it. I have never seen people produce test results in a romance novel before

Jodie Slaughter: I feel like I have, but I don't remember exactly.

Andrea Martucci: I loved it. I loved it.

Jodie Slaughter: Thank you.

Andrea Martucci: I was inspired.

Jodie Slaughter: I'm very glad. I mean, I just was like, this is natural for these two characters. I think often in my books, I kinda just don't have the characters going into depth and detail about their sort of sexual past.  Not that either character is super ashamed of it or anything just that they're just like very intensely focused on what's happening right now. I do know that in White Whiskey Bargain, there was a point where Hannah was like, okay well, you can't be fucking other people.

But they live in a small town and there are politics involved in,

Andrea Martucci: It's not sex shaming. There's like a legitimate reason.

Jodie Slaughter: But in To Be Alone With You, these two characters did actively both, I think together and in their heads, talk about - they're not straight people. They did actively talk about like their sexual histories sleeping with other people. And I did think that, for these characters, they would be two people who would regularly get STI tests. I don't know that like Hannah and Javier would be. Well largely just because there's no Planned Parenthood in Hartland, Kentucky.

Andrea Martucci: So what you're saying is that you actually thought about the context of these characters' lives both culturally and like situationally in the story and made different decisions?

Jodie Slaughter: I try to, I try to, because I do think when we're talking about safe sex and we're all talking about like how we should be getting tested every six months.

And every time we change a partner and all this stuff, and I do think about I don't know this for certain, but someone my grandmother's age, I'm not sure. I know that she slept with more than one person. I can't say for certain that she ever got an STI test. not that I'm saying, go her

but I do think that we are not in this sort of world where we all have the same sex education and we all have the resources to do that right.

Andrea Martucci: Or access. Like sometimes it's a financial access and sometimes it's like literal, is there a place where I can get this done?

Jodie Slaughter: Exactly. Most of us know [00:12:30] about condoms, birth control. I know who my friends are, who are, people who live in a blue dot city.

Andrea Martucci: They live in Austin, Texas.

Jodie Slaughter: Yeah. They live in Austin, Texas.  Louisville, Kentucky, which is it's fine.

There's one Planned Parenthood here, but there are places you can go. There are resources. And they do tend to be people who like, do have the money access to pay, to go get these panels done. But even there are plenty of people I know who like have never had an STI test.

And  I'm not going to walk around and be like, you need to do this. I'm not the judge, I'm not the pussy police or whatever.

Andrea Martucci: Aren't you the safe sex police?!

Jodie Slaughter: I'm not the safe sex police. But I also understand that what we can do is we can educate people, but people are going to do what works for them.

People are going to live their lives, how they're going to do it.

Andrea Martucci: So I'm going to say the thing that I always say. Different stories have different contexts, right? Like  there are reasons why characters do different things based on their context.

What is more concerning is that zoomed up, Eagle eye view of the genre, where if we see certain trends repeated over and over again, it's most likely not because a hundred percent of those scenarios were scenarios where it did not make sense for the character to do a particular thing.

It's usually because the genre is influencing itself. The way the genre has written about things is  influencing what is written after that point. And that's all kind of reflecting our social attitudes about these things. It's reflecting the individual experiences of the authors, some of whom grew up in different generations or locations.

And and then obviously we have young'ns like you and evil Prince Jack Harbon.

Jodie Slaughter: Wow.

Andrea Martucci: Everybody's experiences kind different based on where you grew up, your family, your friends, et cetera, et cetera. But like literally you're growing up in a different world than the world that even I grew up in and I am not even that old.

Jodie Slaughter: Are you sure? Turtleneck on right now.

Andrea Martucci: I made this turtleneck. I sewed this.

Jodie Slaughter: That's even cuter.

Andrea Martucci: So yes, my question is always just like, are we making these choices? Are we seeing these choices made purely just because that's the right, quote unquote right choice for the characters, the book, whatever. Or Are there  these genre conventions? Are there these influences by society at large that are saying, " your cisgender female character should not [00:15:00] be too active in discussing this, or,  this is the sexual script and this is how it goes. And we don't want to get too yucky talking about STI tests. They're just going to say I'm clean."

Jodie Slaughter: That's exactly what it is. I think it does have more to do with genre convent ion, more to do with, - and I know you're going to hate it when I say like -the fantasy of it all.

Even those of us who are

Andrea Martucci: I pretended to vomit.

Jodie Slaughter: Interested in writing romances that break away from the, you know,  we talk about like fantasy as we have critiqued it, as I've critiqued it with you, as the billionaire fantasy and why that's not great. The fetishization of wealth and whiteness and all of those things, but there does exist a fantasy in romance where you can have, for many people, where you can have sexual encounters with people and it doesn't have to fundamentally change anything about your life.  Through pregnancy, through STIs. Not just because of like hashtag true love, but also because there are societal stigmas attached to STI, there are societal stigmas attached to teen pregnancy or unintended pregnancies so much so that like people who do have STIs don't get to so openly share their stories because people judge them, whether or not it was because they had one thing with someone and that someone betrayed them or they just made an accident and were not,

Andrea Martucci: made an

Jodie Slaughter: accident!

Andrea Martucci: And Jodie, I think what you're hitting on here too, is the more that there is this stigmatization against talking about it, the more this perpetuates, because if somebody is scared that they can't have an honest conversation about, Oh, I have gonorrhea and like here let's have a reasonable conversation about what that means and what it looks like. Honestly, I do not know the details of this, otherwise I would literally say it right now, but like, here's what we can do to prevent transmitting it. And like, here are times when we should or should not do certain things. Like you can have those conversations and engage in like safe sex with somebody who has an STI. But if you're scared that the person on the other end of that is going to immediately shut down and have certain ideas about you and your past and all of these things, that does not encourage future safe sex. It's depressing for the [00:17:30] person and they feel alienated.

Jodie Slaughter: Exactly. And so take that, so this one character who maybe does have herpes, who would feel, alienated, take that as a writer and in this genre, when you are constantly having to think about how are people going to judge these characters?

You have to think about that with every genre, everything you write, but in romance, I think it is a very specific type of judgment and the conventions that we all still have, like as a society and how we as readers view people with STIs or unintended pregnancies do readers at large, are they viewing these people as worthy of love and good sex and romance?

I don't know that we are, because I think that this stigma is not just, it's not just " dirty." It's also like immoral, whatever the fuck that means. It's also deviant and all these other, like we're at a place where in this genre, it seems more realistic that we could have a character, a main character who is a love interest in a romance novel who is a literal serial killer and who finds love and romance and good sex, then have a main character in a romance novel who is HIV positive and has the same things.

Andrea Martucci: So according to 2018 data, one in five people in the United States probably carries a sexually transmitted infection according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And yeah you're more likely to find a billionaire in the romance genre than somebody who has an STI.

And so then what we're talking about then is erasure. I know that there are romance novels with characters with STS, but they are very few and far between. If the majority, if the vast majority of characters that we encounter just happened to not have an STI, and either because they explicitly discuss it or it's not discussed, and we assume that they don't, that too then creates further stigma, because exactly as you were talking about. People who are worthy of love that I read about in romance novels, don't have this issue.

I don't know if most people know, I certainly did not know until I just looked it up, that one in five Americans likely has an STI.

Jodie Slaughter: It's a not insignificant number of people.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah.  If you have a romance novel with two people in it, the chances that one of them has an STI is actually greater than one in five.

It's like half it's, half that, one in two [00:20:00] and a half, right?

Jodie Slaughter: Yeah.

Andrea Martucci: I actually, I'm not really good at statistics. It's probably

Jodie Slaughter: I'm not good at numbers at all,

Andrea Martucci: but it's a little bit more complicated than that, but it's less than one in five.  Say you have 10 people and two of them, because one in five, so two of them have an STI. What is the likelihood that a relationship among those people will have at least one person with an STI? Again, I don't know probability, I never gamble. So I don't know, but somebody could probably do that math, not me.

And here's why this whole conversation matters, right? We think we understand why this matters because Oh, there should be positive representations and like we should de-stigmatize and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

But what does the data say, Jodie? What does the data say? So

Jodie Slaughter: It just says we're all shitty,

Andrea Martucci: yeah, it does. So exactly. This research also did then two other studies with people. And one of them was, they got a whole bunch of readers. I want to say they were all identified as women.

And they were like what are you interested in reading? And then they asked them questions about how frequently they were to have used condoms in the past.

And then what they did is they compared people who said that they read a lot of romance novels compared to people who read other things and predictably found that, they had hypothesized this. They found that people who had read romance novels were less likely in the past to have use condoms.

And so they said, okay, we should do another study because it's unclear, what if people who have more quote, unquote traditional values are more likely to read romance novels. We can't quite narrow down exactly what's going on here. So then they did this other study where they took participants from the first study who said that they were willing to do more research.

And they took an actual romance novel and had them read this scene. And half the people got the scene without mention of a condom. And half of the people got the scene that included this paragraph.

"He pulled back slightly so he could look at her. "Should we use protection?" he asked gently. She nodded at him, her face warm as he unwrapped the bright foil, pleased with his concern for her. She smiled at him and kissed his throat," et cetera. And, and so

Jodie Slaughter: Pleased with his concern for her, yeah. Okay.

Andrea Martucci: That paragraph was written by researchers.

So the purpose of this latter study is then to measure the impact of having read that on [00:22:30] their attitudes towards using condoms. So if they read within a loving scene, a description of a couple engaging in safe sex, according to this definition, has their attitude changed positively or negatively towards using condoms? And so, as predicted, participants who read the safe sex romance excerpt reported significantly more positive attitudes towards condom usage than participants who read the quote unquote traditional romance script excerpt, which was the one without talking about condoms.

" Participants who read the safe sex scenario also reported less negative attitudes towards condom use."

Jodie Slaughter: This is really good, but it's so interesting to me because now I just have so many questions. You said these studies are probably around 1996, which obviously, I was two years old, but my first thought was I wonder if romance readers of today who are around the same age as these participants would have been then have the same views.

And I'm like, because maybe we've come farther, but I'm like 1996 would have been height of " "use condom" ads on trains and stuff.

Andrea Martucci: Definitely would be after and there's mention of that in here, people are aware of the HIV crisis at this point.

Jodie Slaughter: Right.

Andrea Martucci: And it's also clear, I think at this point that unlike early conversation about HIV that it is known that heterosexual people are equally at risk for HIV. And and that information I believe is like pretty well distributed in media,

Jodie Slaughter: Right. They're at that point where there are like sitcom episodes right. Where there's so I'm like, I don't know. That seems like they would have had pretty intense sort of condom messaging.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah.  I've done a fair amount of reading on other studies on the impact of fictional narratives on people's beliefs about real life. And there's been many studies done that show that when people consume information, even if it's like in a fictional form, while they're able to say, I know that that was fiction, when they learn information in a medium their brain. Isn't like, "well, you learned that in fiction though, so you don't believe that." People's brains or like "that's fact, that's a fact" and it files it away.

And so I don't know if it's a huge leap to really say, and this study is one study that shows this, but I don't think it's a huge leap to say, if a reader of romance is repeatedly reading a script that in [00:25:00] cisgender heterosexual relationships, a passive female when it comes to these conversations, very little mention of condom usage, which either implies through its erasure or literally implies on the page that "we don't need to use condoms" or STI prevention because we're in love, because this is true love, because we don't want anything between us.

There's a lot of like narrative wrapping around that, that I think it is reasonable for people's brain to say  "if I have to love, then I don't need to worry about this."

Or "this is going to spoil the mood if I'm like, Oh, Hey, do you have a condom?" Because, Oh, I don't want to look too forward. And they talk about this in this study, the negative social repercussions for being seen, particularly for like women, as too sexually forward. Oh no, "like now this guy is going to think that I'm a trollop."

Jodie Slaughter: Right. A trollop. Yeah. A trollop. He's going to say that, verbatim. No, I agree. I agree fully. Those ideas exist in romance, but they very much also exist outside of it.

Andrea Martucci: Sure.

Jodie Slaughter: It may not be, our boss who we've been like, secretly  pining after for a year, that sort of thing.

But I do think, when you think about like your relationships if you have been using safe sex, there comes a time when it's like, I love you. And so because of that, we can take steps to maybe not use condoms anymore. And that doesn't necessarily mean we got married. I think there is normally the perception of monogamy, whether or not that is actually happening is, who knows.

I think romance reinforces that for a lot of us, but I think that ultimately as a society that like, we have really fucked up views on sex and relationship are how we view love and what it means to be in love is bizarre and very unforgiving to like actual human beings.

Yeah. So I think it's all that shit like mashed together and plenty of people who are doing things within the romance genre that are transformative that are like way ahead of what the rest of us. Like somebody is like, oh, she included like [00:27:30] people reading STI results? K thanks. You know what I mean? Like we're doing like real shit over here. And that's totally fine.

So I don't want to say romance isn't doing that. I will say like mainstream, especially like traditionally published large romance is absolutely reinforcing those ideas of you know, love conquers, all love conquers herpes. Love conquer a pregnancy that you're not ready for.

Andrea Martucci: Well... Love makes you ready.

Jodie Slaughter: Yeah. (we laugh) love. Yeah. Yeah.

Andrea Martucci: As someone who has had a child, that's a joke.

Jodie Slaughter: As someone who has been in love and has not had a child, I also believe that it's very much likely a joke. Yeah. Even someone who's my age, who's 26. I know plenty of people who are married, who are my age.

Andrea Martucci: I was married at your age.

Jodie Slaughter: Were you really? That's so cute.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah. I got married when I was 24.

Jodie Slaughter: Really?

Andrea Martucci: Yeah.

Jodie Slaughter: Oh my God. That's wild. It's not wild. It isn't wild.

Andrea Martucci: I don't know many of my peers like from college, from high school, whatever, who actually were married at my age. I was precocious.

Jodie Slaughter: I do. But because I'm from Kentucky, you know what I mean?

Andrea Martucci: Totally. I live in the Northeast and again I'm barely friends with anybody from high school. So the majority of people I'm considering my peers are people I went to college with so yet another sort of like, yeah demographic differentiator.

Jodie Slaughter: Far be it for me to defend the romance genre, please -

Andrea Martucci: don't you dare!

Jodie Slaughter: I'm not going to do that. But I will say is that I think we are just following the lead of kind of what everyone is doing in real life for once, which is truly an actively kind of believing hashtag "all you need is love"  that bullshit.

And I do think that we kind of amplify it and make it a little more intense than it often is in real life. And I'm not saying that we shouldn't be striving to do better because we should. But I don't know. I,

Andrea Martucci: Do you want to hear the result of this poll, this other poll?

Jodie Slaughter: I do.

Andrea Martucci: Okay. So this poll has been open for, I don't know, two hours. We've got a stunning 44 results, sorry, 44 votes. Almost as much as the other one that was open for two days. I feel such shame about the response rate.

Jodie Slaughter: You're shaming t he Shelf Love followers. Y'all

Andrea Martucci: Y'all why did you not take my poll.

Okay, so this is the question.

"What source of info was most influential on your ideas about safe sex?" There's only four options. Okay. So do what that what you will. Sex ed in school: 11.4%. Parents slash guardians at just about 16%. At just over 27%: peers and friends. And then the most influential among my audience of people who read a lot of romance novels, perhaps unsurprisingly media, including romance novels at 45.5%.

[00:30:00] Jodie Slaughter: Wow. Which actually, it makes sense. Anyone who said they got most of their sex ed from school? You're a yank or

Andrea Martucci: Californian?

Jodie Slaughter: Yeah. You're like in California.

Andrea Martucci: So Katrina Jackson here people commented on this. So

Jodie Slaughter: Yuck! Katrina Jackson!

Andrea Martucci: I know, Katrina Jackson said, "this is such a great question. I chose peers slash friends, but I also learned a lot from media, specifically media aimed at gay men, which was always at the forefront of safe sex ed."

Now I'm like super curious what, tell me more about this media.

Jodie Slaughter: This isn't shady. I think this very much has to do with age.

Andrea Martucci: Are you calling her old?

Jodie Slaughter: I'm not. I am saying that

Andrea Martucci: there's nothing wrong with being old,

Jodie Slaughter: no, there isn't. Correct me if I'm wrong. But I imagine when you were at this age coming of age, when the majority of your sex ed was geared towards gay men, it was during the AIDS HIV epidemic. Do you think?

In the nineties as a kid, the late eighties or nineties as a kid. You don't think, cause I was born in 94, so okay. Sorry, but I was, okay?

Andrea Martucci: No it's OK! (Gets higher and higher pitched dramatically.) Okay. So Hannah Hearts Romance says "for purposes of the current question" -Hannah always is like, but what if there was an essay response section to your polls? She said, "I said school, I was lucky enough to have pretty comprehensive sex ed in high school, but I also counted college because they were serious about condoms."

That's true that at a certain time period colleges got like very into that, I think, because they didn't want to deal with like angry parents.

" However consent was often left out of safe sex discussions except maybe on the most basic level."

Good point, Hannah.

Jodie Slaughter: Yes, absolutely. I knew, " no means, no." I knew a very sort of basic definition of what assault was.

Andrea Martucci: But the nuance probably,

Jodie Slaughter: yeah, the nuance did not cut. I mean, that was Tumblr discussion, you know what I mean?

Andrea Martucci: Thank god for Tumblr.

Jodie Slaughter: Which is dark, but it, it was so yeah.

Andrea Martucci: So Ryede says, "weirdly learned the most about safe sex from peers in an abstinence education program. I was a part of in high school where I taught middle school kids how to say no to sex. Sad face." I mean  maybe those repressive sort of situations make people band together to be like, look, they're not going to give us any real information here. We've got to learn from each other,

And then Diana Filar, who's going to be a guest on the podcast coming up. I know her from like over a decade ago our school days at Emerson College. I'll tell the story when she comes by, [00:32:30] but anyways, she says "rolling on the floor laughing at sex ed in school."

Jodie Slaughter: I (Jodie laughs) know!

Andrea Martucci: I want to say she went to high school in Connecticut. Where did you go to school?

Jodie Slaughter: So WASPS have comprehensive sex ed?

Andrea Martucci: Do WASPs? It's very much clutch your pearls

You know, I just want to clear up the misconception that everybody who lives in New England is WASP. Like I, first of all, am not a WASP. I am white

Jodie Slaughter: and you're not a Protestant.

Andrea Martucci: I'm not a Protestant,

I guess I'm like half I guess Anglo-Saxon but then I'm like half like Slavic. Is that so white Anglo-Saxon Protestant.

Jodie Slaughter: girl, listen,

Andrea Martucci: I don't even have pearls.

Jodie Slaughter: if I got to grow up hearing about how all of us like, fuck our cousins like shit like that, I'm going to call y'all WASP and I'm not going to feel a tad bit bad about it, but I will recognize my friend, Andrea is not a WASP she's a half Slavic Catholic or former, lapsed, whatever ex.

Andrea Martucci: You know what I, white atheist, potato farming,

Jodie Slaughter: not potato farming -

Andrea Martucci: I think literally every single one of my European ancestors was a potato farmer, but like in various countries, like my Irish potato farmers, my Polish potato farmer kin,

Jodie Slaughter: What does that say about who you are today?

Andrea Martucci: I hate potatoes.

Jodie Slaughter: Excuse me?

Andrea Martucci: Do you know? I love a good mashed cauliflower. (laughs) Jodie's vomiting

Jodie Slaughter: I'm hanging up..

Andrea Martucci: I did have steak frites for dinner tonight, so I guess I had potatoes tonight, literally.

Jodie Slaughter: All right. All right. I guess, I can't say I don't like seafood, so

Andrea Martucci: what'd you say?

Jodie Slaughter: I don't like seafood.

Andrea Martucci: Oh, you don't like, I thought you said "I don't see food." Like the way people say I don't see color.

Jodie Slaughter: I don't see food, it's all the same.

Andrea Martucci: It's all the same to me. I just put it in my mouth and eat it and I don't taste it.

Jodie Slaughter: It could be green, purple, polka dotted, fuzzy.

Andrea Martucci: But sometimes when certain food is on my plate, I just push it away. I just don't know why.

Jodie Slaughter: I just don't even let it on the table.

Andrea Martucci: Exactly. I think we ripped this foil packet right open with our teeth.

Jodie Slaughter: Ripped a foil packet open with our teeth, which meant that the nut that we cracked open busted through [00:35:00] the foil.

Andrea Martucci: Yes. Busted through the foil. Thus we put two condoms on to be safer. Just in case any youngins are listening to this. Although God, you probably need more parental supervision.

Jodie Slaughter: If any youngins are listening to this. I'm so sorry that I maybe made you Google the word bareback. I'm so sorry.

I want to say that any

Andrea Martucci: young in's listening to this are precocious enough to already know.

If you're going to use a condom, use one, not two. Don't ever double up.

Jodie Slaughter: Don't open up with your teeth,

Andrea Martucci: no teeth, no knives, nothing sharp.

Jodie Slaughter: There's a little

Andrea Martucci: it's perforated. There's little jagged edge where you tear.

Jodie Slaughter: Okay? Wait, I have to share something ridiculous. I had an encounter once where the perforation like wasn't working and the guy was like, Oh, I have a lighter here. I can.

Andrea Martucci: Oh my God, what?

Jodie Slaughter: I was like,

Andrea Martucci: Jodie, tell me you did not continue this encounter.

Jodie Slaughter: Okay. I did, butwe didn't use that condom.

Andrea Martucci: Thank god. I was worried about you.

Jodie Slaughter: yeah. That was dark.

Andrea Martucci: Jodie, any final thoughts on this topic?

Jodie Slaughter: Oh, Babe's be safe, have fun. Like in these Covidian Times, be safe, I don't know just like whatever,

Andrea Martucci: be cool baby girl.

Jodie Slaughter: Be cool, baby. But also take a more critical look,  maybe we should all start, being better at including more comprehensive talks about safer sex in our romances. Yeah.

Andrea Martucci: I thought that maybe at some point in this conversation we would get to a somewhat prescriptive conversation about what are some things that you can just like casually throw in there to be a little bit more positive about safe sex conversations.

We didn't get there. And that's okay. That's okay. I don't want to be too prescriptive, but I think, yes, Jodie, I appreciate you ending on the, food for thought: are you doing what you're doing because it's what you have grown up reading in romance novels.

Jodie Slaughter: Yeah.

Andrea Martucci: Or is it because this is truly the decision the characters making in the situation that makes sense and the story and maybe we can open our minds about what is a sexy conversation.

Jodie Slaughter: Yeah. I also think that just to add another thing, I know that when we're writing romance, erotica or sex, a lot of us feel a ton of pressure to make everything sexy. And I spend a lot of time in To Be Alone With You wondering how I was going to make that scene where they do take a look at each other's test results, [00:37:30] sexy.

And then I realized that I didn't have to do that because if you've had sexual encounters in real life, you realize that a person saying they could burn open a condom isn't sexy, but the sex did still happen. And do think it's not always gonna ruin the mood to just have people be like,

Andrea Martucci: I guess I just want to say also this is making me think that maybe all these conversations should not take place in the context of a sexual encounter.

Like it's okay for these conversations to happen beforehand or before the action gets hot and heavy,

Jodie Slaughter: yeah. Okay. Elaine from Seinfeld hot and heavy.

Andrea Martucci: I will do the Elaine dance right now.

Jodie Slaughter: I believe you.

Andrea Martucci: It's my actual dance.

Jodie Slaughter: Yeah. I think that's actually a great point. Like you can have them talk about it over dinner. Like I think it's like fine for them to be like, if they're flirting or they realize that, you know what, maybe this is going to go to a place where we're going to have sex, it is perfectly acceptable to have one or multiple characters bring up, Hey in case this happens. Let's discuss like how many partners do you have right now? And do you use protection with them or have you been tested recently? I also think that it can be intimate, and not intimate to mean sexual, but an intimate thing to have characters, like go get tested together. It can be like cute and coy.

There is a movie. I can't remember what it's called right now. But it's a Jenny Slate movie where there's a very tender scene at the end -

Andrea Martucci: The one where she has the abortion.

Jodie Slaughter: Yes. And the, I guess the hero, I guess you would call him, is there when she gets the abortion and I found it very endearing and very tender and very intimate.

And I don't see any reason why we couldn't do that with people who go to a clinic or to get an abortion or people who go to a clinic to get an STI panel

Andrea Martucci: Or plan B. There's so many possibilities there that you can play with. So it is a great scene. It's a bonding scene. It's an opportunity for them to spend time together and also to hold off on actually having sex to increase the tension. Like they really they're really looking forward to it and build the sexual tension in that scene.

And also if you think about what individual characters would do in particular situations like, that is a fascinating thought experiment.

There are so many characters in romance novels where I'm like, Oh, they would [00:40:00] totally be all up in that. And have that on their calendar and schedule it for the other person and whatever, like that is a character building exercise.

Jodie Slaughter: I think so too. A thousand scenarios, just -not a thousand, a few- scenarios just ran through my head about two people going to get a Plan B after an encounter. And I'm like, Oh wait, this is the cutest shit. Cause I'm imagining like

Andrea Martucci: like a broken condom or something where it, because that's like a thing that happens where like you're engaging in safe sex and something happens and they're like, okay, now I'm going to continue with the trend and,

Jodie Slaughter: Yeah.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah.

Jodie Slaughter: Yeah. Let's just open our minds a little more. And I also think obviously we're not like, as I said earlier, as I just opened myself up far too much for you people and said that like I do have my own personal, like kinks or whatever. So I'm definitely not saying just for my own, just for my own enjoyment, I'm not saying, let's never have any hashtag barebacking, which is, I guess the word of this Podcast.

Andrea Martucci: Barebacking can be safe. It can be.

Jodie Slaughter: Yeah. So yeah, you gotta have me and Jack Harbon on here to talk about breeding kinks.

Andrea Martucci: Oh my God. Oh my God. Okay. Writing that down. Breeding...

(you can hear pencil scratching) Jodie. I can never tell who's corrupting whom when we get together.

Jodie Slaughter: I might be corrupting you a little bit,

Andrea Martucci: that's just because you think that I look innocent.

Jodie Slaughter: You just have such a sweet little face.

Andrea Martucci: . (whispers) I'm fooling all of you.

Jodie. Thank you so much for coming today to unravel the mysteries of the universe with me.

Jodie Slaughter: I regret this 100%. No, but thank you for having me.

Andrea Martucci: At least you don't regret it 200%

Jodie Slaughter: you nerd!

  Andrea Martucci: Thanks for listening to episode 87 of Shelf Love and thank you to Jodie Slaughter for joining me.  Thanks to everyone who also did part in these Twitter surveys as well. I love to hear your ideas. A transcript and show notes for this episode can be found on shelflovepodcast.Com.

Next week I'm joined by rare book dealer, Rebecca Romney.

She's building a romance collection. She's building it bigger. She's widening the corridors and adding more lanes for romance scholarship.  A very limited edition.  Some people want Harlequin, some people [00:42:30] want Mills and Boon. You'll hear our conversation about it very, very soon.

If you know what song I'm playing on here, please send me an email and I'll send you a pendant keychain. But seriously, I'm really excited for you to hear our conversation and I think that Rebecca's work has lots of cool implications for widening our understanding of the history of the genre. So stay tuned for that next week.

If you have any thoughts on today's show, I'd love for you to reach out to me. You can send an email to Andrea at Shelf Love Podcast dot com.

I also appreciate if you take a moment to give this podcast some stars, preferably as many as possible on Apple podcasts, or if you leave a review. Even better yet, share this podcast with a friend. Depending on your friends. This may or may not be the best one to start with? Use your judgment. I trust you, sweetie.

This episode is produced by me, Andrea Martucci. Thank you to Shelf Love editorial advisory board members, Katrina Jackson, and Tasha L Harrison. That's all for this week. Black lives matter. Stay safe, stay mad and keep reading romance.

Jodie Slaughter: The only turtleneck I own I'm going to wear tomorrow actually, is a body suit turtleneck. It's like

Andrea Martucci: I sewed a bodysuit turtleneck for myself, and I wear underneath my dungarees.

Jodie Slaughter: That's what I'm wearing, that's the outfit I'm wearing tomorrow under my pink dungaree.

Andrea Martucci: I almost wore my dungarees for this, but I didn't have time.

Let's choose a day to both wear our dungarees, and then take pictures on Instagram and then swap them.

Jodie Slaughter: We're going to

Andrea Martucci: okay. I love it.