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HIV, in fanfic and in real life - Mo's Journal
June 21st, 2005
02:03 pm

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HIV, in fanfic and in real life
This was sparked by a few things -

* Discussions in a few places about the lack of condoms/safer sex/HIV mention in much of fanfic
* Some HIV history that crept into posts by purplepopple and in writing_sex
* The fact that I've been dealing with issues surrounding HIV in my own fiction a lot lately
* The opinion I've seen expressed in a few places that for many people, with better drugs and longer life expectancies, HIV is not such a big deal anymore.

HIV in Fanfic


I was kind of surprised when I started reading slash to see just how infrequently HIV seems to come up as a topic, and how infrequently sex scenes portray men practicing safer sex. It bothered me a bit. It seemed to take away some of the verisimilitude, since safer sex (or risky sex and worrying about the risk) is so much a part of the male homoerotic landscape. It made the sex scenes seem more fantasy-like and less real. Maybe that's part of the reason people do write them like that - they want them to sound like a fantasy, not a public health infomercial. I don't want my sex scenes to sound like public service announcements, either, but I do want them to sound real. Also I think the old AIDS activist in me wants to keep the faith or something, and talk about HIV/AIDS whenever possible.

So, I was dismayed to find that when I started writing slash I didn't write much about AIDS at first, either! I didn't feel comfortable with that stance, but it seemed to flow pretty naturally out of my writing being mostly Scott/Logan. Since Logan can't acquire disease or pass it on, there was no need for the two of them to practice safer sex. I do portray Scott as using condoms when having sex outside of the relationship, and I show another couple (Jean-Paul and Adam) as practicing safer sex for the first year of their relationship. I also present, in some detail, the decision-making process they go through when they stop using condoms, and show what happens when events (Jean-Paul's occupational exposure to HIV and Adam having sex outside the relationship) lead them to go back to practicing safer sex. I try to give a sense of how these changes in practice affect their sexual experience and their relationship as a whole. I have canon behind me in raising HIV issues in connection with Jean-Paul, since he is canonically both an out gay man and an AIDS activist.

I've thought some about why fanfic authors don't write about HIV so much, and I'd love to hear other opinions. Here are some reasons I think fanfic authors don't talk about HIV or show their characters practicing safer sex, for those who don't:

* As mentioned above, some may want to write a kind of fantasy of sexual activity without any barriers, and the lack of physical barriers is symbolic for a lack of emotional barriers in some sense.

* Many fandoms are set in times and places when men would not have been using condoms to have sex with each other (MFU, S&H) or are set in fantasy or future worlds divorced enough from our own that illnesses we have here are presumed not to be cause for concern there and then (Star Wars, Star Trek)

* Some characters are in canon impervious to illness (Superman, Wolverine) so it doesn't make sense that they'd be concerned about STDs

* Although there are lots of workshops out there on Eroticizing Safer Sex, a lot of people feel that condoms are anaphrodisiac and a lot more people feel that thinking about life-threatening illness is anaphrodisiac. Authors may worry that writing about HIV prevention will render the sex scenes not hot

* If authors are slashing two men who have no previous homosexual experience, they may think condoms are unnecessary (I don't think I've ever heard this one expressed, but it seems possible some feel that way)

* Maybe some authors feel like HIV is no longer such a serious issue, and so they don't feel a need to have their characters concerned about it and aren't concerned about it themselves. Again, I haven't heard anyone say this in connection with fanfic, but it's possible. There have been an awful lot of articles in a number of mainstream publications about people who feel that way in real life, giving the impression that gay men just aren't so concerned about HIV anymore, and giving that as one reason for increased infection rates lately. It's possible that attitude affects fanfic writers who've read those articles...

Which brings me to...



HIV in Real Life


I really don't think there are a lot of people who think AIDS is no big deal. I do think that many people who are HIV+ are able to live pretty full lives, and that's a very good thing. FTMP I think that people who are negative want to stay negative and those who are positive want to live as long as they can with the disease. There has been a lot of press coverage about "bug chasers" - people who eroticise getting infected - but I think they are such a tiny minority. I see those articles as mostly sensationalism.

I do think a larger factor, though, is safer sex fatigue, particularly among the older men who have
been practicing safer sex for over twenty years! I think it's just very hard to stick with always using protection, all your life, and I think people do slip up eventually. It's not something that our society requires of anyone but gay men, really. Well, in theory it's required of hemophiliacs. It's clear that they as a group don't do it, as many studies have shown, not to mention the evidence of their infected wives. And that's a population that grew up complying with medical dictates, which says something. It's possible that "safer sex, the first time, every time" is just an unattainable goal.

One thing to remember is that the slogan of the early safe sex (it wasn't "safer" then, just "safe") pioneers was "Stay alive for the cure." Condoms were meant to be a temporary measure, a way to avoid getting this while we convinced the government it was worth putting money into research on a disease that was killing a bunch of faggots. That's truly what we thought we needed - money for research. And then there would be a cure, and then everyone could go back to their old sexual practices.

Looking back, I think it's clear that there was a very short time in human history (from development of antibiotics that effectively combatted syphilis until the onset of HIV) when acquiring a fatal disease was not a risk of sexual contact. I don't think anyone now thinks that's a normal state of events or one we'll get back to. If a cure is found for HIV, there will be another disease. But anyway, if you grew up at a time when what was then called "venereal disease" was not considered that serious and certainly not fatal, that felt like the normal state and it was GRID/AIDS that seemed the aberration. So, those sexual pioneers exhorted gay men to stay alive for the cure. And none of them are around to recognise the irony in their stopgap measure lasting longer than they did. I also think sometimes younger people don't have the long view and think of HIV as the aberration, as this awful thing that the generation before them "gave" them. I've heard a lot of resentment and kind of envy from young gay men, wishing they were growing up in a time of freewheeling sex without worry about disease.

I worked as a volunteer on the first National AIDS Hotline in the 1980s. We had totally wonderful inservice training monthly, covering counselling techniques as well as updated information on disease and transmission (it was a time when there was new information *all the time*). I still remember a lot of those inservice lectures and the wonderful men who gave them. I don't think one of them is alive today :-(.

I do think a few things are going on now that contribute to rising infection rates. One of them is safer sex fatigue, as I've mentioned. There is evidence of men taking chances who have played safe for years. Another is the feeling that anyone engaging in anonymous sex is probably already infected. Some men practice what is called sero-sorting - they have unprotected sex but specifically seek out other infected partners. There are real health reasons not to do that, but it sort of has a common-sense appeal if you don't know enough to know not to.

Another issue is the role of recreational drugs. The increasing use of crystal meth by MSM has a big role in AIDS infection. It lowers inhibitions and deadens pain, which is a bad combo. It leads to more unprotected anal sex and to rougher sex and more bleeding. Other drugs (alcohol and illegal ones) can contribute to risk taking behavior, too.

I went to a lecture a few months back by a guy who has written a book about HIV+ people and disclosure. He considers questions like: Whom do they tell? When do they tell? How do those who don't tell justify it to themselves? One thing he said that kind of stuck with me is that we in public health are giving two kind of contradictory messages. OT1H we advocate disclosure, we say it's the responsible thing to tell potential sex partners that you're positive. OTOH we say always use a condom; don't count on knowing your partner's status. So this leaves the infected individual sometimes thinking that he's better off not telling (since it will turn some guys off) and he might as well not tell (since they'll play safe anyway).

Some gay male couples (where both are uninfected) engage in a practice called Negotiated Safety, which is supposed to permit giving up condoms within the relationship. It can be done within the context of a monogamous or non-monogamous relationships. It got a bad rap in its early days, but seems to be having a resurgence now. The worry was always that men wouldn't keep the compacts and disclose, but I found some recent research suggesting they do. In my fiction I show Jean-Paul and Adam working out a Negotiated Safety pact (and not doing it very well, at that. As Adam says to Jean-Paul, "I'm pretty sure the negotiation part isn't supposed to happen during sex.")

I don't know what the answer is. I don't think sex is ever going to be a truly safe human endeavor, but I think that's true of most human activity, yk? And I think the abstinence-until-marriage-and-faithfulness-after crowd is just really going against human nature in so many ways. How best to navigate sexual desire and activity and stay safe is a really hard question, both for the individual and the society. I don't have an answer to it.


So, I'd love to hear anyone else's views if you've gotten this far.

How do you cover HIV in fanfic as an author?

How do you like to see it covered as a reader?

Do you think discussing real world issues concerning STDs is a turnoff in fanfic?

Is it likely that a galaxy far far away or other settings would not have to deal with issues of sex and illness?

I'd love to hear opinions on any of this. I'd also really like recs for fanfic that handles issues of HIV and AIDS well. Ones I've particularly liked are shadowscast's Once a Thief fiction and also her That Seventies Show fanfic (which doesn't deal with HIV directly, since it's before the epidemic, but leaves the reader with a bit of a sense of impending doom, since it's on the horizon) and minisinoo's X-Men novel Special, which is not slash but does deal with HIV very directly.

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From:devildoll
Date:June 21st, 2005 07:17 pm (UTC)
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My main fandom being Wolverine/Rogue, we have a lot of condom use, because unless the writer has given Rogue control of her skin, that's the only way Logan can have sex with her. *g*

And if she does have control, well, like you said, if you're writing Logan, you only need condoms to prevent babies. Disease is not an issue for him.
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From:mofic
Date:June 21st, 2005 07:29 pm (UTC)
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you only need condoms to prevent babies.

Oh, right. People use them for that. I tend to forget that sex and pregnancy are linked for some people :-).
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From:partly_bouncy
Date:June 21st, 2005 07:36 pm (UTC)
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hmmm. See, femmeslash doesn't have to deal with that much. And being Trek and some other things, I don't know how receptive I'd be to various things. Birth control occassionally gets mentioned but in vein of control periods of women because not good for all cycles to be synced and that Starfleet basically mandates it. The idea that Starfleet is mandating birth control to prevent accidental pregnancies is kind of creepy in and of itself and I don't want to think about it. I think there have been an episode or two of Star Trek Voyager where characters got STDs but the general gist of it is the magic of Trek medicine cures you...


Randomly veering...
But the attitude of you can control AIDS through drug coctails is something that I've seen as a big issue in some places. That getting AIDS in some circles is viewed as no big deal, it is treatable. As such, people are becoming more lax in their condom use than they had been before. I've also read somewhere that some members of the gay community are going out and seeking to get it as a way to officially mark themselves as belonging to it.
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From:mofic
Date:June 21st, 2005 07:45 pm (UTC)
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How much safer sex is - or should be - an issue in f/f sex is a subject of big discussion in the lesbian community. That, of course, just deals with the here and now, not Star Trek or other futuristic femslash fandoms.

But the attitude of you can control AIDS through drug coctails is something that I've seen as a big issue in some places. That getting AIDS in some circles is viewed as no big deal, it is treatable. As such, people are becoming more lax in their condom use than they had been before.

I mentioned this, and the stuff about "bug chasers" as being things I've read a lot about but wonder whether it's really a major factor. Some of the articles (like the one in Rolling Stone that got so much play) seem to be sensationalizing practices of a very small group of people and making them seem to be a trend. Are you saying that you're seeing this behavior (not practicing safer sex because of not caring about getting infected or even actively seeking infection) among your real people in your social circle? Or just that you've read about those kinds of behavior?
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From:mofic
Date:June 21st, 2005 08:26 pm (UTC)

Re: forgetting?

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On the responsibility issue - I don't think authors are bound in any way to only write characters engaging in admirable or responsible behavior. And certainly fantasy has its place. I'm not suggesting that authors should feel they have to talk about HIV at all. I do find that when stories are set in a milieu where I'd expect some HIV concern (even if the characters choose to engage in barebacking or other risky behavior) and it's not even mentioned, it doesn't feel real to me as a reader. But that's a personal issue. Some people probably think stories about a guy who can kill people with his eyes aren't so realistic :-) and I have no problem with that at all. So, it's all very individual what fantasy elements one can swallow. My general principle is if everything but the mutant superpowers is very realistic, it's easier to believe in mutants.

OTOH, even though I don't think anyone is obligated to write about safer sex or HIV. as I said, I felt bad that I wasn't dealing with HIV, even though it didn't fit what I was writing at first. And I have been glad to deal with it later, in what I hope is a realistic fashion. Some of that is just my preference for realism over fantasy. Some of it is latent AIDS activism...

Oh, and LOL about the forgetting. It's sort of like me forgetting condoms get used for birth control, because the idea of sex having a connection to reproduction is so divorced from my own personal experience...
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From:kattahj
Date:June 21st, 2005 08:33 pm (UTC)
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I don't cover HIV specifically as a subject, because unless you do a story on HIV, having the characters discuss HIV for several pages becomes quite a distraction. I do cover the topic of safe sex, in the sense that if the story is here-and-now, I do let the couples use condoms for at least some duration of time. Like lubrication, it's something that's a hassle to remember to write at first, but it kind of grows on you.

If it's then-and-there, I either skip the topic entirely or have it covered in some other way (in my SeaQuest story I used an "antiveneric" drug), whatever works best.

But it is a bit of a mood killer, because I'm not experienced enough to know what the right time is for the condom to appear - something I suspect many people wouldn't know in real life either. Thus, there's some awkward talking, and "would you..." and "should we..." and I totally understand if some writers just want to skip it.

As a reader, I'm usually not disturbed by presence or absence of condoms/safe sex talk unless it becomes glaringly obvious. Well, and unless the whole fic becomes a Lifetime sobstory - very few ficcers seem able to handle HIV as a serious subject without turning the story into complete apple sauce.
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From:fenris_wolf0
Date:June 21st, 2005 08:48 pm (UTC)
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You know, this is a very interesting topic and I was wondering if you ever read Kirby Crow's essay 'The Slash Not Written For A Gay Audience' which is one of the few I have seen addressing this question directly, here: http://www.gwaddiction.com/slashrant.shtml What do you think?

Also: The opinion I've seen expressed in a few places that for many people, with better drugs and longer life expectancies, HIV is not such a big deal anymore. is really shocking.

How can so many be so ill-informed? Sometimes I feel like I am living in the Middle-Ages.

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From:mofic
Date:June 21st, 2005 10:24 pm (UTC)
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You know, this is a very interesting topic and I was wondering if you ever read Kirby Crow's essay 'The Slash Not Written For A Gay Audience' which is one of the few I have seen addressing this question directly, here: http://www.gwaddiction.com/slashrant.shtml What do you think?

I hadn't seen it, but I've seen others like it. Thanks for posting. It's pretty clear and succinct in summarizing arguments.

Hmm, what do I think? Mostly that the kind of slash she's talking about isn't the kind I want to read or write. It's slash that is just the straight grrl's equivalent of pseudo-lesbian porn for straight men. I want to read something more in depth, more realistic, more true-to-life. Slash isn't a kink for me; it's not sexual objectification of men's bodies.

I totally understand that men watching "lesbian" sex where the women have long fingernails just don't care that a lot of lesbian sex acts are painful and/or uncomfortable with long fingernails. They don't care that lesbians pretty much always have short fingernails and when one starts growing her nails her friends wonder about whether she and her lover are in the midst of LBD. If all you want is to look at two women positioned in ways that make straight men hard, well, pseudo-lesbian porn is just the thing for you.

Similarly, if all you're interested in is seeing two men together (in your mind's eye) and it doesn't matter if they seem real or in character or if the sex is even anatomically possible, there's plenty of slash out there that gives that experience. There's plenty of slash that doesn't care about context, or anatomy, and where one of the men is basically a woman with guy parts. I think that kind of fiction is appealing to some women for a variety of reasons, but it's not appealing to me.

I personally want to read something different. I want, when I'm reading X-Men (or for that matter, writing it) for absolutely everything to be real and plausible except for the superpowers. Because then I can suspend disbelief for the superpowers, too. I want characters who sound like themselves. I want to believe that these guys truly are gay, or bi- or heteroflexible :-) and that Marvel and Fox just forgot to tell us that. I want them to be credibly the X-Men characters I know and love, and to live in the not-too-distant future, and also to want m/m sex. And, for me, that requires (for most of them, not Wolverine) that they would know there's an HIV epidemic out there (because I don't think it's going away that quickly) and have some concerns about that.

That concern can play out in lots of different ways. Maybe that means practicing safer sex; maybe it means self-destructive barebacking because someone doesn't feel he's worthy of living; maybe it means becoming infected while in denial that one is gay or while forced into unprotected sex or during one lapse while drunk. Maybe it means taking some risks and worrying about infection but not becoming infected. I think it can show up lots of ways. But me, I want it real. Because I'm not in it for the hot male bodies.
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From:eveningblue
Date:June 22nd, 2005 01:29 am (UTC)

AIDS in Slash

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I was kind of surprised when I started reading slash to see just how infrequently HIV seems to come up as a topic, and how infrequently sex scenes portray men practicing safer sex. It bothered me a bit. It seemed to take away some of the verisimilitude, since safer sex (or risky sex and worrying about the risk) is so much a part of the male homoerotic landscape. It made the sex scenes seem more fantasy-like and less real. Maybe that's part of the reason people do write them like that - they want them to sound like a fantasy, not a public health infomercial.

When I first started reading Starsky and Hutch slash, about a year ago, I was surprised to see that even though many writers set their stories in the early or mid 80s, there was nary a mention of AIDS or safe sex. Even in stories where one or both men had had other male partners, never was safe sex or AIDS mentioned.

I found this particularly weird and ironic and discomfiting because of the real-life story of actor Paul Michael Glaser, who played Starsky, and whose life was devastated by AIDS in the 80s (his wife and two children were infected, and ultimately his wife and one child died). So there was the real person on the one hand, deeply affected by AIDS, and his alter ego Starsky, boffing like a maniac without a condom in all these fan-penned stories.

It took me awhile to get past this weirdness. Ultimately, I think women writing S/H don't deal with AIDS or condoms is for two of the reasons you mentioned:

1-it would ruin the fantasy of two men fucking without a thought of the real world

2- in many if not most of these stories, the characters have never had sex with any men except each other. I guess most writers ignore the fact that it was possible to contract AIDS through het sex, and certainly in other ways as well. (as cops, they certainly came into contact with a lot of blood! and had lots of hospital stays, some of which must have involved transfusions.)

I've only read one s/h story in which the topic of AIDS is discussed, and that's Jat Sapphire's "Life, Not Style," at
http://www.geocities.com/jat_sapphire/SH_stories/lifestyl.htm

However, I have thought of writing one of my own, and this post has made me think about the topic again. If I ever get out of the 70s in my fic, maybe I will get to explore this issue.
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From:mofic
Date:June 22nd, 2005 02:41 am (UTC)

Re: AIDS in Slash

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I found this particularly weird and ironic and discomfiting because of the real-life story of actor Paul Michael Glaser, who played Starsky, and whose life was devastated by AIDS in the 80s (his wife and two children were infected, and ultimately his wife and one child died). So there was the real person on the one hand, deeply affected by AIDS, and his alter ego Starsky, boffing like a maniac without a condom in all these fan-penned stories.

Wow! I had no idea. How was his wife infected, do you know? I'm assuming the children got it from her. And he never got it? Anyway, that real life story certainly does add to the irony. I actually thought S/H fic was always pre-HIV, but I clearly wasn't up on the timing. Anyway, thanks for your thoughts and I'll check out the story you mention.

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From:shadowscast
Date:June 22nd, 2005 06:00 am (UTC)
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Wow, I'm pleased to be mentioned for this! Though I think you're the only reader who ever caught the impending doom thing at the end of my That '70s Show fic—at least, you're the only one who ever asked me about it.

I have more thoughts on this but they'll have to wait until it's not 2 a.m.
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From:kindkit
Date:June 22nd, 2005 11:37 pm (UTC)
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Hi! I'm here via metafandom.

When I first started writing (my primary fandom is Buffy, by the way), I didn't mention condoms because, like you mentioned, I didn't want to interfere with the fantasy. And also because it seemed like the norm in other fic was to leave out the condoms.

But then a couple of things happened. There was a bit of a kerfuffle about AIDS issues, which got me thinking, and also, what I wanted from slash changed. It wasn't just about the porn anymore--I became more interested in the characters and in realistic interaction between them. And since I mostly write human characters (as opposed to vampires, who are presumably immune), that means HIV is a factor.

Nowadays I try to be realistic in portraying condom use, and to reflect the way people actually behave. This is sometimes different from the way they should behave for maximum safety. For instance, I've never written condom use for blowjobs, because I think very few people actually do that. And I've had characters who were overwhelmed with emotion simply not bother to use a condom for anal sex, either. In that fic, though, the characters talked about HIV later (and bought some condoms!).

I've also had characters in monogamous relationships get tested for HIV so they can stop using condoms.

Much depends on the characters, of course. Some characters would be extremely responsible, protective of their own health and their partners', while others would be more impulsive and less safe. Fic where every character behaves like a safe-sex ad is just as unrealistic as fic where nobody seems to have heard of HIV.

The truth, I guess, is that I do tend to find condoms unerotic. But they're a part of our sexual world, now, so they're a part of my stories, too.
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From:mofic
Date:June 23rd, 2005 12:14 am (UTC)
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Nowadays I try to be realistic in portraying condom use, and to reflect the way people actually behave. This is sometimes different from the way they should behave for maximum safety. For instance, I've never written condom use for blowjobs, because I think very few people actually do that. And I've had characters who were overwhelmed with emotion simply not bother to use a condom for anal sex, either.

I agree that very few use condoms for oral sex. In a recent story, I had a couple consider doing so (because one of them was occupationally exposed to HIV, so it's a more present threat now) but up until then, I'd never had any characters even talk about condoms for fellatio. And these guys end up not using them for that.

And I'm certainly not suggesting that all fanfic ought to show consistent safer sex, because safer sex clearly is not consistently practiced in the real world, either. I think there are lots of ways of dealing with this, but to me just ignoring it doesn't feel very realistic, which I think is what you are saying, too. And there's something kind of funny about talking about realism in this context. I mean, I write about mutant superheroes and you write about vampire killers, and we're worried that lack of concern about HIV makes it unrealistic :-)? But it's a matter of taste, I guess, and my preference is for everything but the fantasy elements of the canonical premise to be as realistic as possible.

The truth, I guess, is that I do tend to find condoms unerotic. But they're a part of our sexual world, now, so they're a part of my stories, too.

Can you find ways to make them less unerotic?
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From:tiferet
Date:June 23rd, 2005 12:12 am (UTC)
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I primarily read and write in HP fandom, so I find condoms in fics annoying as fuck unless the character is Muggle-born; it usually denotes that the author is being preachy, since they really don't have any place in the wizarding world being that there are almost certainly other methods of preventing disease and pregnancy.

In modern-day, real world fandoms, it makes more sense to portray characters who are sensible and cautious and responsible in other ways being the same way about sex, and characters who are not responsible being irresponsible like always. I hate 'issue fics'. I want to see the characters remain true to themselves, not used to convey an authorial message about a subject that is a Serious Issue and not the sort of thing that comes up in their daily lives.
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From:mofic
Date:June 23rd, 2005 10:42 am (UTC)
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I want to see the characters remain true to themselves

I think it's interesting that I find safer sex makes the sex scene feel more realistic in my fandom, but introducing safer sex can sometimes feel less real in yours. In mine, it's very tied to the world we know. As you point out, in HP fandom, magical people practicing safer sex can make the Muggle (real) world intrude on fantasy people - in an unrealistic way.

Thanks for your contribution.
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From:mofic
Date:June 23rd, 2005 02:13 am (UTC)
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And if you're going to write the realism of NOT using them, I want to also see the realism of freaking out about getting sick/pregnant, and the realism of testing, and the feeligns of shame and guilt after...and nobody does that.

I do! And the realism of deciding whether to tell your lover that you had unprotected sex with somebody else after promising not to have any sex outside of the relationship so now the two of you really should go back to condoms and just how do you say that.
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From:viciouswishes
Date:June 23rd, 2005 04:38 am (UTC)
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I write mostly in the Buffyverse, and if one of the partners isn't a vampire, then there's condom use. When I write sex, I try to adhere to making it realistic as possible. I know maybe people don't write with condoms because depending on how it's written, condoms aren't sexy enough. But I know that in my RL experience, unsafe sex is one of the biggest turn offs.
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From:mofic
Date:June 23rd, 2005 10:35 am (UTC)
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But I know that in my RL experience, unsafe sex is one of the biggest turn offs.

That's a very good point! Thanks for weighing in.
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From:mofic
Date:June 23rd, 2005 10:37 am (UTC)

Re: Here via metafandom

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What's your fandom? Do you think it matters? Elsewhere in this thread some have opined that fandoms that have more of a real world feel sort of require safer sex for verisimilitude while with those that are more fantasy-based the condoms can themselves be jarring, since they are out of place in a world of magic, for example. Do you think that idea has merit?
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From:penknife
Date:June 23rd, 2005 12:00 pm (UTC)
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I've only dealt directly with HIV in "Fear the Rest," where I'm writing Erik as bisexual and active in the gay community in the late 80s and early 90s; it felt necessary to me to have the reality of AIDS touch his life in a personal way, because that's been such an important experience shaping the perspectives of men his age I know. He and Mystique wind up in a situation where she's having casual sex outside the relationship and he's having occasional sex with a partner who's HIV-positive, and their decisions about how to handle that aren't always easy ones.

As a reader, I don't need to see HIV mentioned directly unless there's some reason for it to be an issue. I do like to see condoms used in realistic modern fandoms when it's in character, though. I'll buy that some characters wouldn't practice safer sex -- some characters are risk-takers -- but especially for characters who are responsible and careful in other ways, not using condoms feels OOC to me. It's jarring.

OTOH, I don't write condoms in Star Trek, and would find it silly for them to be used for inter-crew sex; even if Amazing Space Medicine can't prevent all STDs, surely starship crews are tested regularly for communicable diseases. I also don't usually write them in Harry Potter, on the assumption that magic takes care of such things, although I might want to look more closely at that assumption a bit more at some point. And of course in pre-HIV historical settings, the issues with condom use are different -- one of the things I like about C. Elisa's short "Brand New '81 Dodge" is that Erik in early 1981 thinks of condoms as birth control for teenagers, not as a normal part of gay sex.

Personally, I don't find condom use in fanfic a turnoff, but I'm a lesbian in a monogamous relationship, and condoms aren't a part of my own sex life; I think people who do use them in real life may be more likely to not want to deal with them in fantasy as well.
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From:mofic
Date:June 23rd, 2005 12:56 pm (UTC)
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I've only dealt directly with HIV in "Fear the Rest," where I'm writing Erik as bisexual and active in the gay community in the late 80s and early 90s; it felt necessary to me to have the reality of AIDS touch his life in a personal way, because that's been such an important experience shaping the perspectives of men his age I know. He and Mystique wind up in a situation where she's having casual sex outside the relationship and he's having occasional sex with a partner who's HIV-positive, and their decisions about how to handle that aren't always easy ones.

That sounds really interesting. Can you tell me where I could read it?

I think people who do use them in real life may be more likely to not want to deal with them in fantasy as well.

That's a good point and one I hadn't thought of or heard before.

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From:pinkdormouse
Date:June 23rd, 2005 02:24 pm (UTC)
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Here via metafandom, and I'm coming from a similar position to you. I said a lot of it on my own LJ last year.

I'm writing more original fiction than fanfic these days, and I never wrote that many explicit sex scenes anyway, but I never really understood why other authors have such a problem mentioning that safe sex happens. I'm currently fading-to-black on the first sex scene of the Chapter-in-Progress, but then the next scene opens with the hero fumbling for his watch, knocking a condom wrapper on the floor and reminding himself to hunt it down before he leaves the room. Because

It was one thing to leave such items for scouts to clear up, quite another to leave them lying where one’s girlfriend’s parents might see.

(Scouts being what those Oxford academic types call the college cleaners). I'm still not 100% convinced by the wording of that line, but I need the sentiment in there as it's going to be relevant later.

And now back to the next scene where the hero's gf asks him what he ever saw in his evil ex-bf.

Interesting range of comments you got here, by the way. Some similar, some different to those I got last year.

Gina

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From:mofic
Date:June 23rd, 2005 03:21 pm (UTC)
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Interesting range of comments you got here, by the way. Some similar, some different to those I got last year.

Yes, it's been interesting here and in your lj post, which I just read. Thanks for the link.

I noticed yours had a discussion of safer sex in femslash, with a comment about dental dams not getting mentioned much. OTOH, I don't think they got used much irl, either, but that's a different story...
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From:yesido
Date:June 24th, 2005 09:58 am (UTC)
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here via metafandom...

my primary fandom is Velvet Goldmine, and most of what I write takes place in New York, 1984. I don't really write explicit sex scenes, but I do tend to bring up HIV quite a bit, just in reference to how it changed the characters' lives: watching friends get sick, the terror of not knowing what it was, etc etc. In Velvet Goldmine, at least, I think AIDS is an awfully relevant issue (certainly it's been a pet issue for the director, Todd Haynes, for a very long time), and I always really appreciate when writers in that fandom mention it. I always notice and am happy whenever a writer puts condoms into a VG fic. In certain fandoms, it wouldn't mean quite so much to me: if you want to write about Angel and Spike getting it on, there isn't much of a reason for them to be using a condom. Or fics that are set prior to the late seventies--when condom use in m/m sex was not exactly the norm. But I certainly think it's an important issue and one that should come up more often in fandom. However, I think it's just not terrifically sexy to talk about AIDS with your OTP--so people just pretend it isn't there. Not good.
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From:mofic
Date:June 24th, 2005 10:56 am (UTC)
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I don't know Velvet Goldmine but having lived in NY in 1984 I can vouch for AIDS having been a big issue here by then. We, along with SF, were a center of the epidemic.

However, I think it's just not terrifically sexy to talk about AIDS with your OTP--so people just pretend it isn't there.

Thanks. That's a very interesting thought. I hadn't considered it that way. Maybe because I just don't get the whole OTP thing. But I bet you're right that that's a factor for some.

Thanks for stopping in!
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