The Plan B Taboo

morning_after_pill When I’m reading a contemporary romance of the non-paranormal variety, I read with the expectation that the characters in the book are living in the same world that readers live in. With many books this isn’t an issue, but occasionally I come across a book with a plot device or storyline where I’m left thinking, “Huh?”

If you’ve been reading romances for any length of time you’re likely familiar with the “Oops!” storyline. You know, the one where the hero and heroine are so overcome with desire that all rational thought disappears and they make mad passionate love – without protection. Afterward, the response is “Oops!”, followed by weeks of nail-biting while waiting to see if the heroine is preggers. That storyline.

For many years I accepted the “Oops!” storyline without question. I may have rolled my eyes that they forgot to use a condom, but I generally accepted the wait-and-see approach. In the last few years, though, I’ve been getting a more and more annoyed with this storyline. Not because it’s so common. (Well, maybe a little bit.) Most of my annoyance is because not once in all of the dozens of books I’ve read with this storyline has the heroine ever even thought about using emergency contraception. Not once. I’ve yet to read a heroine who’s even considered the option, let alone one who’s actually used it. Instead it’s weeks of nail-biting and misery and frayed nerves waiting to see if she conceived, and frankly, I’m getting a bit tired of it.

The main reason I’m getting annoyed is not because I think all heroines should use e-contraception, because I don’t. I accept that it wouldn’t fit into every couple’s beliefs. Rather, my annoyance stems from the fact that the books feel like they’re all set in an alternate universe where the option of emergency contraception doesn’t even exist—not even for heroines whose beliefs would not necessarily keep them from using it. And why is that? I’m sure there are authors who are morally opposed to e-contraception, but I’m also sure that there must be some authors out there who aren’t opposed. Yet the option remains conspicuously absent from romances, even for secondary characters.

I’ve been thinking about possible reasons to explain this apparent taboo, and here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

Self-Censorship- Are authors self-censoring so as to please the most people? Even if they have no problem with emergency contraception, do they not want to risk offending the readers who are opposed? Does this issue touch too closely to religion, and is therefore not discussed for fear of alienating readers?

Publisher Censorship- Could it be that some authors have tried to use e-contraception in a book, only to have the publisher demand that it be removed for being too controversial? Is it that publishers don’t want to chance offending or alienating any readers, so this topic is totally off-limits to authors?

Plot Device – Could it be as simple as being a plot device for the author? I’m thinking the main reason authors write the “Oops!” storyline in the first place is because they 1) want the angst over a possible pregnancy, or 2) they want the heroine to get pregnant. E-contraception is directly at odds with both of these outcomes, so it can’t be used. And authors who don’t want the “Oops!” storyline could simply have their characters use a condom in the first place, thus avoiding the issue altogether.

I think maybe all of these reasons are in play. To what extent each has an impact, I couldn’t begin to guess. What does seem strange is that a lot of romances have controversial material and touch on all manner of divisive issues, so why not emergency contraception?

Personally, I wouldn’t be bothered by a heroine choosing to use e-contraception, nor would I be bothered by a heroine opting not to for whatever reason. I’d just like to see the issue acknowledged as being real and out there, regardless of what the heroine decides.

So, what do you think? Is emergency contraception taboo in romances? Are any of the possible reasons discussed above the explanation? All? None? Something else altogether?

Also, would you be bothered reading about a heroine who used emergency contraception? What about a heroine who refused based on religious or moral beliefs, and opted to take her chances on the pregnancy? How would you feel about that?

-Katie Mack

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