Guest Post: Why aren't we making safe sex sexy, by Jen McConnel

why aren't we making safe sex sexy?
by jen mcconnel

I’ve noticed something in my recent reading that has gotten under my skin a little bit. Okay, in fact, it disturbs me.
There seems to be a distinct lack of safe sex in some of the sexiest New Adult books on the market.
When I first noticed it, I didn’t really think much of it, but then I started actively looking for condoms in NA lit…and coming up empty handed. (I’m sure the issue exists in other genres, but I’m doubly concerned about NA, since I’ve been reading a lot of it lately, and since it’s a genre I write).
Image by robertelyov, 2010, retrieved from:

To be fair, not all NA Contemporary novels feature on-scene sex, and in some of my older books (like ISOBEL), I didn’t even consider leaving a foil wrapper in the morning after scene; it just didn’t occur to me.
But when page after page is devoted to steamy, detailed, play-by-play descriptions, the lack of protection is hard to miss.
Considering that people in their teens and twenties seem to be some of the most affected by the frightening increase in STDs, authors who write for this audience need to be conscious of the sexual choices our characters are making. Now that it’s something I’m aware of, you can bet I’ll be more deliberate about protection when I’m writing the sweet and awkward “after” scenes (I’ve yet to write an on-scene sex scene, and knowing my style, that’s not likely to change). Yes, it’s fiction, but that doesn’t mean I want my characters (or my readers) making dangerous and potentially life-altering choices.
Also, don’t forget that many books intended for a NA audience will be scooped up by the younger YA readers; when I taught middle school, I saw my 8th graders reading everything from Percy Jackson to Fifty Shades of Grey. Avid readers don’t read by label, and chances are good if you’re writing NA, readers younger than you may have intended will pick up your books.
(Speaking of Fifty Shades, I want to mention that, although it’s not a NA novel, it does do a fairly good job at incorporating safe sexual practices, as outlined in this post. She might end up hurt, but the dangers Anastasia faces with Christian Grey are not an unplanned pregnancy or Sexually Transmitted Diseases.)
I’m not asking for much. It could be as simple as inserting a sentence like, “He paused and pulled a small foil package from the nightstand,” or, “She slipped the condom out of her purse and smiled.” But I really hope we start incorporating more safe sex in our writing, and I hope to find more examples of it when I’m reading.

About Jen McConnel
Jen McConnel first began writing poetry as a child. A Michigander by birth, she now lives and writes in the beautiful state of North Carolina. A graduate of Western Michigan University, she also holds a MS in Library Science from Clarion University of Pennsylvania. When she isn't crafting worlds of fiction, she teaches college writing composition and yoga. Once upon a time, she was a middle school teacher, a librarian, and a bookseller, but those are stories for another time.  Her debut NA novel, THE SECRET OF ISOBEL KEY, is out now from Bloomsbury Spark, and the sequel is coming in June. She also writes YA and nonfiction. Visit  to learn more.

Connect With Jen

Twitter | Goodreads | Pinterest | Facebook | Blog | Website |


  1. I haven't read any New Adult books yet so I wasn't aware of the lack of safe sex. I'm actually used to books that don't practice it, thanks to all of the adult historical romance novels that I like to read. Occasionally they do practice safe sex but it's not often enough. And most of the time when they don't practice safe sex, they almost always address the chances of being pregnant. I am not sure if this is the same in NA. I have to agree with you though, there are young avid readers out there that will get their hands on books that aren't intended for their age range. I applaud you for bringing awareness to this subject.

    1. Thank you! Historical settings raise other concerns, but especially in contemporary stories, I'd like to see a lot more deliberate, sexy safe sex.

  2. Agreed! I have this same issue with racy movies and TV shows, where the characters makeout and get naked and then it transitions to the after-sex there's no reference to condoms in any way. I was trained by a professional in the arts of putting on condoms, and I can tell you firsthand that there are ways it can be incredibly sexy for all involved. But when we as a society approach it as a buzzkill interruption to the fun stuff, it gets (and continuall gets) a negative rap. Thank you for pointing out this need in steamy novels (of any genre)!

  3. Thanks for hosting me! This post originally appeared on my blog on January 9, 2014: