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Fantasy birth control talk

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by AnnaBlixt, May 4, 2013.

  1. AnnaBlixt

    AnnaBlixt Minstrel

    I'm working on a fantasy novel containing a romance, which includes sex. Quite often in novels, I note that the guy and girl tend to just go for it without much discussion. Birth control & safety doesn't seem like much of an issue - or in the case of fantasy, birth control seems to be non-existent in many worlds.

    My problem is that the girl isn't compatible. It is known that a pregnancy with a human would most likely be fatal for her. The guy also knows this. They are in love and they want each other, but they are not stupid. He doesn't want to hurt (or kill) her. He is not going to do her if he thinks that it might kill her. It follows that they must discuss birth control at some point. These two can't just fall into each others' arms. It would be way too dumb and dangerous.

    So I'm thinking, that either the girl pulls a discrete and sneaky manouver, where she tells the guy's best friend that she eats a BC-herb and manipulates them into talking about it when she isn't present (that could be a neat comic relief scene). Or, they simply have a short version of the BC-talk before they do it, where I will have to work hard to phrase it in a way that doesn't break the romatic mood.

    Any thoughts on this?
    Any fantasy novels you know where the lovers actually have the birth control conversation?
    Rosemary Tea likes this.
  2. teacup

    teacup Auror

    I guess you could have them about to go at it when the guy asks if she's "on the herb" in the same way a guy would ask if a girl is on the pill? I think that could bring some humor into it without breaking away from the romance/sex.

    Otherwise, if you're wanting them to actually discuss it beforehand then I don't see why she wouldn't just tell the guy she uses the herb, unless she doesn't want him to know that she's planning on having sex with him.

    In GRRM's ASOIAF (game of thrones) they talk of and use "moontea" which either prevents or aborts the pregnancy, I can't remember which. The only other type of pregnancy prevention in those books would be to just pull out.
    Hope I helped some :)
  3. Devora

    Devora Sage

    Actually, "Pulling out" is considered an extremely unreliable, and very risky, form of birth control. The chances of getting a girl pregnant are the same as if you hadn't pulled out.

    I say try maybe magic or potions.
  4. Feo Takahari

    Feo Takahari Auror

    I don't want to hijack your thread or anything, but you mentioned something that I think deserves greater discussion--"breaking the mood". It seems like a lot of people, writers and otherwise, think romantic sex needs to be both absolutely perfect and absolutely spontaneous, with no discussion or planning beforehand. I've had a bit of secondhand exposure to BDSM culture, which instead emphasizes frank communication--what exactly will you be doing, how do you plan to do it, at what point would you stop, etc. Discarding any larger social argument as outside the bounds of this forum, I think a more kink-oriented approach to things works well in fantasy fiction, particularly when the lovers in question are trying something outside what's normal for their species.* It's not unromantic, it's humanizing (so to speak), bringing the lovers and their differences back down to Earth.

    * If you're dating a guy who's part cat, you'd better well ask what he intends to do with those barbs on his thing--or if you don't, a rather painful comedy scene may ensue.
  5. A. E. Lowan

    A. E. Lowan Forum Mom Leadership

    Totally agree with Feo. The whole idea of "breaking the mood" directly corresponds to our Western idea that if you use birth control it means you "planned to have sex," which calls into question the lover's morality - especially the woman's. (Stupid, in my opinion. How do you "accidentally" have sex? Did you fall on it?)

    In my Urban Fantasy, my female characters drink a powerful contraceptive tea every morning, whatever they were doing the night before. It does not protect against STD's, and I make this very clear, but it is quite effective for preventing pregnancy. My FMC, the morning after losing her virginity, actually makes a conscious choice to NOT make the tea - and when the resulting girl-children reach the age of sexual exploration she is very strict about getting them in the habit of drinking it every morning with her. It becomes a bit of "girl time" for them to touch base with each other every day. The boys, unfortunately, don't get this option. The FMC has an ongoing project for making a tea designed for men, but so far is not very successful. So, for all her children, she pushes barrier style contraceptives all around, because STD's are a real danger that tea does nothing for.

    You might want to look at the history/development of barrier contraceptives. They have been around quite a while and may fit in well in your fantasy world.
  6. kayd_mon

    kayd_mon Sage

    Invent a fantasy morning after pill like GRRM.
  7. saellys

    saellys Inkling

    In Elizabeth Moon's Paksenarrion trilogy, the mercenary company kept "birthbane" on the tables in the mess halls. I don't recall if there was any actual detail about it--capsule, powder, tea, tincture, or what-have-you. And it was mentioned in conversation between two people who weren't lovers and weren't about to have sex, which I found really interesting.

    Feo is totally right--a little bit of discussion can go a long way toward a more believable and interesting relationship. Consent is sexy, and that includes details like birth control. (One of the male MCs in The Stone Front keeps contraceptive herbs on hand for the ladies' convenience.)

    I actually find it more jarring when two characters leap into bed together with no prior discussion, because I end up wondering how they avoided a pregnancy, or whether there are fantasy-world STDs they might pass along, and so on. The particulars of having sex should be much the same for your characters as they are for us in the real world, except their sex should be way more awesome, because otherwise what's the point of writing fantasy? ;)
  8. Jess A

    Jess A Archmage

    I'm going with a herb concoction. One of my witch characters knows her herbs - sometimes the father of her daughter visits (he's a scoundrel to say the least). They have a loose relationship. She doesn't want to have another child.

    On STDs...I'm actually unsure whether to address that and how to. The scoundrel probably sleeps around on his adventures. But again, she knows her herbs.

    Herbs can, of course, be a risk. This could easily be a plot device.
  9. ecdavis

    ecdavis Troubadour

    Well, two things, first, if she will die if she comes up pregnant, why not just make it that they are not able to conceive a child at all? Unless the story centers around this issue.
    Pregnancy usually occurs in about a 48 hour 'window of opportunity' -- at least it does for humans. If her race has a monthly cycle, she could know when she is ovulating somehow and abstain from sex around this period of time. In humans, a woman's temperature changes around ovulation and if you can chart temperatures, you can predict when pregnancy will occur. I know this because my wife and I tried for 11 years to conceive a child and were unable to, even after two attempts at IVF by one of the top 5 fertility specialists in the USA. So believe me when I say I know all about the temperature change method.

    Perhaps she could have some means to know when she was ovulating and sex was dangerous with her lover. Maybe a spell or a potion that did that. I'd hesitate to put in any sort of 'Morning After' pill, herb, potion or spell as that might offend some people who regard life beginning at birth.
  10. Kit

    Kit Maester

    One of the things I really liked about Anne Bishop's Dark Jewels series is that both men and women took birth control (I can't remember if it was an herb or a tea or something....) and both had to go off it in order for a pregnancy to occur. I took that idea for my own world as well.
  11. Alexandra

    Alexandra Closed Account

    I don't know the tech level of your fantasy world nor whether it is 'medieval' in nature so I'll just assume it is—I hate doing that. If there's a brothel in town, an herbalist/wise woman, or a temple or some sort of religious fixture, there will be birth control options, likely plenty of them (this is based on history, not years of reading fantasy novels). Don't use magic as your solution, it's a cheap cop out and unnecessary; as long as there have been women there has been birth control.

    I've a question though; if the girl isn't 'compatible' why is birth control even an issue?
  12. AnnaBlixt

    AnnaBlixt Minstrel

    Thanks for all your replies!

    You have made some very valid and interesting points during the night. =)

    In addition to the points raised however there is the question of "in character" to think about. There is a bit of a trust issue between them, since she is a known liar (and no girl ever lied to a guy about "It's ok, I'm on the pill", right?). Hence the need for some discretion, friend involvement and/or strong mood. If the mood breaks, he is going to mentally sober up.

    I am leaning towards doing both of my options - both having the word getting to him from a trusted friend, and having a discussion of some kind. I played some Dragon Age: Origins recently and started thinking about that I like how they talk beforehand before going to the tent.

    The differences between them (as well as the lethal pregnancy that eventually occurs despite BC) actually is a major plot point.

    Since I need her BC to fail big time, I'm going with a herb and having her use it in the wrong combination with other foods.
  13. Jamber

    Jamber Sage

    I so agree with Feo Takahari.

    I went with a membrane made of animal intestine tied on with a silk cord, but only because I was describing everything fairly frankly (and it was more-or-less comic). A lot depends on the tone you're after, but I think there's a lot of room to be funny or playful or wry or (speaking of the characters themselves) fumbly and awkward. It seems to me having a non-sexual form of tension in the bedroom (or wherever) could really add to the scene.

    As a side-point, I was watching a Hollywood movie recently, and noticed that the main character didn't wash her hands after using the 'bathroom'. I wondered if this was because hand-washing would invoke the spectre of poop, and this spectre would haunt her characterisation? Or were we meant to see her as an unhygienic person? (I presumed it was the former.) It felt similar to the way that, for some writers, mentioning the C word (condom) invokes the spectre of sexual disease, so they wouldn't dream of having their character roll one on. However a lot of modern erotic romance chooses to emphasise safe sex. There's a whole gamut of approaches that can work in fantasy as well.

    I do wonder about the pregnancy avoidance aspect; in another idea I had, I made it that the females of the species could control their fertility by willpower alone. If they wanted a child, they became able to conceive. Heck, it was my world, so I made it the way I would have liked the real world to be. :)


    Sorry AnnaBilxt; it takes me ages to post, so you got there first. Ignore my ramble!
    Last edited: May 5, 2013
  14. AnnaBlixt

    AnnaBlixt Minstrel

    I have really been wrestling with this romance for a very long time. For some time I was really overthinking it and getting stuck on how to explain why they acted this way, but I recently realised that hey - people do really dumb things sometimes, danger attracts, and everyone isn't going to be noble and smart about their urges while facing the threat of the end of the world. ^^
  15. Feo Takahari

    Feo Takahari Auror

    So you're going to have her birth control fail, AND you're going to guarantee that the pregnancy will put her life at risk unless she gets an abortion?

    If nothing else, I'd say that puts any concern about offending readers outside the discussion--whatever you have to say on the subject, you've clearly and directly set yourself up to piss off someone, and I have to laud you for that. The best thing you can do with this plot is to go full speed ahead with whatever puts the problem into starkest relief.

    Edit: Unless you're going to have her go on a quest for some mystical artifact that will allow her to bear his child without harm to herself. I guess that's an okay approach to things--it discards the moral dilemma, but it's not like your story needs to address that particular argument (and avoiding it will probably make your story more marketable.)
    Last edited: May 5, 2013
  16. AnnaBlixt

    AnnaBlixt Minstrel

    Yeah, this character is definately going to piss off some people and I love her. ;-) She is really fun to write and yes, she will be facing the decision of abortion vs a mortal danger that no one has survived thus far. The danger will definately not be eliminated, but continuing with the pregnancy is such a major "**** you" moment for her, directed at the people who harmed her in the past, that it becomes a challenge that she needs to rise to.
  17. Ernie B.

    Ernie B. Dreamer

    Well, as mentioned, you could just invent some fantasy birth control pill.

    Does the females of her species menstruate? I mean, in real world, another (once) popular birth control method is to work around the menstrual cycle, since during certain parts of their menstrual cycle, women can't get pregnant. It will be safe to have sex during those period...

    Hope this help.
  18. AnnaBlixt

    AnnaBlixt Minstrel

    Well, of course we can just invent any BC that suits the world and the story, "Moon tea" etc, but my question was more along the lines of how to communicate about birth control in a romantic setting.

    In this case, the herb I invented for the story pauses her cycle. She is supposed to not ovulate or menstruate at all - so she partly takes this herb for convenience during travel. However, if you eat the wrong thing the effect of the herb would be negated and you might start ovulating again, and not notice the problem for months.
  19. Sinitar

    Sinitar Minstrel

    There's other ways to pleasure each other than through sex alone. Since they love each other so much, I suggest that they simply talk about it and find a way around this obstacle without abandoning the idea completely.

    I personally do not like the herb idea. It feels like demolishing an obstacle that you created through a very convenient way. Think about it for one second. It's this danger that makes their relationship unique, and that's what your readers want to see: How they find a way around it to get what they want.
  20. AnnaBlixt

    AnnaBlixt Minstrel

    Have you ever read Crown of Shadows by CS Friedman (Coldfire trilogy)? Andrys is terrified of getting his girlfriend pregnant and don't want to trust any birth control. They do some other stuff, but to me (and to his girlfriend) this ends up making their relationship feel unfulfilled/incomplete and as a reader I felt very cheated. They kindof got what they wanted... but not really. I would much rather have read about an event that triggered them to go for it despite the risk.

    So I disagree - I don't think that the reader wants the characters to find a way around the problem. I think that they want to know what would push these characters to take the risk. That's what defines us, isn't it? What would it take for us to give in and do what we really want, despite the danger and the consequences.

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