We tend to forget, in these modern times, just what a big deal sex was in days gone by. Really, our attitudes toward sex are rather unnatural. In centuries (or even decades) past, unless a woman knew herself to be barren, the spectre of pregnancy always hung over her head and if she was wise, she constrained her behavior. For a man, the threat of a "shotgun wedding" or some other form of compelled marriage was very real. Both sexes had incentives to sexually behave themselves.
But of course, people do not always behave. And consequently, bastards abounded. You only need look at novels written in times past to discover what the consequences could be of a single steamy night of passion.
Tess of the d'Urbervilles is a great story about a fallen woman. Alec d'Urberville either seduces or rapes Tess (Hardy isn't really clear, but I think he raped her), and she gets pregnant. Her child doesn't survive long, but still she feels it necessary to live in another area in order to escape her shattered reputation. When she remarries and tries to come clean with her husband on her wedding night, all hell breaks loose. Alex's action affected her entire life.
In Les Miserables, Fantine is another unwed mother. She has an adorable little daughter, Cosette, upon whom she dotes. However, since she is an unwed mother, she has a difficult time finding a respectable occupation. She comes up with this plan to leave her daughter with the Thénardiers while she finds work in another town. She manages to keep her secret for a while, but the Thénardiers keep demanding more and more money to pay for non-existent medical problems until she is driven to prostitution anyway.
In The Scarlet Letter, Hester has a child through an adulterous relationship. Because she is clearly an adulteress (her husband is missing), she must wear the A and she is pressured to name the child's father. It's been some years since I read this one, but I remember it as a real page-turner; much more so than I expected.
All of the above novels are tragedies, with unhappy endings for the mothers. I enjoy reading novels written in centuries gone by because it is so interesting to learn about the way attitudes have changed from then to now.
I enjoy a fantasy that deals with sex realistically. Authors, please don't put modern-day sexual attitudes in novels that take place in the past UNLESS, like today, there is a viable system of birth control.
In The Deed of Paksenarrion, there was a viable system of birth control; however the heroine was asexual. Go figure.
In Master and Fool, the third book of The Book of Words, Melli gets married and has one encounter with her husband before he is murdered. And once was enough.
In Destiny by Elizabeth Haydon, Rhapsody has an encounter with Ashe. However, when she begins to doubt that it was Ashe after all, she lives in terror of being pregnant with a demonic child.
In The Book of Joby, a single encounter between Joby and Laura left her pregnant.
In Dragonlance, there was lots of sex, but very few pregnancies. And the one pregnancy that did occur was with a married couple.
In His Majesty's Dragon, Laurence has sex with one of his fellow aviators, but there is no mention of the possibility of her getting pregnant. We don't know her actual age--just that she's about Laurence's age--but we had no reason to presume that she was too old to be fertile.
Most of the time, there is little sex in fantasies because sex is not usually what fantasies are all about. Most of the romances in fantasies are just that--romances without sex. They're love stories. I love a good love story, but in my opinion, once you bring sex into the mix, you shatter all that great romantic tension. Drag it out for as long as possible. It's a great way to keep the pages turning.
On a totally unrealted note, I admit to some spectacular laziness as far as this blog is concerned. Please don't give up on me! It's brutally hot in Florida this time of year, and I just feel icky. After all, these are the dog days of summer. All I want to do when I get home is chill out, and it's hard to chill out on the computer. I'm almost done reading a novel that's turned out to be a pleasant surprise, so I hope to be able to post on that by Thursday.
In the meantime, as ever, I'll answer comments. What novels can you think of that handled sex and its consequences in a realistic way?