Why do so many romance novels not touch on contraception, consent, or STI status in their pages? Why are erotica authors calling including safe sex practices in their books "propaganda"? And which romance novel that was dubbed a "modern classic" goes super STI-negative? This week, Mackenzie and Lily are joined by cultural commentator and writer Ella Dawson to talk all things consent and condoms (and more). Major episode timestamps: Introduction (0:00), Housekeeping (2:05), Introduction to Main Topic (3:23), Introduction to Ella Dawson (6:48), Question About How Ella Got Started Writing as a Cultural Commentator (8:53), Question About Why We're So Fearful as a Society of Discussing Safer Sex Practices (13:47), Questions about STI Misconception and Destigmatizing Talking About STI Status (19:21), Question About Ella's Work Writing Romance and Erotica (24:40), Questions About How Ella's Thoughts Have Shifted on Writing STIs in Romance Over the Years (27:52), Question About How Consent Comes Up in Romance Novels in a Post-#MeToo World (30:11), Question About Books That Have Good Representation for Safe Sex (39:48), Discussion of Books With Problematic STI Mentions (46:03), Question About Ella's Romance Novel and Other Erotica Work (56:04), Question About Where to Find Ella's Work Online (59:07), Conclusion (1:00:30). You can get full show notes and episode transcriptions on the Bad Bitch Book Club website: http://badbitchbookclub.com/podcast. Give us a five-star rating wherever you get your podcasts, and say hi to us at @F2LPodcast on Twitter and Instagram. You can also join the private F2L Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/292095932008569/.
If you want to support Bad Bitch Book Club's initiatives (including this podcast), become a Patreon member: https://www.patreon.com/badbitchbookclub. Buy all books mentioned on Friends to Lovers: https://bookshop.org/lists/friends-to-lovers-podcast. Friends to Lovers is a Bad Bitch Book Club podcast hosted by BBBC founder Mackenzie Newcomb and writer, editor, and bestie Lily Herman. Each week, they use books as a jumping off point to talk about sex, relationships, dating, love, romance, and more. Podcast logo by MKW Creative Co. (https://mkwcreative.co/) and music by Eliza Rose Vera (http://www.elizarosevera.com).
The Purity Myth by Jessica Valenti
Beach Read by Emily Henry
What a Wallflower Wants to Maya Rodale
Bringing Down the Duke by Evie Dunmore
A Rogue of One's Own by Evie Dunmore
The Right Swipe by Alisa Rai
Girl Gone Viral by Alisa Rai
First Comes Like by Alisa Rai
You Had Me at Hola by Alexis Daria
Xeni by Rebekah Weatherspoon
The Roommate by Rosie Danan
Daddy by Madison Young
The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang
The Bride Test by Helen Hoang
My Characters Care About Safe Sex Because I Have To by Ella Dawson (Ella Dawson, 2015)
Stop Calling It "Casual Sex" by Ella Dawson (Ella Dawson, 2019)
"Bad Sex," Or The Sex We Don't Want But Have Anyway by Ella Dawson (Ella Dawson, 2017)
Why I Love Telling People I Have Herpes by Ella Dawson (Women's Health, 2015)
"STIs Aren't a consequence. They're inevitable." by Ella Dawson (TedX Talk, 2016)
Lily Herman: Welcome back to Friends to Lovers, a podcast where we use books as a jumping-off point to talk about sex, relationships, dating, love, romance, and more. Friends to Lovers is part of the Bad Bitch Book Club network, and you can learn more at badbitchbookclub.com/podcast.
Mackenzie Newcomb: Hey, friends and enemies. I'm Mackenzie Newcomb, founder of Bad Bitch Book Club, retired relationship blogger, and person who's currently testing out new gender-neutral ways to greet people.
Lily Herman: I was about to be like, damn, who we angry at today?
Mackenzie Newcomb: You know what? I just saw a funny TikTok.
Lily Herman: I am screaming. Ugh, okay. I need to do my intro. We're leaving this in because I'm dying right now. Okay. Well, hello everyone. I'm not Mackenzie. I'm Lily Herman. I am a writer, editor, and one of Mack's best friends. I am also someone who spent the day using a ton of cement to fill in a bunch of holes around my radiator because we had a mouse in our apartment yesterday. So that's the vibe today. It's not a usual preference fun fact. It's just a literal—I probably have cement ingrained into my fingertips after the shenanigans of the last 24 hours.
Mackenzie Newcomb: Wow. You're so self-sufficient that you did that yourself. I would just have paced around my apartment being like, there's no hope!
Lily Herman: Speaking of a rodent-free house, let's move on to podcast housekeeping. This is our usual reminder that you can find our show notes to every episode, and that includes every book we talk about and full episode transcriptions, at badbitchbookclub.com/podcast. You can also join the Bad Bitch Book Club's Patreon at patreon.com/badbitchbookclub for only $7 a month. As you all hopefully know by now, there's plenty of perks. So please join that. And it goes for podcast perks, normal people perks, just like all the fucking things are happening. If you're a book lover or reader, please join us. You can also follow Friends to Lovers on social media at @F2LPodcast, and that's two as the number 2, and join our Friends to Lovers Podcast Facebook group. Lastly, give Bad Bitch Book Club a follow on Instagram atbadbitch.bookclub and on Twitter at @badbtchbookclub, but minus the "I" in "bitch" cause Twitter sucks.
Mackenzie Newcomb: Character limits.
Lily Herman: Yeah, Jack Dorsey can eat shit and rot.
Mackenzie Newcomb: But he's better than Mark Zuckerberg. I'm sorry. As far as our social media owners go, Jack can get it.
Lily Herman: That is a take, you're alone in that.
Mackenzie Newcomb: I'm alone?! Jack, call me! I'm newly married, but call me anyways anyways.
Introduction to Main Topic (3:23)
Lily Herman: So what are we doing today, Mackenzie?
Mackenzie Newcomb: This is the seventh episode of the Friends to Lovers podcast, and today we are talking about two very important things, consent and condoms, which I feel like easily could have been my blogs title in 2012. And we are blessed to have a very prestigious guest today who is an expert on both of these topics.
Lily Herman: I am beyond excited about this episode because our guest is Ella Dawson, and she is actually the reason I've been thinking critically about things like contraception and protection, disclosure, and consent in romance novels for the past half-decade or so. So a little bit about Ella—and then obviously when we talk to her, she'll tell you plenty more—but Ella has been blogging for years and years and years. And she specifically started writing about her own sexual health journey in the early 2010s when she was diagnosed with herpes. I'm going to link to a shit ton of Ella's work in our show notes. So definitely check that out atbadbitchbookclub.com/podcast. I would say she's definitely in the top 10, maybe even the top five, most thoughtful people I've ever met. Like she's really fucking smart, but just the way her mind works is just so smart, so organized. Like my thoughts are, as you all know, pretty chaotic. So she's just so good, incredibly intelligent and just speaks her mind so well. And like I said, Ella will tell more of this story in a second, but where does this episode come from? Back in early 2015, she published this incredible blog post about how, when she writes romance and erotica stories, she has her characters talk about things like STI status and consent and protection because she has to do that in her own life and wants to de-stigmatize those parts of our world's sexual experience. But her piece was actually a response to a blog post from an erotica writer at the time named Tamsin Flowers. The post has been deleted by now because it was years and years ago, but it essentially said she doesn't write about contraception or protection or sexual health because she wants her writing to be seen as a fantasy, one that's free of all of these complications that come with sex in our real world. Now, other authors argued at the time around this idea that people in real life don't use safe sex practices, so why should we have characters always doing so, and then some other people tried to argue that "requiring," you know, the erotica and romance genres to always include safe sex practices would be limiting or would be propaganda. But Ella obviously made the point that that's not necessarily the case. Ella and I go way back again. She'll tell the story more when she's on the pod, but I think it's going to be a cool episode because I go way back with Ella. Mackenzie has never met Ella but has read her work and watched her work and all this other stuff. So yeah, that's my little opening spiel, I guess.
Mackenzie Newcomb: Lesson for Tamsin Flowers: Just because you delete something on the internet doesn't mean people forget.
Lily Herman: It really benefits me that Ella essentially summarized her argument in her own blog post.
Mackenzie Newcomb: Blessed. Absolutely blessed. Just keep in mind that none of us are trained sex educators, just a few bad bitches in their twenties with varying personal experience on the topic, Ella more than others, which is why we brought her on.
Lily Herman: So I guess sit back, relax, and enjoy Ella being way fucking smarter than both of us.
Mackenzie Newcomb: Like, can we listen to a podcast with her as the host?
Lily Herman: Ella Dawson, everybody!
Introduction to Ella Dawson (6:48)
Lily Herman: And so today we have Ella Dawson here. As I said earlier, quick bio for Ella: Ella is a sex and culture critic. Her writing has been published on Elle, MTV, Vox, Women's Health, and about 87 other places, and in her talks, she speaks to the crisis of miscommunication in our lives, from our dehumanizing culture of casual sex to how shame keeps us silent about our mental and sexual health. Her TEDx Talk about fighting herpes stigma has been viewed 600,000 times, and her activism has been featured in The Washington Post, Huffington Post, Teen Vogue, New York magazine, and again, another 87 places. And a fun fact: Her work fighting herpes stigma was actually recognized by Hillary Clinton. So Hillary knew what was up. Ella's currently working on her first book, which we'll get to. It's a novel about millennial angst, missing college, and letting yourself fall in love. It's all things we fuck with. And her short fiction has been published in five erotica collections, most recently Erotic Teasers: A Cleis Press Anthology. Ella Dawson, hello!
Mackenzie Newcomb: Wow. I feel like we're really blessed to have this guest in our first season. Thanks for taking a chance on us, Ella.
Ella Dawson: Oh, it is my absolute pleasure. When I heard that you guys wanted to talk about romance and sexual health, I kind of was like, this is what I've been waiting for for five years.
Lily Herman: Yeah. Well, I was going to say, I feel like I keep dragging Ella into things I do because Ella also was a guest lecturer for the class I taught at Wesleyan. I taught a media course for two semesters as a journalism fellow. And I was like, Ella, want to come to college?
Ella Dawson: I was like, yes, always!
Lily Herman: But she came and killed it. Yes. Loved it.
Ella Dawson: All I want to do is relive my glory days in college.
Mackenzie Newcomb: The glory days? I guess college was probably my glory days in some way too. I was a little bit more fun.
Ella Dawson: One type of glory day.
Mackenzie Newcomb: Yeah, yeah, exactly. One type of glory day.
Question About How Ella Got Started Writing as a Cultural Commentator (8:53)
Mackenzie Newcomb: Well, first and foremost, I know Lily already knows this as you've been friends for some time, but I would personally, and I'm sure a lot of our guests would love to hear your origin story about how you became a vocal cultural commentator, particularly on the issues of sexual health.
Ella Dawson: Sure. So I was a precocious teen. I've always been really fascinated by sexuality, sexual health, and feminism. And as a teenager, I was really obsessed with slut-shaming. It was kind of what activated me as a baby feminist. And yeah, I read Jessica Valenti's book about The Purity Myth and I was enraged that my high school didn't have real sex education. And so that was kind of my entrance to sexual politics and writing about those matters. And I also always was boy crazy and wrote fiction as a way to understand my own desires and relationships. So I've always been a writer and I've always been very interested in sex and sexual pleasure. And when I got to college, I enjoyed myself quite thoroughly and partook in some hookup culture and found myself with an STI as many, many people do. And it was a very traumatic, shocking experience getting diagnosed with genital herpes. I had absorbed a lot of stigma around STIs without even really knowing it. And my first impulse was to be ashamed and kind of hide it. But as I am a fairly loud mouth person and a very self-righteous person, I quickly realized that there was kind of a social justice angle to STIs and it helped me come to terms with it, but also become more of a voice interested in kind of busting that stigma and changing the conversation around STIs. So I started to write about what it was like to live with herpes. So few people were doing that, that I very quickly formed a platform around it because people were just so excited that someone was saying, "Hey, I have this and it's not a big deal." And I kind of accidentally fell into being a cultural commentator because through writing about sexual health and sexual pleasure, I attracted some hatred from conservatives and the alt-right and that kind of pushed me onto Hillary Clinton's radar because I was being attacked by the same people she was being attacked by in 2016. And I feel like a lot of my career has just been me dealing with whatever crisis has happened in my life and having that wind up turning into an interesting career opportunity. So I've tried to make the most out of the disasters I have found myself in and people seem to enjoy what I have to say. So that's the nutshell version.
Lily Herman: Also to point out too—so we were talking about this right before the call that Ella and I went to college together. Ella is two, was two classes ahead of me. And when I showed up on campus as a freshman, everyone already knew who Ella was. Like, Ella was already queen famous. She was a WesCeleb, like legit had you had a WesCeleb feature, right? Ella was the editor in chief of Unlocked, which is a now-defunct—RIP—arts and culture magazine?
Ella Dawson: It was the art and sexuality magazine, which basically just meant student-run, pretentious pornography.
Mackenzie Newcomb: Love that, love that journey.
Lily Herman: So Ella was already doing it, like all of the things before. So the full story of how Ella and I met is that I was one of the editors of the famed campus blog Wesleying. And we had a feature called Thesiscrazy. You go and find thesis writers in the weeks leading up to their theses being due when they are sleep-deprived and way over-caffeinated and just really, really loopy. And you interview them about their theses and of course ask ridiculous questions and all this stuff. And so Ella and I had a mutual friend who was supposed to interview her and then literally like hours before he was like, "Hey, I can't make it for XYZ reasons. Can you go interview Ella Dawson?" I was like, what in the fuck am I—like Ella Dawson is like, very fucking cool! And I'm like, no, but then I remember I asked you the questions in like 10 minutes cause it was a really—they're supposed to be quick interviews and we talked like another hour after that in the library. I remember this very vividly.
Ella Dawson: We were on the second floor or the first floor stairwell.
Lily Herman: The stairwell in the window.
Mackenzie Newcomb: Insta-friends! A healthy alternative to insta-love.
Lily Herman: A trope that we have any thoughts on.
Mackenzie Newcomb: Ella, I feel like we would have been really good friends cause when I was in college, I wrote a blog post that went viral called "A Letter to a One-Night Stand" and the media was covering it like as like "This one woman is speaking against slut-shaming." I'd never heard of slut-shaming until I suddenly was like the person speaking against it.
Ella Dawson: Right.
Mackenzie Newcomb: And I went viral on Reddit's The Red Pill And so I really understand what it's like to have angry alt-right conservatives all up in your DMs being like, "Die bitch!"
Ella Dawson: Literally the worst. That's so funny. Yes.
Mackenzie Newcomb: We'll share war stories another time, because this is not what we came here for, but I do feel like there's a friendship blooming here.
Ella Dawson: Oh, for sure.
Question About Why We're So Fearful as a Society of Discussing Safer Sex Practices (13:47)
Lily Herman: So before we, obviously we're going to get to your romance and erotica writing career in a little bit, but I'd love for us to dive in more on before we get to like books and all of that good stuff. We're starting out large here. And we're talking about something that, you know, Ella, you've been talking about for well over half a decade now, even longer, and that's safer sex practices in general. So first and foremost, why are safer sex practices like using protection and contraception talking about health status and then actively discussing consent, why is all of that so stigmatized in our society? And why are women in particular so afraid of those?
Ella Dawson: We don't know how to talk about sex. We just don't know how to talk about it. And especially not in ways that are proactive and shame-free and informed. We just, as Americans—and I think it's a trend throughout the world, but particularly as Americans—we just were really set up to fail. I know that I myself had an abstinence-only sex education experience in high school and middle school. I graduated high school having been taught nothing other than how to say no. I really didn't know anything about how to talk about sex. I'm lucky that I had parents who were very chill and proactive about arming me with confidence and ways to have conversations. But most of us just are kind of pushed out into the world to figure it out on our own, this deeply human and common experience and part of our lives. So that, for one thing, is a problem. We don't know how to talk about sex. Then we're taught all of these absurd things about sex that aren't true, that it is shameful and dangerous, and that we are risking our lives and our futures. Every time we have sex, we're risking pregnancy, we're risking diseases. We're going to be terrible people. People will be ashamed to be associated with us. We absorb all of these horrible stereotypes about what it means to be sexually active. And we're also not taught that sex is for pleasure, that sex is intimate. That sex is fun. Women in particular are burdened with being gatekeepers around sexuality. So we're taught that we need to say no, as opposed to learning how to say yes and what we might actually want to do. There are all of these ways in which we're set up to fail. And so that makes having conversations about contraception about, STIs, about pleasure, that makes consent, all of those conversations even more difficult because if we're already uncomfortable saying, "Hey, I want to have sex with you" or "Hey, this is what feels good to me," it's even harder to say, "Hey, I also have this STI that we need to figure out how to negotiate" or "Hey, it makes me really uncomfortable when people touch me in a certain way and I'd like you to not do that." We don't know how to have the basic conversation, let alone the more vulnerable one. So overall, we don't know what we're doing. And then when you level that up, it's even tougher. So I've always been a weird loud mouth. I'm not really sure why both of my parents are very—they're not conservative people, but I can count on one hand the number of conversations I've had with them about sex in my life. And I just kind of turned out the rebellious one with no boundaries. But I have definitely, throughout my life, received judgment for that. And for a long time, I thought that there was something wrong with me. And it took me a while, it took me probably a decade of being sexually active to realize no, we're just, nobody really knows how to do this. So that's, yeah, we're all, we don't know how to talk about sex is the baseline thesis.
Mackenzie Newcomb: Quick follow-up: Where did you grow up?
Ella Dawson: I grew up in Connecticut.
Mackenzie Newcomb: I grew up in Massachusetts, and we also had abstinence-only sex education. I feel like there's this myth that abstinence-only sex education is something that's only in the South or maybe the Midwest, but it's in New England. It's those Puritans, like they really hammered it in there.
Ella Dawson: Exactly.
Lily Herman: See, the weird thing is my Florida high school had really uneven sex education. So we actually learned, I mean, we didn't learn about sex. It's not comprehensive. It's not like "sex is for pleasure, here's stuff about consent," but we did get basics of contraception and that those things existed. I mean, it wasn't like,it was encouraged that we use them as teenagers, but it was kind of a weird education. Then I had other friends who went to the exact same school and took the same course that I did except maybe like a year or two later and had really weird slut-shaming undertones their sex ed. Again, same school, same era, same everything. So I, it was just so inconsistent in terms of what we were taught. And a lot of it was still very, very problematic, even if there was an effort to mention that condoms existed. So yeah, I absolutely, yeah. It's the whole country is frustrating.
Ella Dawson: Sex education is very patchy in the States. Yeah. I had some more progressive health teachers cause sex ed was just like a unit within a wellness class. And I had some teachers who did squeak in some really good, useful information, but the curriculum itself was geared far more towards risk and away from things like natural human sexuality and pleasure. But yeah, I grew up in Greenwich, Connecticut, which is an extraordinarily wealthy suburb in Connecticut, but is very conservative. And it was not the most empowering experience in terms of learning about sex. And I talked to my boyfriend who went to private school in California and his experience was worlds different. So it is just very much at the local discretion of local governments and local boards of ed. And I don't think that's something most people understand.
Questions about STI Misconception and Destigmatizing Talking About STI Status (19:21)
Mackenzie Newcomb: You know, we want to talk about STI, that is part of the conversation. So specifically talking about STI testing and disclosure, what are two or three of the biggest myths or misconceptions you've encountered, and how do we make these conversations about disclosure with sexual health sexy or at least, you know, less awkward?
Ella Dawson: Yeah. So one of the biggest myths around STI is that they only happen to a certain type of person. We really consider as a culture STIs happening to people as a consequence of their actions. And it's often seen as a moral failure of that person. So maybe they were "slutty," putting "slutty" in scare quotes. Maybe they cheated, maybe they were manipulative or reckless. Like we think of STIs as happening to a certain type of girl. We see it as you have failed in some way, and that we should judge you for the fact that you have an STI. And that was something that really came and bit me in the ass because without even realizing it, I subscribed to that idea too. I had absorbed it from our culture and from pop culture and from my sex education experience. And so I saw myself as an upper-middle class white girl from Connecticut, of course, I'm not going to get an STI. And then I did. And I realized that that myth had hurt me and it, and it hurts all of us because it prevents us from seeing that STIs at the end of the day are extraordinarily common skin conditions or viruses or brief infections that you can treat. There is no STI that isn't treatable, if not completely curable. And as a result, we turn it into this horrible, scary consequence that is a reflection of your character and that's just not true. So I think that's the biggest myth that gets in people's ways, and that leads to stigma popping up in places like romance novels or movies or podcasts or television shows, like we just need to get rid of that idea. In reality, over half the population will get an STI at some point, if not closer to 90%, the statistics are kind of impossible to track, but it is extraordinarily common. And I think something like two in three people will have some type of strain of herpes in their life specifically, according to the World Health Organization. So it's just, it's ridiculous. And in terms of getting the conversation about STIs to be sexier or more normal, I think we think of STIs as being really gross and disgusting. We think about sores and goopy discharge and like all these terrible things because we were shown those slides in sex ed or because we've had that Google search. And as a result, it's something that we cringe away from and that we don't want to acknowledge is part of our bodies and part of who we are. One of the funniest things that's happened to me in my daily experience was I was involved with a wrestler for a while. And there's a form of herpes that's called herpes gladiatorum that a lot of wrestlers get just from wrestling mats.
Mackenzie Newcomb: I dated some wrestlers!
Ella Dawson: I loved dating wrestlers and dating pre-med people because they're the chillest people to date when you have herpes, because they were like, "Oh yeah, no, I know, I know." But we don't have the same stigma around that type of skin condition. We don't judge people with ringworm. We don't judge people who get shingles, and it's the same family of viruses. So I think that widening our understanding of what STIs are is really important. STIs are also commonly asymptomatic, so you can't just look at someone and know if they have an STI, and the one silver lining to the COVID outbreak, in my opinion, is that it's helped a lot of people understand that you can be asymptomatic with viruses and still transmit that virus. And it doesn't mean that you don't have it if you're not showing symptoms. So I think that, yeah, there are a lot of myths around it and that prevents people from talking about it. It creates a lot of shame and misinformation, and that puts a lot of people at risk. So that's my soap box.
Lily Herman: And I'd also say too, it's always interesting about sexual health or even mental health is these are topics where our society as a whole acts so shocked when people go for treatment or are looking for a cure for whatever their condition or disease or is. But when it comes to physical health, we're very used to the notion that we should go see a doctor and take meds and not necessarily make fun of people or joke about people having certain diseases or illnesses in the same way that we do about mental health or sexual health or reproductive health.
Ella Dawson: Yeah. There are certain people we extend compassion to and certain people we extend humanity to. And like, if you break your leg, no one is going to say you're a shitty reckless person who doesn't deserve to be loved. But they might say, if you have depression, you're damaged and unlovable, they might say, if you have herpes, you're damaged and unlovable. Stigma reflects our own anxieties as a culture and the structures that we have set up as well to cope with those things. We know how to treat a broken bone, but herpes and its stigma are a lot more complicated and much like mental health. It's a lot harder and less straightforward to treat. So they're all interconnected in my experience.
Question About Ella's Work Writing Romance and Erotica (24:40)
Lily Herman: Okay. So to turn our attention a little bit to writing specifically and getting into where romance, novels, romance,-adjacent content, and all of that fit into this conversation, your writing career was taking off at the same time, and I'm talking about your fiction writing career was taking off around the same time that you were writing about intersections of wellness and sex and culture. But can you speak more to when you started writing romance and erotica?
Ella Dawson: Yeah. I have always, I think in some way, written romance and erotica. When I was in high school, I wrote a very bad YA novel as part of NaNoWriMo. That was like a YA romance. But when I graduated college, I went to work for Cleis Press briefly as an intern that was kind of the foremost erotica and LGBTQ+ publishing house in the country. And as a result, I got to know a lot of erotica authors. I was in conversation with a lot of editors of the erotica anthologies that were coming at that time. And I was really deeply embedded in that community. And that was around the same time that I started my blog and started to publish more of my writing about sexuality in general, about dating, and some of my own fiction. And I was really fascinated to see this conversation starting in the erotica community about whether or not it was appropriate for submission calls for short stories, for anthologies to require authors include safe sex and condom usage. It was a small trend. It wasn't the norm across publishing for publishing houses to require safe sex by any means. But a few veteran erotic authors reacted really strongly against it and called it propaganda and said that erotica is a fantasy and it's escapism, and we shouldn't have to include these things, or we should be able to write about unsafe sex and do whatever we want. And I was really frustrated with the conversation because at the end of the day, as somebody with an STI, I never think about sex without also thinking about risk. And the fact that I have an STI, particularly at that time where I had only been diagnosed a year or two before, and it was new for me still. So I wrote on my blog about how, when I wrote erotica and romance, I was always thinking about STIs and always thinking about safe sex, because that was my own experience. And when I wrote sex scenes, I either included safe sex intentionally or didn't include it intentionally. And that was part of the story that they were taking some kind of risk. That was my first moment publicly identifying myself online as someone who lived with herpes. So it was kind of an interesting niche blog post, but it started a lot of interesting conversation within the erotica community and within just my friends circles of people saying, "Hey, I didn't know you had herpes. That's awesome. Good for you!" But it was funny to me that, and looking back feels kind of fortuitous that the reason I came forward about having herpes was because of this very niche debate within the erotica community. And I wound up writing about herpes more generally, and didn't really touch on writing and craft again for a long time, but it's still a conversation that I don't think enough writers are having either within erotica or romance or the spaces that they overlap.
Questions About How Ella's Thoughts Have Shifted on Writing STIs in Romance Over the Years (27:52)
Lily Herman: Just a quick follow-up, cause I know Mackenzie has some questions. Have your feelings on this topic evolved or shifted since you wrote that initial blog post?
Ella Dawson: I haven't re-read it, because it has been a while since I looked at it, but I will say that when I wrote it, I considered myself far more of an erotica author than a romance author. And now that I am more deeply embedded in the genre and I'm working on a romance novel myself, I have more appreciation of the idea that romance is supposed to be a place of escapism and that you come to a romance because you want to immerse yourself in a fantasy. And I am very sympathetic to people who say, "I don't really want to think about STIs while I'm reading a romance" or "I don't really want to worry about where the condom is while I'm reading this sex scene." And I get that perspective. But at the same time, I think that romance is entering this golden age where diversity and representation are at the forefront of our conversation, and there is a lot of incredible representation happening around disability and different sexual identities and race, but there's no conversation about STIs. And while I don't think every author has to include safe sex and STIs, I'm surprised that no one includes STIs. I've read maybe two romance novels that have ever referred to a character having STIs. They were fairly self-published or small books. And at the same time, there are a lot of mentions of STIs in derogatory ways. So it's interesting to me now that I've kind of shifted from erotica towards romance in the last six years to see that these books are being read by millions and millions of people. And I think that they're absorbing negative messages about STIs while reading these incredibly progressive representations of other different types of identity. So I think I'm even more frustrated, but even more optimistic because this is a community that really does believe in making itself better and telling better stories. So it's just a conversation that we need to push for and raise awareness of.
Mackenzie Newcomb: Wow. Pretty fucking depressing that there's literally nothing. And you're someone who reads a lot of romance, writes a lot of romance. So if there was something good out there, you would definitely know about it, right?
Ella Dawson: Yeah.
Question About How Consent Comes Up in Romance Novels in a Post-#MeToo World (30:11)
Mackenzie Newcomb: I wasn't really, even until we decided that this would be an episode that I had really thought critically about whether or not characters express enthusiastic consent or talk about condoms in their books. I mean, I would say I've vaguely noted it, but I'm relatively new to the romance genre. But I have noticed there is a somewhat significant shift in how consent is handled in books now versus before the #MeToo movement has begun. And I'm wondering if you noticed a similar pattern.
Ella Dawson: Yeah. I think romances get a bad rap of being kind of rapey. Well I think that there is this assumption, particularly among people who don't read romances, that romances are full of really problematic depictions of sexuality. And I think that romance is actually is one of the only places that is very aware of power and power dynamics in their books between their characters. And that might be true in the sex scenes, but it's also true when you have a heroine who's falling in love with a man who has much more privilege in society. So I think that romances have been exploring consent for a while, but I agree that it's kind of gotten an upgrade since #MeToo, particularly in these more mainstream hits that we're seeing really take over the bestseller lists, especially with the rise in illustrated covers that I think are making romance easier for a more typical reader to read without feeling ashamed. And there have been a few books just in the last year that have done phenomenal jobs incorporating condoms and safe sex and conversations about safe sex without it being hokey or distracting. I remember texting Lily earlier this summer about Beach Read and how there's a scene where they want to have sex, but they don't have a condom and they have to stop. And it's like, it just adds to the anticipation of that scene because it's this delay. And it makes it even steamier as opposed to being something disruptive. And in terms of consent, I will always always plug What a Wallflower Wants by Maya Rodale, which was one of my favorite Regency romances. I love it. It came out a few years ago. It's one of the books that blooded me, to use a term from Fated Mates. It's about a sexual assault survivor. And it's interesting because it is a Regency-era book, it's deeply historical. And so nobody fully understands the terms of consent and sexual assault. That's just not accurate for the time period, but this character is negotiating her trauma and her PTSD with the help of a lovely hero and love interest. And eventually she turns to her friends and they have this kind of cultural moment of along with the rest of society, pushing out this sexual predator who had hurt her. And it's this book that's, I think it was written before #MeToo, but it really accurately reflects the #MeToo movement of speaking up and reclaiming your story and, and outing your rapist, so to speak. That's, again, it's a Regency, it's a historical romance. So we wouldn't think of those as, as really reflecting current political moments necessarily, unless it's like a very obviously political book, like what Evie Dunmore is writing.
Lily Herman: I was going to say Bringing Down the Duke and A Rogue of One's Own came out, cause this podcast will be up by then—.
Ella Dawson: Suffragettes!
Lily Herman: Oh my God. I think A Rogue of One's Own, which is her sequel, is—I love Bringing Down the Duke but then I think A Rogue of One's Own, it talks about radical versus corporate feminism. It talks about women taking control. Like I was like, this bitch is out here doing things like, holy shit. And there's a lot of historical romance trying to take on feminism, but obviously having to fit it to the era it's that it's in. A Lot of these books were in the 1800s for the most part. I think of Alisha Rai's Modern Love series. So that's The Right Swipe and, what is the second book? Oh, Girl Gone Viral. And then she just announced her third book a couple weeks ago, or the title and the cover art, which follows a similar theme around like modern vitality and all of this stuff with the internet. But definitely taking on a lot of consent #MeToo vibes in a way that probably wouldn't have existed even like four or five years ago.
Mackenzie Newcomb: My favorite recent consent moment was You Had Me at Hola by Alexa—was it Alexa or Alexis—Daria?
Lily Herman: Alexis.
Mackenzie Newcomb: Alexis Daria. And this is the story of two hot people that meet on the set of at telenovela—they're definitely two hot people and no one ever describes it as awkward. They are two hot people on the set of a telenovela and on set they have a consent counselor of sorts.
Lily Herman: Yeah, an intimacy coordinator.
Mackenzie Newcomb: That's the word, who walks them through all their scenes and like getting consent in the moment. It was quite unique and it definitely felt reminiscent of the year that we're living in—well, 2019, I would say it feels like 2019.
Ella Dawson: I love that book and I literally have it in my hand cause I was like, I want to read from it during this podcast episode. Not only is it one of the best depictions of consent that I've ever read, but it also has the only non-stigmatizing mention of STIs that I have ever come across.
Mackenzie Newcomb: Look at that!
Lily Herman: Alexis! Doing the work!
Ella Dawson: This brief paragraph, just cause I think you need to hear it to understand it. But basically the two main characters have just fooled around and oh no, I'm forgetting their names. Her love interest has kind of fled the premises and she doesn't understand why necessarily, but in her inner monologue, she's thinking, "She didn't understand why he made a point of saying they couldn't have intercourse, but it didn't bother her. He still made her feel cherished and wanted. And the orgasm had been amazing. Maybe he had an STI and hadn't felt comfortable telling her in the moment or maybe he just wanted to take it slow since this was technically their first real kiss. Either way they could discuss it later." No judgment, no hesitation. No "Oh God, what if he has an STI?" It's just like, "Maybe he wanted to wait because we needed to talk about our STIs," and then it just moves on. And I dog-eared it, I took a photo, I put it on Instagram. I was just—because it's this one teeny throwaway sentence. But for someone like me who was so hungry for non-shitty depictions of STIs, this book made me feel so seen and respected. And it's like, the bar is so low, you guys. But just shout out to Alexis Daria for having some empathy. Yeah. And I'm like, do you have an STI? I want to talk to you about STIs, like how do you know that this was a sentence that would mean so much to me personally.
Lily Herman: I find the whole debate in like romance and erotica around talking about protections or contraception or disclosure, whatever kind of fascinating because yeah, to include like an "Oh, hey, do you have an STI?" That's like a sentence or two in a book and acting like that's going to be like the largest thing, like a cataclysmic shift for your book that will either make or break, it is kind of ridiculous to me.
Ella Dawson: And why would it ruin the mood? Because it reminds people that STIs are a thing? Romances talk all the time about pregnancy. Like I have read so many Regency-era books where he pulls out and comes on her stomach and I'm like, we can go there and talk about the pull-out method and pregnancy and how having a baby might ruin this person's life. But we can't be like, "Oh, by the way, like we should use a condom because I have herpes." Like, I don't get it. It's very frustrating.
Mackenzie Newcomb: The pregnancy thing drives me nuts. I want a love story where they get pregnant and have an abortion. And then they're happy with their decision. Does that exist?
Lily Herman: Probably, but definitely a self-published or tiny indie press. Well, you know what, there's books that have characters who have mentioned getting abortions, but those that I'm thinking of are all like indie or tiny indie presses or self-published people. So like Rebekah Weatherspoon, who Mackenzie knows I'm obsessed with, Rebecca Weatherspoon and her books are like the weirdest mix of both very cozy and yet like steam coming out of my ears, like that sex is just nuts. But she has a book where a character talks about having both a miscarriage at one point and an abortion. This just doesn't have to be this whole like thing for it to be really great to just bring up because people have lives before and after they have sex with a person and that should be acknowledged.
Ella Dawson: And I feel like that's a good example too, of the fact that there are multiple types of representation. Like I would love a book about a girl who gets an STI and then navigates relationships. I would also love characters who just kind of offhand mentioned that they have STI and it's not part of their character development or the action. It's just like a detail. And so there are multiple ways to go about this. And the fact that I didn't even think of abortion while I was preparing for this podcast episode, that makes me so embarrassed. Like it's true. That's another part of having a vagina and being sexually active, or actually just being sexually active at all. If you're in a relationship where pregnancy is possible, that's not in romance very often.
Lily Herman: You deal with the accidental pregnancy and the surprise baby trope. But like very rarely do you see—I don't want a surprise baby.
Ella Dawson: Sounds terrible to me. I don't want a surprise baby.
Mackenzie Newcomb: And they had an abortion and lived happily ever after, after a week of constipation from painkillers. That's what we need. I got this, don't worry guys. I don't even write I got this.
Question About Book That Have Good Representation for Safe Sex (39:48)
Lily Herman: I know we want to talk, there's a couple of books that—one that Ella, you tweeted a thread about that I want to talk about. But first I do want to keep talking about romance novels or romance-adjacent books that Ella you've seen, or we can also, Mackenzie and I can also talk about them too, that we felt like did a particularly good job at describing things like consent or protection, contraception, disclosure, you know, of status, like whatever. Obviously, yeah, You Had Me at Hola is I think the gold standard on multiple fronts. The other one, I think Ella you've read it and you told me to read it. So I therefore sped up reading it, which was Rosie Danan's The Roommate. Oh my God. Okay. I read it last night. I'm still coming off the high of reading that book, like, oh my God. I guess I'll give the quick, quick brief synopsis. I don't want to spoil anything for anyone, but, essentially The Roommate is about a young woman. She's—Clara is basically from Greenwich, where Ella grew up. It's a very WASPy, rich people town in Connecticut. She essentially moves to LA on a whim because a boy she's been in love with since childhood kind of said like, "Hey, yeah, come, come live out here with me. It'll be fun. Like we'll be friends out here." So she did it. And he picks her up from the airport and basically announces that he, him and his he's in a band they're going away for the summer to tour. So he's essentially going to have her drop her off at his house. And she's living with a roommate she quickly comes to find within the first 20-25 pages that the roommate is an adult performer. So that's where the book begins, is this very WASP-y prude girl and her porn star roommate is essentially the beginning of this book. And oh my goodness.
Ella Dawson: And they fuck a lot.
Lily Herman: Well, they have a lot of not fucking-fucking going, there's a lot of fuckery that goes on, but it takes a while for the fucking to happen. But I'd say that book has an excellent depiction of talking about sex work and I'm just shocked it's coming out from Berkeley that talking about sex work in this mainstream sort of way. That's just a lot. Yeah, just a lot more open than I think other depictions of sex work in romance novels have been especially more mainstream, like contemporary romance. Anyway, that's my rant about Rosie Danan and The Roommate and all adjacent books.
Ella Dawson: And the film rights have been bought for The Roommate. So we're going to finally get a steamy romcom about an adult performer and a Greenwich prude. It's like, I feel very seen. Yeah. I think I'm curious to hear what sex workers think of the book and adult performers. I'm Very aware that I'm neither of those things. But overall, I was really struck by the fact that none of the characters are judged for doing sex work or adult performing, like the characters deal with judgment, but the writer does not judge them. The reader does not judge them. And there's a mention of revenge porn and like, it tackles a lot of how abusive the porn industry is, but how it doesn't mean that being important is a disempowering thing. Like it's very nuanced and thoughtful and it's depiction of pornography.
Lily Herman: Also we love the anti-capitalism vibes that occur in this book. Love to see some like socialists distributing the wealth. Yep.
Ella Dawson: Taking down Big Porn!
Lily Herman: Capital-B, capital-P, Big Porn.
Ella Dawson: And it is a masterclass in consent, the book, because it's about female pleasure. It's about checking in with your partner about agreeing to what you're doing and I think it was great. It wasn't one of my favorite romances, but it was phenomenally done. And I think that it's well worth the hype. I will say surprising little, surprisingly little conversation about STI considering they're all porn performers.
Lily Herman: I was about to say, yeah, I that's the one thing I did notice because I was reading it for this conversation where I was like, you'd think he did at least mention like, "Hey, by the way, I'm clean. Like we have to get tested every two weeks, whatever it is," you know, in the book, like "We have to get tested regularly. Here's my latest, you know, medical form," whatever it is. Just something to kind of acknowledge that that's an obvious concern that anyone would have if you knew that someone you were about to have sex with has had many sexual partners, particularly recently.
Ella Dawson: Yeah. And there's been a whole conversation within the sex work community and the adult community around whether or not condom use and should be regulated. There's been a lot of just, I don't fully understand it because I'm not in that world, but it's top of mind for adult performers is the regulation of safe sex and testing. And so it felt like this weird thing to leave out, considering the book on everything else.
Mackenzie Newcomb: What a missed opportunity.
Ella Dawson: Yeah. It was just like, it doesn't have to be a lot, like they're also casting a film in the book and like, they go into a lot of issues of casting. I was just like, but where's the STI check? Where's the conversation about barrier methods, which is like, what can we do this? Like, can, can we please just please—
Lily Herman: See, there was such an opportunity Rosie!
Ella Dawson: I worked, in a past life, I was an intern for Madison Young, who is a feminist adult performer, who is, she's hilarious. She's one of the most like inventive, strange people I've ever met in person. I adore her, but she's a feminist pornographer who's—she used to do, like Kink.com stuff. And she wrote this phenomenal memoir called Daddy about her experiences, but she has herpes nd she talked a lot in the book that she wrote about how common herpes is within the adult entertainment world and how it's negotiated and dealt with on set and like going on herpes vacations when you have an outbreak. And like, I'm not saying that needs to be a plot line, but even just like a throwaway joke that isn't mean-spirited would be great.
Mackenzie Newcomb: Just like a little nod to the herp.
Ella Dawson: Exactly.
Discussion of Books With Problematic STI Mentions (46:03)
Lily Herman: And then speaking of that, actually I wanted to bring up because on the flip side, you've also talked about recently you were talking about a very, very popular kind of almost like modern classic romance novel that you noticed it had some, some weird things around discussion of STIs. So I want to bring this up. So a couple of days ago, Ella, you were tweeting about Helen Hoang's book The Kiss Quotient, which is one of those books that I think really turned a lot of people onto romance who weren't necessarily reading it. It was definitely in that first wave of, you know, 2016, 2017, 2018 illustrated or vector covers like graphic design covers as opposed to like bodice ripper types of covers or something.
Mackenzie Newcomb: Seems like a fair assessment. I think it's definitely polarizing though. I would say people feel mixed, mixed ways about this book.
Lily Herman: Yeah. And I think a lot of the attention, which is interesting because Helen Hoang is, she's talked about being on the autism spectrum and her character Stella is as well. That was what I think got a lot of the hype, a lot of the conversation or the major angle that came out of the book's publication was around, you know, how do we write neurodivergent characters and what not. But I just wanna read a couple of tweets from this thread, Ella, that you wrote about The Kiss Quotient and how it deals with STIs. Give me a second here. I'm not used to reading out loud, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah. All right. "I read The Kiss Quotient and it was truly stunning, sexy, cutting-edge, couldn't put it down, but, and I know this is specific and I'm not knocking the book because it's a modern classic for a reason. There were multiple stigmatizing comments about STI.s So many romance novels depict STIs as things that happen to other people, bad people who the heroines are not. They're used to distance the leads from less acceptable characters, especially if the hero is "experienced." He may be a rake, but he doesn't have diseases. Many, many romance readers have STIs. It may seem like a small bone to pick, but these little stigmatizing moments and asides jar me out of what I'm reading. They remind me that society doesn't consider me a heroine of a romance because I have genital herpes in so many ways. The romance genre is the progressive cutting-edge of entertainment. Writers push it to be a better, more diverse or representative. And there's also more incorporation of safe sex and condoms, which I love. So where are the characters with STIs? Romance authors don't need to go out of their way to write about the STI statuses of their characters if they don't want to, but I would love to see more awareness of STI stigma. It's not that hard to remove once you're aware of it as a writer."
Ella Dawson: Thank you for editing out my typo. I was very annoyed when I saw that my tweet had a type.
Lily Herman: That's me all the time.
Mackenzie Newcomb: I mean, literally today. I understand. I'm anti-edit button, but sometimes I wish it existed.
Ella Dawson: Agreed, agreed.
Lily Herman: Sometimes I do see the point. Yeah.
Lily Herman: But anyway, so that's what you were talking about with The Kiss Quotient. I think it was a great point too. And I think it's honestly too a weird book cause—I haven't read it in a while—but an interesting book in the fact that there is a sex worker, but it doesn't necessarily deal with sex work in a particularly nuanced way. And I'd say, that's my issue with both of Helen Hoang's books that are out as of this recording, is both of them deal with very, very heavy topics, but in kind of flippant ways. And I don't even just put that on Helen. I put that on editors and other people, obviously, who read her work prior to publication. But The Kiss Quotient has this weird way of dealing with sex work. And then The Bride Test is very bizarre and how it talks about kind of like mail order brides. So, but anyway, yeah, please expand on what you were saying.
Ella Dawson: And I think it's an interesting book because we can applaud what a book does right while still pointing out what it didn't land on. You know, I think that it is this incredible depiction of neurodiverse characters and it does push the boundaries and present a character who I don't see often in romance. And it also includes these really insulting comments about STIs that I found pretty distracting. Just so that people know what I'm talking about, there's, in the very beginning of the book, Stella, the main character is thinking about how she wants to be more sexually experienced and how she can go about that. And she has this little aside where she says that, "This was Sillicon Valley, the single men available were probably as helpless in bed as she was with her luck. She'd sleep with a statistically significant of them and have nothing to show for it but crotch burn and STDs." And I read that and first of all, crotch burn is like a very vivid phrase. So that was kind of startling to see. But it's again, relying on the idea that people who are "promiscuous," then get STDs. And one thing I couldn't figure out was is this Stella, the character, having kind of a judgmental opinion of sex because she is inexperienced and because she is a complicated character? Or is this Helen slipping through and revealing some STI stigma? And then right after that is a scene where Michael, the main character, is getting his STI test results back. And he's extremely relieved to find that he doesn't have any STIs. And he says like, "All negative, thank fuck." And so that kind of double whammy for me was like, okay, I get it. Like I get it. Neither of these characters wants STDs. Should be called STIs, also it's 2020. But it just, it really jarred me. And I think that—I don't want to smear the book. I really enjoyed the book. I know that it's a controversial book and I don't know a ton about the controversy because I don't know a ton about autism, but just in my experience, I really, really loved it. But I also am just disappointed when I come across these things. And it made me think more about when do I see STIs mentioned in books. I hear them a lot in Regency-era books because I really love the trope of like the experienced rake and like the blue stocking, the woman who's a little less experienced and older and wants to kind of take life into her own hands. And there's usually a line either from the rake's perspective of how he used condoms to avoid diseases and how he didn't sleep with a certain type of woman, usually a sex worker. So he's safe from STIs like, there's always either a distancing of, "I may be a slutty man, but I'm not gross." Or it's, "I want to take charge of my life as a woman who wants to be empowered sexually, but I don't want to risk STI. And if I go too far, I will risk STIs." So it is deliberately set up as a, as a consequence or as a reflection of somebody's character and socioeconomic status. And it's just, I see it over and over and over again, and it is so inaccurate. And when I think about the fact that over half of the world's population will have an STI by the time that they're 25, it's just, what are we doing to ourselves? Why are we insulting ourselves and our readers in this way? And it's just, it makes me sad because I think that it's just not necessary. You can have STI-neutral books where you just don't talk about it, and there's no STI stigma. You could have STI-positive books where you're talking about it and it's not insulting, or you can be STI-negative, which is what I see a lot of books doing. So that is my rant about STIs and romance. I think that it's something that so few people think about. And I also would love to hear if authors have included mentions of STIs that have been removed by their editors and by their publishing house, because I feel like that might happen too. But I want to know more about the writing experience and why this isn't coming up in more books, because I see a need for it as a conversation. And I'm just really curious, and I, as an aspiring romance novelist, I'm including STI in my book. And I want to know if I'm going to have an editor be like, "I don't know, bitch, you got to take this out." So at me on Twitter, if you have thoughts on this.
Mackenzie Newcomb: Yeah. It's so interesting, cause you know these, I mean, we can assume that these authors, they don't realize that by including STIs in this negative way, they're really probably hurting the feelings of people reading their book, and that cannot be their intention, but it's what ends up happening. It's that little pinch. Ugh, I'm sorry. That fucking sucks.
Ella Dawson: Yeah. And I know I'm a special case in that I talk about—.
Ella Dawson: You're not that special! You're 50% of the world!
Lily Herman: That's a great point though of—I always think about this with any book—never necessarily entirely blaming the author for something, because authors are going to write what they're going to write, but there are dozens of other people who have spent time with that book. And it's always like, yeah. Okay. Who either took this out, or are you telling me that like eight, 10 different people saw this and no one thought to themselves, like, "Me thinks we don't need to put in a couple of like stigmatizing STI comments." Like we could just leave those out and we'd get the same point, which is that Stella's afraid of fucking anyone. Like, do we really need the STIs to make a point that this woman is like, terrified of anything with a dick.?
Ella Dawson: And I think it's possible that maybe somebody read it and wanted to say, "Hey, this is a little mean," but felt like they'd be called too sensitive. Like I find that we're at a point where people are more comfortable speaking up about body diversity and fat-shaming and slut-shaming, all these different things. But STI-shaming isn't a thing yet. Like people don't, that's not a term. People know it's not a term that we see being used. I definitely get laughed at a lot when I say, "Hey, you didn't need to make this herpes joke." I got people saying, "Oh, you're being way too sensitive." So I wonder if there are people who have had those moments where they've wanted to point something out, but knew that they would get shit for it from their co-workers. I don't know, but I definitely, I want to know what's going on in publishing. Tell me, people with herpes who work at these houses, what have you experienced?
Question About Ella's Romance Novel and Other Erotica Work (56:04)
Lily Herman: Okay. So we had a couple other questions. First and foremost of these last remaining questions for you, as we noted, you are working on a romance novel. So can you tease what it's about as of your current, whatever round of edits you're on and any other work, what other work should people check in terms of your fiction?
Ella Dawson: So I am working on my—that's like the second or third or millionth draft—I don't even know of this book. And it takes place at a five-year college reunion. And it's about a group of friends who go back to their alma mater and they basically, they graduated in 2013, 2012, around that time, Obama-era presidency. And five years later, the world is on fire and their careers are in the toilet because all these industries are falling apart. And it's this very like anti-capitalist gay book basically. The main relationship is between a man and a woman. So it's not, I can't call it a gay romance because it's not, but my heroine is bisexual. And a large part of her character is that she's estranged from her parents because they're very homophobic and she's basically this depressed journalist who's in this industry that's falling apart and she wants to go back to college to experience who she used to be and figure out where her life went off track. And she's nervous to go back to because she has a horrible, abusive ex boyfriend who is also in her graduating class. And she's nervous if he'll be there. And she winds up reconnecting with a different ex who's a total sweetheart who she never really took seriously. They have this, like, it's basically this group of friends being like, wow, the real world is shit. How can we all better support each other and accept who we are? And it's been really cathartic for me to work on, especially in mid-COVID, because I think that Millennials in particular, we have a difficult relationship with the idea of the happily ever after, because we're a very precarious generation and we're also, in large numbers, rejecting things like marriage and parenthood, because we either can't afford it or because we don't see those systems working. So it's been a fun challenge for me to figure out what does a happily ever after look like for characters who have divorced parents or problems with family structure and who are broke. So that's what I'm exploring. So I don't know when you will get to read it, but I do have another short story that's erotic acoming out in an anthology I want to say next year, publishing moves very slowly, but I have more porn coming. So you should follow me. Follow me on Twitter and Instagram for updates at @brosandprose. I am constantly posting inappropriate scenes that make my parents blush.
Mackenzie Newcomb: Wow. I can't wait to read your book, but I'm definitely going to go find some of your erotica because I haven't read it yet. And I personally am kind of new to it, but I love it. And if you self-publish, you know, maybe, maybe this viral podcast episode will get you the kind of the kind of sales you need, but I bet you'll get it. You're going to get an agent obviously, cause you're a star.
Question About Where to Find Ella's Work Online (59:07)
Mackenzie Newcomb: So we've already established that we're friends, but how can we, how can we be friends online and where can people find your work on the internet? I know you just kind of said this, but I just want to drive it home. This is your thirsty moment. Tell them where you're at.
Ella Dawson: Hell yeah. Okay. My website is just elladawson.com. You can find everything there from my writing about herpes, my TEDx Talk, my erotica. I have a free erotic romance short story up. That's about a character with herpes if you're like, how should I do this as a writer? Or if you just have herpes and you want to read porn for you. And then you can find me anywhere on social media at @brosandprose because I write prose about bros. I don't read my DMs on Instagram just because I get a lot of people who are newly diagnosed and need to cry on a stranger, which, no shade, been there. But if you do need to reach me, you can email me at email@example.com if you have piping hot tea about herpes representation, romances, or anything else.
Mackenzie Newcomb: This has been amazing. First of all, I'm in love with you. I hope that's okay to say. I think you're awesome. And I really am so thankful that you came on the podcast.
Ella Dawson: It's been a pleasure. Thank you for letting me rant about my very specific frustrations.
Lily Herman: All right. Well, this has been delightful. Thank you so much, Ella. Oh my God. This was a phenomenal fucking conversation.
Ella Dawson: Thank you!
Lily Herman: So that ends our conversation with Ella. I hope you all enjoyed it. She blew our minds and is also just, once again, I need to say, like the fucking smartest person. Yeah, I honestly don't have much more to comment on other than go follow Ella once again on social media. She's hilarious. She's smart. She's fun. So that's my note on that, but little teaser for next week, which I know people are so fucking hype for—.
Mackenzie Newcomb: They've been studying for this!
Lily Herman: We will have a little following already cause we've teased it for months. Next week marks the first episode and what will be becoming a recurring segment of the show every season called Classified, where we're going to read everything a single author has published and rank those books. So our first ever Classified episode will be centered on the books of none other than Taylor Jenkins Reid, who is one of Mackenzie's like top two or three favorite authors and one that I very much love as well. Unfortunately by the time you're listening to this episode, you'll only have a week left until we rank them. If you wanted to listen to it in real time, sorry to you. If you're going to try and read six books in a week,—
Mackenzie Newcomb: But if you have like one left and you're wondering what to read next, now you know!
Lily Herman: And obviously you can just pause on listening to that episode and listen to it whenever you finish all six of Taylor Jenkins Reid's current books as of that recording. The other thing I will note, cause we've already actually recorded that episode is, and I'll mention this at the start of that recording, you'll notice that some of the audio on it is a little bit hinky. So just a heads up as you know, our audio typically sounds like this, it'll sound a little different, but we'll be back to normal things in episode nine, but just a heads up. Stay with us. There's a lot hot takes anyways.
Mackenzie Newcomb: Sorry in advance.
Lily Herman: There are twists and turns. There are some hot takes. Mackenzie sheds many tiers. I mostly maniacally cackle as is in my nature. And that's that episode.
Mackenzie Newcomb: My mom agrees with me about all of the rankings that I placed. Even if my sister doesn't.
Lily Herman: I was going to say, does your mom though?
Ella Dawson: She does!
Lily Herman: Damn, Courtney. A stab to the heart.
Mackenzie Newcomb: Taylor's pissed. All right, please make sure to give us a five-star rating and review, tell us how smart we are, how much you loved Ella as a guest, and how we're totally wrong or right about our opinions. We don't care as long as you give us five stars. If you're looking for more info on the Bad Bitch Book Club , you can find us on Instagram at @badbitch.bookclub and on Twitter at @badbtch—without the "I"—book club. Or head to badbitchbookclub.com/podcast. In addition to show notes and transcriptions, Bad Bitch Book Club has credibly chic merch. Follow this podcast at @F2LPodcast on social media, that's two like the number 2, and join our podcast Facebook group, which is just spelled out Friends to Lovers Facebook group.
Lily Herman: Friends to Lovers Podcast? Friends to Lovers, parentheses "Presented by Bad Bitch Book Club, end parentheses.
Mackenzie Newcomb: It's a long ass title, search friends to lovers. And I feel like we'll come up. You can find me at @mackinstyle on all social media platforms and where can they find you?
Lily Herman: Well, you can find me on Instagram at @lilykherman and Twitter at @lkherman because I still have not gotten my handles to match because life is hard and annoying.
Mackenzie Newcomb: All right. Thank you everyone for listening once again, and we look forward to sharing our hot takes about Taylor Jenkins Reid in our next episode. Peace out.
Lily Herman: Bye!