Much of my thinking here has been informed by sex positivity, and how it can be applied to fictional worlds. There are two key principles to the movement: first, active, informed consent in all aspects of sexuality, and second, anything that happens between consenting adults is natural. I particularly like how principle the first flows into principle the second: if you have active, informed consent, then anything consenting adults do afterwards is natural.
And yes, it means consent for everything. Recognising the heroine’s bodily autonomy, her right to decide what happens to it at every point is crucial to these discussions. We need to divorce the idea of sexy from the idea of surprise. Your heroine can be pursued, but she must not be prey.
It means empowering your heroine’s choices—write that contraception scene. This is the genre where it should become so ingrained that women engage only in safe sex—protecting themselves and their partners—that it becomes cliche. Empower your heroines to demand safety, and empower your heroes to deliver it without being asked.
“While each of these sources had varying nuances on how and why premarital sex could and should be avoided, one of the central tenets was that men could not be counted on to control themselves. The responsibility to avoid sex would fall squarely on female shoulders. This only worked because, in this belief system, women do not experience sexual desire.”
As a teen girl, grown men would tell me with a chuckle that I simply could not understand “what teenage boys are like.”
Never did these men pause to wonder what it is like to be a teenage girl.
The assumption was that the female virgin simply did not desire sex. If someone did express sexual desire (a very bold thing to admit to) she was told that it was not sex that she desired, but the “emotional closeness.” Men enjoyed sex. Women enjoyed cuddling afterward.
Of course, all of that shame and ignorance about sex is supposed to simply melt away as an Evangelical woman says her wedding vows. Instantly sex goes from forbidden to mandatory. (Is there anything more antithetical to desire than obligation?)
Evangelical Purity Culture is an exercise in controlling female sexual desire.