Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex
If I was too hasty...if for one second I wasn't paying enough attention, I could reach out, meaning to touch your face, and crush your skull by mistake. You don't realize how incredibly breakable you are.Whenever a character with the Powers of a GodTM hooks up with a mere mortal, there is nearly always a bit of lurking Fridge Logic which may or may not get addressed in the show itself, especially not if the show is aimed at kids. Expect fanfic to address it, quite a bit. Namely, that there is a very wide gap between one partner's physical strength and the resilience of the other's flesh, which can be an important factor during particularly, hmm, intimate encounters between the two. Regardless of the trope title, any gender combo can be involved, though the Steel/Kleenex problem generally comes up in pairings where the 'steel' member is male. "Man of Kleenex, Woman of Steel" is somewhat less common, though it has lately received more consideration. Contrast Power Perversion Potential. Compare Hot Skitty-on-Wailord Action. If both parties can take it, may result in Destructo-Nookie. Named after the essay by Larry Niven.
— Edward Cullen, Twilight
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Anime And Manga
- Dragon Ball Z: On this very wiki, people have wondered how three ultra-powerful Saiyans (Goku, Vegeta, and eventually Gohan) manage to have kids with three human women (Chi-Chi, Bulma, and eventually Videl).
- However, the characters in Dragon Ball Z have to power up before they can use their full power. Even prior to the Cell Games, which is when Goten was conceived, Goku was able to master the basic Super Saiyan form to the point where he could control his strength in said form at all times. Basically, if they have to power up to become stronger, they can probably power down until they are at average human strength, and even if they do not power down for 'intimate moments', they also seem to have a great deal of control over their power level. As in, they can pick up an apple without crushing it, or open a door without taking it off the hinges, etc..
- The fact that they can suppress their power levels, probably means they can chose to be weaker than they normally are.
- Another factor is that most of the love interests are unusually strong as well. Even Bulma is tougher than average; Chichi and Videl have martial arts training, and 18 is a superpowered gynoid. While their powers may not compare to the godlike levels of a Super Saiyan, it can at least allow them to survive occasional lapses in control, such as the time that Goku accidentally threw Chichi into the stratosphere.
- The long-dead fansite Anime Marriage Prospects discussed this in regards to A-Ko Magami, saying this (paraphrased): "Six words: Vaginal muscles that can crush steel. Have fun."
- Dance in the Vampire Bund has a mental illness example. The only way for a lycanthrope father to guarantee his son will also be a lycanthrope is to have sex with his wife while transformed. Sannin's mother was driven insane by the experience coupled with the sight of the newborn "hairy, inhuman thing". Akira's mother didn't get off much better. Though she wasn't driven insane, she did end up wheelchair-bound after delivering a second werewolf son.
- Surprisingly, this comes up in Shakugan no Shana. Luckily, there's an unrestricted spell that temporarily grant its target strength equal to a flame haze.
- In Kamisama Kiss Nanami, an Ordinary High-School Student, ends up falling for Tomoe, a Little Bit Beastly Kitsune. In addition to Super Toughness, Tomoe also sports quite a few magical powers such as shapeshifting and control over fire. He becomes more and more concerned about Nanami's safety as the story goes on, saying things like "I've got to be careful not to get her broken."
- Superman and Lois Lane, as discussed in the Trope Namer essay.
- Lois and Clark have been shown to have sex, even on panel (though non-explicit, of course). It's generally just assumed that Superman has enough muscular control that he can basically turn his powers off, save invulnerability, even during orgasm. Since he doesn't accidentally destroy the Earth every time he sneezes, this theory has at least a little Fridge Logic behind it.
- John Byrne's Superman & Batman: Generations offers a logical solution: a pendant that mimics red sun radiation, which allows Clark and Lois to be intimate as well as preventing the super-powered fetus from kicking a hole in Lois' belly while she's pregnant. After their daughter Kara starts developing powers, she's given the pendant to keep them in check until she's old enough for Dad to teach her how to use them.
- Some imaginary stories showed the couple getting a place in Kandor, with its highly advanced medical science, and Lois staying there while pregnant and having the kid (or kids).
- In an alternate timeline in Armageddon 2001, Lois Lane does carry Superman's child, but one kick from the child causes internal bleeding in the mother, ultimately resulting in Lois' death.
- Inverted with Kara and her boyfriend/fiancÚ Bruce Wayne Jr. (Batman III), but while it's shown that they do have an active love-life there's no mention of it causing any problems or of any necessary countermeasures like the red sun pendant.
- Also inverted with one of Superman's enemies, Maxima. Her primary motivation in most continuities is to get with Superman or some similarly powerful man because most other men are too weak to survive a few rounds. (In the animated series, she was overjoyed when Lobo turned up a few moments after Superman made his farewells to her.)
- Invoked almost word for word in Superman: Earth One Volume Two, when Pa Kent has "the talk" with Clark and tells him that since he's different from normal people... "well, man of steel, woman of tissue, that's all I'm saying"
- Similar issues have been raised regarding The Flash and the potential for creating friction burns in some very sensitive places.
- Thor and Jane Foster probably.
- In Anita Blake Vampire Hunter, all the super strong lycanthropes have to be careful of their strength while having sex. One of the things that Richard likes best about Anita is that due to being a human servant of a vampire she's much less fragile than a regular human and he doesn't have to hold back so much.
- Many fans shudder at the logistics involved in Alicia Masters and Ben Grimm consummating their love. Many fans claim that their love, while romantic, is non-sexual.
I'd hate to wake up one morning and find out she was killed in a rockslide!
- Hilariously given a Lampshade by Johnny in the second film:
- The Inferior Five has a less common inverted example, with the super-strong heroine Dumb Bunny ("Strong as an ox, and almost as smart!") in love with ordinary human Merry Man ("He was a 90-pound weakling... until he lost weight"), but afraid of crushing him.
- The Boys: While the woman survived the experience (raped by an evil Superman Captain Ersatz), she didn't survive the pregnancy: the superpowered baby cut its way out of her womb with heat vision.
- Even without that example, it's clearly said early on that having sex with a supe is not laughing matter, to the point where prostitutes hired by them have to take a special drug to deal with it.
- Inverted and referenced in an issue of Stormwatch with a 'woman of steel, man of kleenex' who get around the problem by being very careful about it.
- In the superhero parody comic The Pro, the titular "working girl" heroine is giving The Saint (A Superman parody) a "job" when he tells her to move quickly. The resulting shot takes down a plane.
- Not related to super-strength, but her super power directly is The X-Men's Rogue. As she found out when her powers manifested themselves during her First Kiss, if she remains in physical contact with anyone for very long, not only will she absorb any powers they may have, but will absorb their memories and ultimately kill them.
- The reverse is lampshaded in She-Hulk, at a point where Jennifer had limited control over her transformation, and preferred to stay in She-Hulk form. Her boyfriend doesn't appreciate it, especially the risks involved in having sex with a super-strength individual.
Jen: And if things get too... you know, just use the safe word.John: No kidding. I've got a few more "safe words," like "Ow!" and "Dear God!" and "Crushed pelvis."
- Speaking of She-Hulk, this trope is lampshaded in Old Man Logan, when Bruce Banner explains that the only woman who could "take the pace" with him was "little Jenny She-Hulk." Yes, this would be about as controversial and Squicky as you are imagining.
- This is despite the fact that the Hulk has been shown to not suffer from this problem; while it's generally accepted that Banner can't have sex without risking a transformation, the Hulk has had a sex with normal human women on occasion, though most of the Green Giant's love interests have had considerable super strength and durability, themselves.
- Speaking of She-Hulk, this trope is lampshaded in Old Man Logan, when Bruce Banner explains that the only woman who could "take the pace" with him was "little Jenny She-Hulk." Yes, this would be about as controversial and Squicky as you are imagining.
- One XXXenophile story featured a lesbian version of this trope — human female discovering that sex with a troll female is very painful for the human, mainly because the troll has no idea how to control herself while intimate. They find a way to turn the human into a troll, and problem solved.
- The Plutonian of Irredeemable had this taken Up to Eleven with the fact that even touching his hair could cut the hand of a normal person. He was eventually able to get around this problem with a magical candle that rendered him mortal as long as it burned near him. The first time he uses it is to consummate his secret relationship with one of his teammates. In a dark deconstruction of this trope, it's implied that this taste of freedom may or may not have had something to do with him ultimately pulling a Face-Heel Turn later on.
- Supergirl's problems haven't entirely escaped various fanfiction writers' notice any more than Superman's have. In 1997, one such writer named "tooshoes" wrote the highly NSFW story "What Are Supergirls Made Of" in which Supergirl explains that her steel-crushing vaginal muscles would indeed make a eunuch out of any ordinary man who tried to have sex with her. In this story, despite what Niven says against this in his essay, Supergirl finally persuades Superman that she and he are indeed a good match for each other.
- "The Price of Justice" plays with this in the course of Black Canary investigating a series of strange deaths that resemble close-range shotgun blasts to the head.
- In With Strings Attached, Paul gains Super Strength and realizes to his horror that he can never have sex again. This hits home when he's given the option of schtupping a whole village full of Nubile Savages.
Paul was quite intrigued by the prospect of banging his way through a bunch of women straight out of a teenage fanboy's imagination... until he thought about what he would do to a woman beneath him.
- "Days of Futures Past What Does That Mean It Kinda Sounds Sexy" a crossover fic of Naruto and Young Justice has Naruto saying that Superman might have let Project Cadmus acquire his DNA and make Superboy due to Superman not being able to have a son naturally without tearing a woman in half
His jizz is probably like an AK 47.
- Second-generation Combat Cyborgs in A Numbered Existence and In The Service present an inverted case, as they must consciously control their strength to interact with normal objects or normal people without breaking them; they also weigh twice what someone of their height and build would normally. Several of them lament the fact that there's only one male they know who wouldn't have their jaw broken by a passionate kiss; being a ten-thousand-year-old combat construct he's on their level of strength and resilience. Their dating prospects improve considerably when the Time-Space Administrative Bureau copies the Combat Cyborg design for their own troops.
Films — Animated
- Intentionally averted in The Incredibles in a somewhat interesting manner. In the film, super-strong Mr. Incredible is married to a fellow superhero Elastigirl, but as her name suggests, the aversion of the trope has nothing to do with her being on the same level of Super Strength and Super Toughness as her husband. Instead it's more a case of her powers complementing his, and as evidenced by the existence of their three children, she's apparently just stretchy and flexible enough to "survive" super-strength sex. It also must have made those births quite easy for her.
Films — Live-Action
- Superman II. The title character gave up his powers in order to romance Lois Lane, which caused problems when the three Kryptonian super villains showed up. In the Richard Donner cut of the film, Superman and Lois Lane hook up and go to bed together before Superman gives up his powers. Perhaps they attempted coitus and Supes had to back off before the Steel/Kleenex problem killed her, and that's what motivated him to become mortal.
- A Brainwashed and Crazy but otherwise fully powered Superman also has sex with Lorelei Ambrosia in Superman III (admittedly it isn't confirmed but it is very heavily implied.) She obviously survived and, judging by her affection for Superman for the rest of the movie, clearly enjoyed the experience.
- The Incredible Hulk movie addresses this (as his heart rate goes up, he has to stop or risk changing). In the comics, this isn't as much of a problem, as it is explicitly his anger, not his heart rate, that causes the change. Because it's his heart rate and not directly anger that unleashes the Hulk in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, by The Avengers, Dr. Banner's mostly able to control it by being "always angry" so that it takes a lot more anger to get his heart rate up (which, unfortunately, would not help him in situations where he can't get "excited"...).
- Hancock plays with the trope for laughs in a Deleted Scene. The titular antihero has a handicap in womanizing because of the projectile lethality of his "projectile liquids".
- In The Time Traveler's Wife, we have an interesting variant. The husband and wife can have sex normally, but the fetus tries to time travel them when frightened — causing several miscarriages. Averted when the wife has a peaceful pregnancy late in the film.
- My Super Ex-Girlfriend has an inversion of this. Matt's apartment is already starting to crumble due to their Destructo-Nookie, and his genitals aren't doing much better either.
- Discussed many, many, many times by Brody in Mallrats, to the point that Stan Lee is a little disturbed by his "obsess[ion] with heroic genitalia".
- This comes up as a Can't Have Sex, Ever plot point in the Twilight series. Alternate methods have been proposed (NSFW). It turns out to not be a problem as long as the vampire is married to the human.
- In C. S. Lewis's novel Till We Have Faces, the character Psyche briefly mentions this, saying, "Sister, do you think young gods have to be taught how to handle us? A hasty touch from hands like theirs and we'd fall to pieces."
- A Woman of Steel example: the Rickshaw Girls in M. John Harrison's Light have modified their bodies to Amazonian levels, being very tall and muscled and with much increased stamina as their jobs involve an awful lot of running around towing heavy loads. One points out to her standard human male partner that he needn't worry about being gentle.
- The trope name comes from a 1971 essay by Larry Niven by the same title. It explores several interesting avenues, including the possibility of every fertile female in Smallville getting super-pregnant once Clark discovers super-self-stimulation.
- There's a particularly unfortunate psionic example in Anne McCaffrey's Damia, in which the powerfully-telepathic Damia accidentally destroys the mind of her first sexual partner through Power Incontinence while having sex with him. Her father-figure had tried to warn her of the dangers of sex with less powerful telepaths, but due to his embarrassment at dealing with the subject she thought he was talking about normal contraception.
- The Cassandra Kresnov novels are about a female semi-organic android (originally designed as a Super Soldier) who, yes, very much enjoys a good roll in the hay. In the third book, Killswitch, Cassandra's acquired a human long-term boyfriend, and in an early sex scene she explains to him why she always insists on finishing up doggy-style: orgasm is about the only time where she can't control her body well enough to be sure she won't accidentally hurt him.
- They got around this in Lois and Clark by saying that part of Clark's powers were that his body emitted a kind of "invulnerability field" which extended a few millimeters from his skin but could also affect anything he touched or kept in close proximity(*snicker*), giving it the same durability as Clark himself. Also explained how he could pick up things weighing several tons without just ripping two handfuls of material out of them.
- Note that the couple did consummate their marriage, in the episode immediately after the wedding (There was an issue with Lois dying as a consequence, but that was because of a curse and not because of Clark's powers).
- The issue of being able to have children only first comes up in a scene where Lois and Clark's dialogue suggests that they have been taking actions to prevent the creation of a pregnancy, but in this last interchange did not. It is possible though that Dr. Klein is worried about this issue, and since he is so totally clueless as to not clue into a married women who obviously loves her husband being disturbed by the news that Superman ages much slower than human beings, it seems hard to believe that he is being subtle in his later admonitions to Superman about taking precautions.
- Also, in the episode where Clark loses fine muscle control due to Red Kryptonite exposure, there is a scene where he sees a bruise he accidentally gave Lois, and decides separate bedrooms would be safer for now.
- Smallville's version of Clark had the typical problem with his first love interest Lana Lang. The problem was eventually resolved when Clark was de-powered for an episode. But when his powers return, he actually complains to Chloe about his sex life. By the end of the show's run, he has gained enough control over his abilities that the problem no longer exists. He outright stated that his training at the Fortress of Solitude included learning exactly that sort of control. Apparently Jor-El never expected his son to remain a virgin for life.
- Discussed in Season 4 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, where, during a fight with Spike, he taunts Buffy about a recent sexual encounter of hers (which ended badly) by saying "Were you too strong? Did you bruise the boy?"
- Somehow got around in the Doctor Who story "Dragonfire". The villain Kane is a ultra-low-temperature humanoid, whose ungloved touch can freeze a human to death in seconds, and even touching an object he's just handled can cause horrific freeze burns. Nevertheless, he is strongly implied to have had a past sexual relationship with his Dragon Belazs, who is apparently an ordinary human (or Human Alien). Since Doctor Who at the time was fairly prudish, precisely how this worked is not even hinted at.
- This is a concern for Worf, a Klingon, in Star Trek: The Next Generation. When asked in early seasons about the prospects for his love life, he replies that he would require a Klingon woman as human women are too fragile. Subverted: while Klingons do have greater average strength and durability than humans and a penchant for Destructo-Nookie, his concerns turn out to be exaggerated. There are at least two confirmed Klingon-human pairings in-universe that result in a child, and Worf himself later dates and is intimate with a half-human half-Betazed woman and two (physically) different Trill, all three of whom are roughly equivalent to humans. It's strongly implied that Worf was merely using this trope as an excuse to avoid dealing with his intimacy issues.
- In the The Almighty Johnsons episode "Hunting Reindeer On Slippery Rocks", Ty Johnson, avatar of the Norse god H÷r with Power Incontinence, is pursuing a relationship with Dawn, a mortal woman, without telling her about his powers. His grandfather Olaf grills him about the extensive precautions he's taking to avoid accidentally killing her. Later on, Ty's precautions prove inadequate, and Dawn nearly dies.
- In one ending joke in The Vicar of Dibley, Superman inadvertently rapes the Invisible Man and the Invisible Man says "It hurt a lot."
- Jessica Jones: Subverted. When Jessica and Luke have sex in the first episode, they're both clearly worried about killing the other, since they both have Super Strength and Super Toughness, but don't know the other one does. When they find out about each others' powers in a later episode, they're able to try again.
- A minor example from Mass Effect 2: Female Shepard can romance and have sex with Garrus, a Turian squad member. Turians are an alien species adapted to a much harsher world than Terrans, leading to such lovely features as razor-sharp teeth and pointy bones protruding out of their skin. When the crew doctor, Prof. Mordin, catches wind of this, he immediately offers helpful advice on "positions comfortable for both species", as well as "oils and ointments to reduce discomfort". (It might help that Shepard is at this point a cyborg with bullet-resistant skin and nearly unbreakable bones.) He also cautions that there are certain amino acids that don't play nice, and warns her not to "ingest".
- Also, Male Shepard's romance with Tali, a Quarian (species with atrophied immune system), who has to pump herself with immuno-stimulants to even be able to touch Shepard. Interestingly, in both cases, it's the woman who is endangered by contact.
- And there is also advice about dealing with accidental telekinesis if one with such talent is involved in the romance.
- And then there's Fem!Shep flirting with Joker in Mass Effect 3. Joker proceeds to lampshade the trope immediately (unlike the other examples, Joker's the one in danger thanks to his very fragile bones and Fem!Shep, once again, being a super-strong Cyborg).
- Party banter between Sten and Morrigan in Dragon Age: Origins suggests that Qunari have sex so dangerous that a human would have to wear a suit or armor and have something to keep between their teeth (like a bone). He's probably exaggerating for the sake of messing with her. Iron Bull, a Qunari love interest in Dragon Age: Inquisition, is mindful of the risk of damaging his partners during sex, but that's just from being seven feet tall and very heavy along with the dom/sub dynamic he prefers, not from Sten's claims being true.
- Referenced in a strip of It's Walky!, although it's more a case of straight-up Destructo-Nookie.
Hotel employee: Man of steel, woman of Kleenex?Angry hotel manager: No! Man of steel, woman of steel, bed of Kleenex.
- Oglaf has a story about the Snow Queen, spirit of winter, who needs to be sexually satisfied or spring is not going to happen. Let's just say that even the most hot-blooded of men cannot take her freezing qualities and return home in one piece. It Gets Better though, when a clever adventurer happens by. With her trusty strap-on.
- Gender flipped with Yuki and Kobayashi in MegaTokyo, though it's less about sex and more about teleporting all over the city (however, the former is the first explanation Komugiko thinks about when she sees them).
- In a Palcomix comic called "Greenheat", the Martian Manhunter, while in heat, seduces several women, including Lois Lane, under the guise of their boyfriends. Afterwards, they catch him and reveal they knew all along. When he asks how they knew, Lois states that the real Superman never dares to be the active partner during sex.
- Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal has Superman turning down a potential love interest by citing this trope, who regretfully accepts the reality of it. The man Wonder Woman used the same logic with? Not so much.
- The bonus panel reveals that the man was the author stand-in.
- One strip of Loserz had Jodi pondering how awkward it must have been for teenage Superman to have sex, especially if the girl wanted to get spanked - leading to Superman covered in Ludicrous Gibs and a news headline the next day about "Mysterious ass explosions!"
- Alison (the strong female protagonist of Strong Female Protagonist) worries about the WoS/MoK aspect of this, and consequentially has trouble getting physically intimate with anyone. Her government-appointed doctor points out that since she doesn't destroy her bed whenever she tosses and turns in her sleep, she shouldn't have a similar problem with any other...autonomic reflexes.
- Mentioned in Interviewing Leather as one of the reasons why Leather only has other Supers as boyfriends.
- Expressly discussed in the Whateley Universe, particularly in "Sara's Little Purple Book" (NSFW), which explains how to deal with sex when you're a PK brick or a lightning Energizer or any of a couple dozen other types of powered being. Sara is a Goddess of Lust in the making, so it make sense that she'd have a certain insight into the matter. Unlike many others, she deals as much with the 'Woman of Steel, Man of Kleenex' issues just as much as the reverse, as well as questions of how different powers interact. While the book is mostly about Power Perversion Potential, nearly half the discussion is on the dangers involved and how to avoid them.
- In The Jenkinsverse, humans are substantially stronger and tougher than all alien species. While the principal barrier to interspecies sex is that nonhumans just aren't interested, if any of them were then the inevitable result would be serious injury or death.
- In If the Emperor Had a Text-to-Speech Device, most of Emperor's mortal partners either suffered explosive orgasms or were left with broken ribs and in generally bad shape. As a matter of fact, he didn't know that any of them survived, much less borne him children.
- Woman of Steel example: Upon visiting a planet of eight-foot-tall, super-strong Amazons, the heroes of Futurama learn that the men of the planet died out from crushed pelvises. The male characters are alternately intrigued and horrified when presented with the sentence of "death by snu-snu". Fry and Zapp Brannigan manage to survive — they end the episode in full-body casts, but don't mind all that much.
- Intermittently discussed in the fourth and fifth seasons of Adventure Time, as Finn struggles with the obvious practical problems of a human falling in love with a fire elemental.