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
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.
- 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"
- 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.
- Hilariously given a Lampshade by Johnny in the second film:
I'd hate to wake up one morning and find out she was killed in a rockslide!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- They started to address this in Lois and Clark, with Clark not being sure if they could consummate their marriage let alone have offspring. Then in the last episode they were left with a Doorstop Baby; it wasn't planned to be the last episode of the series, just the season, so the arc was aborted.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 principle 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.
- 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.