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Are Romance Novels Hazardous to Your Sexual Health?

Are Romance Novels Hazardous to Your Sexual Health?

Looking for a great beach read this summer? You might want to skip the $4.99 romance novels in the grocery store checkout lane. An article recently published in the Journal of Family Planning & Reproductive Health examines the ways that conventional romance novels affect women’s sex lives—for the worse.

Author Susan Quillam defines romantic fiction as “a genre where the love relationship is the sole important focus, and where there is an emotionally satisfying and clearly optimistic ending.” She then analyzes romance novels from various angles: as sex education, as value transmitters, as permission givers. Her criticisms of the genre stem from the numerous depictions of female sexual submission, lack of condom use, and idealistic romantic relationships that are common in works of romantic fiction.

While most regular readers of romance novels claim to know the difference between fantasy and reality, Quillam believes that reading large quantities of romantic fiction (some women read up to 100 titles a year) can negatively affect readers’ real life relationships and sex lives by creating unrealistic expectations and setting a precedent for submissive sexual behavior and avoidance of contraception.

In her conclusion, Quillam states:

“I may be a party-pooper, but I would argue that a huge number of the issues that we see in our clinics and therapy rooms are influenced by romantic fiction. If a woman learns from her 100 novels a year that romantic feeling is the most important thing, then what follows could be to suspend her rationality in favour of romanticism.”

This article reminded me of the Twilight frenzy and the concern that the obsessive, intense relationship between the two main characters, Bella and Edward, would give teenage girls unrealistic expectations for their own romantic partners. Young bloggers spoke out against the series with posts such as “Why your girlfriend shouldn’t read/see Twilight” and organized boycotts against the books and movies.

It seems reasonable to conclude that, like any other form of media, romance novels can affect the way that people think and the values that they hold. This may be especially true for younger readers who may not have the real-life experience to know whether the romantic actions described in a book are realistic or not. But are romance novels truly hazardous to your sexual health? And if so, how can we change this genre to promote healthy sexual practices for both women and men?

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Jesslee Cuizon

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6:45AM PDT on Jul 31, 2011

Not a fan of romance novels.

3:59PM PDT on Jul 19, 2011

Seems a bunch are missing the point the article writer is making: the most affected by romance novels may be YOUNGER readers who do not have much or any real-life experience about sexual encounters. Of course, if you've been married for like 20 years or had handfuls of sexual partners, you should know better. How silly to compare yourselves to inexperienced youngsters. Almost all of us are certainly affected by external impressions when we are ignorant or inexperienced in some area.

6:38AM PDT on Jul 14, 2011

Thanks for the article.

8:29AM PDT on Jul 13, 2011

They are fiction... Will my Hubby ever act like the hero's I read. NO and I would not want it either. Would I act as the heroine- Hell NO!

It is fun and an escape. Those who do have a problem, have larger issues than the fiction they are reading.

It is just like video games, playing make believe as kids, do we boycott Disney because not every one can be a princess and find their prince charming?

8:40AM PDT on Jul 12, 2011

I would hope no one would think their love life will be a Disney fairytale or Romance novel...wake up and smell the fiction people.

5:45AM PDT on Jul 12, 2011

I think the real study should be about the question: WHY do some people confuse (whatever) fiction with reality? Should we start banning other kinds of fiction too? How many movies are there about the hero going behind the police's back and get their own revenge? Or the demon-hunting ones, where they just KNOW they have to kill the target if they want to save the world, despite everyone telling them they are mad (and they are right, of course)? Or cute children's stories with animals acting and dressing as humans, which may influence some idiots to force their pets to do the same?

...and I confess I do read romance, though mostly of the slash (yaoi) variety. And boy, the romance novels have nothing on the obviously physically impossible things in some of those... Two thumbs up if you knew MPREG is not a Media Player format -shudders-

12:34AM PDT on Jul 12, 2011

They're fiction and can be useful helping readers relax. Most people don't think what is depicted there is realistic, so.

11:34AM PDT on Jul 11, 2011

Romance novels haven't ruined my love life, in fact my husband and I have tried new things to do!

11:02AM PDT on Jul 11, 2011

It is "light" reading that can give you a respite from everyday living.

1:11AM PDT on Jul 11, 2011

Abstinence teaching is far worse - then being fed romance novels? = oh my!

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