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?
Jesslee Cuizon http://www.flickr.com/photos/eelssej_/