Are Romance Novels Bad For Women?

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A psychologist thinks romance novels give women unrealistic expectations about love.

When it comes to banned books, we're used to seeing classic titles on the blacklist, but a new essay from British psychologist Susan Quilliam suggests that we should take similar precautions when considering romance novels. In her research, which appeared in the Journal of Family Planning and Reproductive Healthcare, Quilliam says that these fanciful stories can cause women to idealize sex and relationships. 4 Books For Every Couple's Summer Reading List

While it's difficult to take Quilliam's claims seriously given the romance genre's questionable literary merit, consider the popularity of these novels among women. Quilliam says that in some Western countries, half of all titles bought fall into the romance genre, while diehard fans read around 30 of these books a month. Something that heavily consumed is bound to wreak a little havoc. Help! I Want to Act Out a Fantasy

On the other hand, romance novels don't strive to move past their classification as literary junk food. Most of them follow a specific formula catered toward escapism and light reading. Fiery temptress meets Fabio, they fall in love, they have passionate sex, and it all ends happily ever after. Sometimes the man is a knight, other times he's a vampire. Sometimes the story takes place in Regency England, other times it takes place it modern-day New York City. Despite the variety of subgenres and settings within romance novels, Quilliam notes that "a deep strand of escapism, perfectionism and idealization runs through the genre." 7 Must Read Books for Teenage Girls

You'd think that women with basic reading comprehension skills would be able to separate real life from fantasy, but not all readers have enough life experience to counter the values espoused in these novels. Quilliam herself admits that she became engrossed in Regency romances during her youth, but the books she read ended in a "chaste kiss" instead of full-blown, unprotected sex.

And that's another problem. Out of the 78 books she studied, only 11.5 percent included condom use. True, the "let's wear a condom" moment can kill the mood, but the prominence of raw sex in romance novels also can also mislead readers into thinking that forgoing contraception is worth preserving the moment.

Next: Romance novels tend to mislead the naive...

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