Are Romance Novels Bad For Women?

romance novel
Contributor
Self

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.

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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.

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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."

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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.

That's not all Quilliam warns against. As a relationship counselor, she's aware of how susceptible some women are to romanticism. Becoming overly influenced by romance novels can lead to full-on panic when real-world dilemmas come into play. Romance novels tell you that babies strengthen a relationship, but real-life relationships can spiral downward when you become parents. Romance novels also tell you that your patience will be rewarded by the arrival of Prince Charming, but the fact is that some women will die alone.

So what's the takeaway here? While pointing out that romance novels are less misogynistic, and heroines less passive, than they were several decades ago, they contain an inherent tendency toward misleading the naive, just as romantic comedies often can. It's not as if romance novels should be demonized; after all, video games and heavy metal music have been accused of promoting violence among men for years now, so it only follows that women have their own stigmatized form of entertainment.

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Do you read romance novels? Do you agree that they could give women the wrong idea about love?