If you want to attack romance…
Oh, dear, here we go again—yet another article blaming romance novels for sexual health problems like “unprotected sex, unwanted pregnancies, unrealistic sexual expectations and relationship breakdowns.” This one comes from The Journal of Family Planning and Reproductive Healthcare. You can read the full article here or the Guardian’s summary here or keep reading. It’s the same old tale: women’s lives are ruined by the romance novels they read.
If we’re going to take a good hard look at the link between romance novels and the lives of its readers then researchers, academics and pyschologists, I implore you to take the following into account:
Can you please read recent releases?
Kathleen Woodiwiss first published The Flame And The Flower—one of those “bodice rippers”—in 1972. RWA says 9,000 titles were published in 2009. With some super rough math, that’s 351,000 romance novels that have been published since The Flame And The Flower. Researchers, can you please look at any of those titles?
Here’s what you’ll find: That the fiction has shifted to reflect the values of the time. That means those rapes where she likes it aren’t written anymore, the heroine saves the hero as much as he saves her and a whole host of other subtle shifts have occurred so that romantic fiction tells a timeless story with ever-shifting contemporary values.
Otherwise, it’s like making a medical diagnoses using information from 1972. As a doctor and patient, you probably want treatment based on the most up-to-date information, wouldn’t you?
Let’s talk about sex education
There’s a lot of whining about people’s source of sex education. Oh no, they’re learning it from porn! Oh no, they’re learning it from MTV! Oh no, they’re learning it from romance novels! Oh no, women are learning about orgasms and oral sex and foreplay!!!
The issue isn’t that people are learning the “wrong” things or “impossible things.” If we get to the heart of this issue, we’ll realize that some basics aren’t being taught and in that vacuum, MTV, pornography and romance novels flourish because people want to know about sex and sexuality.
Look, if you don’t like the source, provide an alternative. If you want some particular taught—teach it! As sex ed classes in school become scarce and people crave knowledge they will seek out what is provided. I think romance novels are great instructionals—especially for women to learn that it’s not all about the guy’s pleasure. And for that matter, so many romance novels (especially contemporary and even historical) do in fact detail condom usage. In fact, this NPR blog takes that argument to task quite nicely.
And while we’re at it–according to RWA’s statistics, “The heart of the U.S. romance novel readership is women aged 31–49 who are currently in a romantic relationship.” If that woman doesn’t know the basics of sex by that age, then we have other problems.
Or, if you want to recognize the didactic power of our novels, then initiate a conversation. I’m sure many of us romance readers and writers would at least appreciate the recognition rather than another attack on our beloved genre.
Listen to your subjects!
I’m tired of reading articles from psychologists who “see people in our waiting rooms with these problems” who may or may not read these novels but then go onto mention studies that show “a correlation between high levels of romance usage and happy monogamous relationships.” Somehow, these two things “prove” their point that romance novels are evil.
If you want to study the sex lives of romance readers, then do a proper study and listen to your results.
If you want to find a source of failed marriages, lack of condom usage, general unsatisfaction in relationships do a survey and ask if romance novels contributed.
In short, do not try to pass off your observations and agendas as science.
Kind of like how we romance novelists don’t try to pass off our fiction as non-fiction.
Please acknowledge that in some way, all art and entertainment by its definition is escapist.
And included in that would be ALL books, as well as movies, TV shows, the theater, music, the ballet, video games, the opera, etc, etc.
It’s all escapist, and it’s all educational. I would even dare to say that it’s a primal human urge to tell stories—and listen to stories—to learn from them and to be inspired by them. And it’s not going away. You can pick on a genre of fiction, or a type of TV show but people will keep watching, and they will keep reading no matter how “dangerous” it may be.
Maya is the author of smart and sassy historical romance novels.