Sunday, July 17, 2011

Romance Novel Addiction: Pornography for Women?

Recently Sandy Nachlinger at Boomers and Books Blog posted a thought-provoking blog about women who become addicted to romance novels (read it here). In it she quotes Shaunti Feldhahn (author of The Life Ready Woman) as saying: ...some marriage therapists caution that women can become as dangerously unbalanced by these books’ entrancing but distorted messages as men can be by the distorted messages of pornography.”

Not only did I find this interesting but it coincides with something I've observed, not often but occasionally, in some women -- an unreality about what men are all about. Just as men who become obsessed with pornography can easily objectify women and come to see them as objects of pleasure, so can women who are addicted to romance novels come to dream of men as rescuers, sexy beasts who come into their lives to make everything okay. Consequently the real men in their lives look dull and boorish by comparison.

I've often been told that the men in my novels are interesting because they have elements of the romantic hero but are also very, very believable. I think that a lot of men are actually like that -- they can have their heroic side, as long as they are allowed to have their "guy" side, too. Personally, I love that "guy" side. When creating the self-dubbed "wild bunch" in Each Angel Burns, it was important to me to create a group of men who liked each other, supported each other, but didn't get sloppy about it as they dealt with real-life problems -- a new boss who was young and pretty, a wife with cancer, not being able to maintain a relationship, being unfaithful or being married to someone who was unfaithful, trying to be a good father -- all the things that are unromantically real.

So what happens when a woman spends time every day immersed in a world of romantic fantasy? I know that there are men who read romance novels just like I know that there are women who enjoy pornography. And I know many people enjoy both porn and romance novels without ever becoming addicted, or having them distort their perception of reality. But there are also the exceptions. Let me tell you about Nikki (not her real name) who I worked with years ago in Texas.

Nikki was young -- in her late 20s when I knew her -- married for the second time (Texas girls LOVE weddings!) and the mother of a little girl by her first husband. Nikki worked in the word processing department of the company I worked for then and she always had a bodice-ripper-type paperback in her bag for reading on the bus or when she had down-time at work. She had told me and, in fact anyone who would listen, bout what a "jerk" her first husband was. She also complained a lot about her second husband. When I asked what was wrong with him she never gave any specifics -- he was a slob, he was selfish, he never had time for anything fun because he was always working. I finally met her husband and I thought he was adorable, a big, sort of cute, a little bit awkward guy's-guy who was soft-spoken and polite when I was around him.

Was Nikki's perception of him altered by the books she read? I don't know. I do know that marriage ended and last I heard she was planning wedding #3.

Far be it from me to say whether romance novels are porn for women but when a reader is so addicted to one genre that they won't read anything else and even object to stories that fail to meet their demands for a particular format, you've got to wonder. There is something to remember, ladies, Happily Ever After only lasts until you open the next book -- then the same stuff starts all over again.

Thanks for reading. 


  1. You are likely to hear, "how dare you say that?" but there is a lot of truth to what you are saying. Is it true of MOST romance readers? Of course not. But it may be of enough to be worrying. How many writers want to harm their readers, even a few of them? Darn few, I suspect, so the easy solution is to deny that it ever happens. Or that any who are harmed "must be stupid"--as though that negates the harm.

    Does that mean one shouldn't write romance with strong heroes? Of course not, as well. But I do think it's worth considering what message is being sent.

    Good post and thanks for having the courage to make it.

  2. Thanks, J.R! I think the mantra "moderation in all things" is key. I would not tell writers what to write any more than I would tell readers what to read but I do think anyone who reads only one type to the exclusion of all others might want to reconsider what they are doing.

    People often tell me "I read to escape" which is fine but when you drag the escape into your real world you have to do so carefully. The advice in the blog I linked is pretty stern -- if you start looking for fictional heroes, quit reading those books!

  3. It is true that most romance novels contains pages indicating love scenes that can be considered equal with pornography. That's why women must switch their choice of books from time to time. And also, consider that children can have access to these books.
    porn obsession


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