At a time when it’s easier than ever to indulge in a romance novel without anyone knowing – in large part thanks to e-readers – some professionals have become concerned that reading too many of these books can damage relationships.
“I would argue that a huge number of the issues we see in our clinics and therapy rooms are influenced by romantic fiction,” psychologist Susan Quilliam writes. “What we see … is more likely to be influenced by Mills and Boon than by the Family Planning Association.”
Her worry is that despite the fact that romance novels often portray realistic situations, there is still a “deep strand” of escapism and perfectionism. Not only that, negative gender stereotypes are often enforced by the literature. Women engage in non-consensual sex and females often aren’t in control of their own desires, instead depending on men to make them realize their own sexual urges.
One of Quilliam’s biggest concerns is the fact that there are so few references in the novels of characters using condoms. In fact, she cites research that shows only one in ten romance books mention condoms, while there are plenty of scenes where the heroine eschews them altogether.
“I’m not arguing that all romantic fiction is misguided, wrong or evil – to do so would be to negate my teenage self as well as the many millions of readers who innocently enjoy romances,” Ms Quilliam writes.
The bottom line is to keep in mind that both relationships and sex aren’t accurately portrayed in the novels. While the protagonists in romance novels may not have to worry about common STDs, that’s not a luxury that people in the real world have.