Does Reading Romance Novels Stifle Real Romance?

“Keeping the Sparks Alive” Series

Some experts have recently suggested reading romance novels fuels unrealistic expectations about love, and are as addictive and as damaging to relationships as pornography.

I’d like your input on this subject. Do romantic novels, movies, and shows make you feel more romantic toward your partner, or do they cause you to expect constantly “romantic” behavior from your partner, thereby causing you to be more dissatisfied with your relationship? Are you waiting to be swept off your feet and showered with rose petals?

To be honest, I had never given much thought to romance novels’ impact on a relationship or marriage until a few reviews came out like this one. I had, however, thought a good deal about how the fairytale mentality so widespread in our culture creates unrealistic expectations. Romantic comedies and TV shows like The Bachelor, which often end in a fairytale-like proposal, also fall under this category of creating unrealistic expectations.

Psychologist Dr. Juli Slattery reports she is seeing more and more women “clinically addicted” to romantic books, and that for many women these novels promote dissatisfaction with their real relationships. Some experts claim there are parallels between what happens to a man when he watches pornography and what happens to a woman when she reads a romance book. While other experts say addiction may be too strong a word, sex addiction expert Paula Hall agrees that romance books can become an “unhealthy preoccupation.”

This article profiles a 24-year-old advertising executive in London who describes how she enjoys the ideal fantasy world of romance books, in which “the men are always strong, handsome providers and everything is done for mad, crazy love.”  Her constant striving for the perfect relationship found in these books has led to multiple failed relationships. Of her last relationship, she said she put too much pressure on them both to live “a fairy tale” but learned the hard way that real life isn’t constant romance. Her inability to be satisfied ultimately destroyed what had been a good relationship, and now she’s left looking for her “Prince Charming.”

Fans of these romance novels tell a different story, suggesting that high expectations for romance isn’t a bad thing, and that women are smart enough to know the difference between fact and fiction. Some say believing in love and a happily-ever-after ending is a good thing to hold onto. A 2005 study even found out that women who read romance novels are less likely to divorce.

Some evidence suggests the recent boon of electronic readers has fueled the growth of romance novels, because readers don’t have to be ashamed to carry their book around. Even the recession did not damper sales of romance books.

So, what’s your take? Do you think the romantic books, movies and TV shows of today are fueling unrealistic expectations, or do they help you feel romantic toward your partner?

Additional Info:

If you’re interested in more reading on this subject, I found this honors thesis by Jennifer Bunn at Boston College from 2007 on the effects of romance novel readership: “Results showed that women in their late teens and early twenties had very high ideals and expectations when it came to relationship characteristics, but did not have many dysfunctional beliefs or romantic ideals. They tended to be very satisfied in their romantic relationships, and were more satisfied when their actual relationship resembled their ideal relationship. Results of this study also indicated that women were not just solely drawn to romance novels that supported their currently held beliefs, but postulated that such an attraction could also have originated from their own hopes and desires for their actual relationship. The content of these books influence the thoughts and perceptions of millions of readers around the world, making it into a very powerful medium. Similar to television, romance novels portray reality in many unrealistic ways, therefore influencing the perceptions that readers have about social constructs and relationship standards and expectations.”

30 responses to “Does Reading Romance Novels Stifle Real Romance?

  1. I like Christian romance novels and actually, I think it helps me think of my husband as my hero.

  2. Hey Lori:
    I frequently find that many women grew up with the notion of “happily ever after” but it was always a self centered fantasy with dreams of her prince fawning over her, but too often women NEVER give any consdieration to what “happily ever after” looks like for a man.

    In short, most guys also dream about happily ever after as well. But their vision is somewhat more pragmatic and practical. We want a woman to always have our back against peceived enemies. To be an encourager to us and to listen to our hopes and dreams. We need nurturing, espescially when we are hurting emotionally.

    We want our women to be sexually adventurous and to drop those inhibitions which keeps women from fully engaging in their sexuality.

    We want women to be our best friends and confidante’ and not to betray that to their girlfriends and relatives.

    We want our women to dress to please us which usually invollves lacy frilly lingerie. We are visual creatures and it can’t be helped. We don’t ever want to be put down for our sexuality, God made us this way. It would be like a man putting a woman down for having a period.

    Or you could just go with the old italian proverb in what a man wants in a wife: He wants a good hostess for his friends, a good mother to his children, and a slut in the bedroom for himself.

    Blessings on you and yours

    • Just as women can have unrealistic expectations, so too can men. I’d say the Italian proverb would fall under that category. When men and women both have realistic expectations, we don’t have to be so easily disappointed.

  3. Really, it only involves a slight change in attitude and throwing off those silly inhibitions that parents and chruches placed unfairly on women. This is even backed in the bible where it says in Proverbs 5 “Let her breasts satsify you at all times and be thou always RAVISHED in her love. Ravished is just a biblical term for Great Sex. Sadly you never hear a sermon or sunday school lesson on these sex positive kinds of scriptural quotes.

    Blessings on you and yours
    John Wilder

  4. Sexy Christian Wife

    I think it depends on the type of romance novel you are reading. When i was reading the Twilight series, I kept wanting my husband to be more like Edward. I also just read a romance novel that made me feel insecure because the heroin was always described as “edgy, fun, and sexy” and not boring like other Christian women. I think that author had things a little backwards. The new amish romance novels usually inspire me clean and try to be a better more pure wife for my husband, I love their simple views of what it takes to love someone. I also like many Christian romance novels like Karen Kinsgsbury and the Yadda Yadda Prayer Group, they seem to make the romance more real and show the bad and the fun side of romance. Sometimes if I can tell a book is effecting me in a negative way, I tell my husband “I’m not allowed to read it”, because it makes me so sad, cranky with him, or insecure about myself” and then I take it back to the library as quickly as possible.

  5. Great post! Even before i got here and started reading, the title alone made me want to scream, “Yes!” Its the female equivalent of pornography! At the very least, it creates this fantasy bubble that skews woman’s view of what real romance and real life actually looks and feels like with a man.

  6. That’s interesting. Someone told me recently she got angry for something a character in a book did, and took it a little out on her husband. You make a good point that different books will give you different feelings, either helpful or hurtful.

  7. I totally agree with Alecia. Not only books, but movies and TV shows play a great part in this feeling of inadequecy in our husbands. Before I see a movie I try have a couple of moments to myself where I remind myself it is just a movie and is not reality.
    I think it depends on the type of person you are whether or not it affects you. I feed from people around me and their emotions, so therefore it makes sense that what I am viewing or reading influences my feelings and therefore actions.
    For me, it doesn’t only work with unrealistic “happy” endings. It also affects me if the book/movie portrays a negative view of a husband – I start to take out the actions of the fantasy husband on my own husband – which is a terrible thing. I start to think “what if” and it just spirals downwards until I catch myself and have to lift myself out of it.
    So yes, I believe that romance novels can be dangerous – depending on the type of person you are. Same goes for TV and movies. I need to have a stronger hold on my mind!

  8. Hi
    There is much evidence to suggest that our minds views all images the same way – hence reality and created images (from reading, tv, movies or even fantasy) has the same impact on the mind. It would be naive to think that what we constantly feed our minds on do not influence us.
    But it would be interesting to find out what you and other readers would suggest as healthy alternative to mills and boon type.
    i would like to suggest that young people (men and women alike) get relatiohship mentors. Mentors who give them the good, bad and ugly about relationships and also what they can do to improve and succeed at romantic relationships.
    Lastly the problem with all this is the heavy over-emphasis on the message that relationship is all about romance and sex – that I content is just a small part of what relating and relationship is all about.

  9. imaginecreation

    To me, ‘romantic novels’ cover quite a broad spectrum of books. I’ve read romantic novels that I walked away happier and excited about life and love. I’ve also thrown away romantic novels that were so much typed out porn that it kinda grossed me out and created an insecurity I don’t normally deal with. I think if this is all your reading and you get “addicted” to them, it could be unhealthy . . . too much of anything can be bad. I’m quite happily married, with a great love life . . . I don’t think novels or movies have ever been detrimental, long term. Also, if you don’t have positive role models, in the way of healthy marriage and relationships, these novels and books could give you a false sense of what reality can or should be.

    Interesting topic.

  10. Pingback: Happy Hour | The Romantic Vineyard

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  12. Attitudes becomes thoughts. Thoughts become deeds. Any obsession leads to unhealthy imbalance. Any escape into fantasy without a rebalance into reality leads to the brain distorting the internal world versus the external realities. I can have a dream where my husband does something, and I will be angry with him. I also tell him about it and why I am angry and that I know he didn’t actually do it, but my feelings will be colored by the dream all day. So too do stories color our attitudes. If someone’s husband is caught cheating, all wives will tend to look at their own husbands with more suspicion. What comes in to our minds greatly affects their viewpoint. What we decide to actively feed our minds is part relating to that idea, but also helps to strengthen that in our thoughts. Your brain, your thinking, was begun by your parents, true. But from adolescence foward, we decide what goes in, which determines what there is available to come out.

  13. My wife has been a romance novel reader since we married 20 years ago. However, she has become ever increasing in her consumption of them; where used to, it was fairly occasional reading – it is now about a book/day or more.
    I find that they do not give her an unrealistic expectation of our relationship. Rather, they seem to make a relationship with me totally unnecessary! Everything that makes up a married couple’s life has slowly tapered off and in some cases disappeared, and she is totally okay with that. She never complains or asks for anything from me. I feel that she likes the fulfillment of a relationship without the work!
    I tried over the course of years to get her attention, engage her to talk to me, find out what her life interests and passions are, what I can do better as a spouse, you name it! But constant non-response and lack of interest in anything but chips, chocolate and romance novels, has unfortunately left me apathetic and a bit embittered. I have a hard time trying anymore, but I am a Christian, and believe a man should love his wife as Christ loves the Church and gave Himself as a sacrifice for her – so I continue to pray, and try to think of some way to capture her heart and passion again.
    Personally, I think romance novels are a blight on society and relationships! I wish they didn’t exist.

    • Wow, what an unfortunate result. I am not a fan of these books either, because of the reaction that some women have. I appreciate that you continue to make efforts and continue to pray that your situation will change. Would she be open to a Christian counselor since that is your shared faith? There are so many great works of literature out there but people can become obsessed with lots of different hobbies. This one seems to have placed a wedge between you. I do wish you the best and hope she sees the good she has in real life.

    • Yup. My wife was keeping her romance novel reading a secret. When I found a book of hers and looked at it, I was blown away at the pornographic nature of the books. I looked at her computer and there were literally 500 of these on there. I had been having the feeling she was cheating on me. These romance novels push the same sexual buttons for women as pornography does for men. It’s the same thing, literally. She was using these books to satisfy sexual urges and then not being in the mood for intimacy. She would stay up late with the covers pulled over her head secretly reading these books. When I realized what was going on, she was extremely ashamed and was oblivious as to how it was affecting our relationship. Tough stuff. PS… I consider looking at pornography and fantasizing a form of infidelity. We’re still working through this rift. Tough stuff. Very painful.

  14. Romantic novels have helped me have a better relationship with my Husband. Though the hero and heroine sound perfect … they do have flaws , misunderstanding , fights etc ,,, so its altogether not unrealistic. I am sure these stories were inspired from real life and not totally fantasy..

  15. Everything in moderation. The problem often is that we see sin in categories and levels. A women reading a romance book is no better or worse then a man getting into a football game. It’s when it becomes an obsession that removes our focus from our spouse and God that it’s a problem.

    I personally read romance novels, as well as mysteries, etc. I, like the female population, am smart enough to know fact from fiction. I also take time to spend with my husband doing fun things together…as well as sex. If anything I would come across a scene in a book, and think either it was something new we could try…or quite frankly that we already have.

    I think it’s a choice/decision that each individual and couple needs to deal with in their own relationship with God. For me, romance books spurred my emotional and physical relationship with my husband more. For other women, maybe the fictional world is too much of an escape…but if not a book then surely they would escape by another means.

    Song of Solomon and various Psalms show us God’s passion for us and that marriage itself is suppose to be passionate.

  16. Much like many women out there, my wife stared reading 50 Shades of Gray on her kindle and then moved on to more trashy stuff. I am normally very open minded and supportive of my wife in her hobbies and her sexual desires. We are in our early thirties and have the best sex of our lives together. Even though I joked and teased these books definitely helped make things even more interested for us in bed. I have learned more about her inner desires and needs as has she and it has been fun. The trouble is it that the books, I feel have taken on a life of their own. It’s one thing to read something hot then want to come home and try it. It’s another thing to tell me about stuff and get me all excited only to stay up to 2 in the morning reading and leave me out in the cold. We still have great sex, but the women is reading at work, and then from the time we put our daughter to sleep til the early morning. We don’t talk eye to eye for more than a few minutes, she blows off friends and goes without sleep to read. She is literally reading 6-7 novels a week and even when I ask her to read to me some scenes to me so I can get involved she doesn’t. This is her fantasy I know, I was supportive of it and even tried to participate, but lately it has become all consuming and something I can’t compete with. We had a huge fight this morning when I boiled over about and, of course, I’m the one that’s being ridiculous. She sarcastically asked me what a reasonable amount of time was to read, which I don’t know how to answer other than little enough that your husband famil and friends still get the majority of your attention. know addicition to romance
    novels sounds ridiculous, but it’s the only thing I can call it. Please comment or email me if you have any advice


    • Thanks for the comment. Your perspective is important to share. I do think for some women books can take a life of their own, and the fantasy world becomes separate from real relationships. Because I’m not a trained therapist, I don’t feel competent to offer you professional advice. However, a counselor may be able to help you sort out how best to handle it. In my opinion, you did the right thing to voice your concerns to her. Hopefully you did and continue to do so in a loving manner, i.e. I miss our time together, it makes me feel less important to you when you spend more time with the book characters than with me. Personally, I’m not a fan on this kind of “literature” and your situation is one reason why. It seems to have impeded your intimacy instead of enriched it. I hope you will continue to be loving toward your wife both in words and actions. My resource page has some info on finding online help as well as counselors who might be able to help you further. Best wishes to you both.

    • Hey Kevin, I feel your pain man. My wife doesn’t stay up at all hours of the night but reading is definitely a priority of EVERYTHING else in our life. Unlike you, we never had a great sex life so I initially thought it would help. I think it did a tab bit, but still lacking in ALOT of ways. She told me she skips all the sex parts…(ya right!).. I know this an an old post but would love to see where you’re at on this.

  17. I’m dealing with this now. My wife is addicted without any doubt. Her kindle is with her at ALL times. It really is written porn. When I approached her about 7 months ago, she claimed that it’s her outlet to relax and that she “skips” all the sex parts (yea right). I told her I don’t mind the hobby but it’s way past a hobby at this point and I think it’s ruining our marriage. It’s sickening to say the least because I consider myself a great husband/father and it’s destroying my inner game because I can’t compete with the unrealistic characters in those books. At first I thought, maybe it’ll help with our sex life (it’s not the best), but nope, not really.
    It’s very sad to see the happening and as I research more and more, it’s very common.

    • Willy, the woman I was married to also got addicted to very racy romance novels (addicted is not too strong a word). She would read 4 or 5 a week and feverishly make up lists of dozens of books she wanted to purchase. One day she suddenly announced that she wanted a divorce. I can’t be sure what role the books played, but in hindsight if your wife is living through an artificially heightened world of romance, it’s not easy as a husband who has to deal with the realities of life to compete. I think she felt a kind of discontent, that she wasn’t getting what excited her in these novels and what to her constituted a path to happiness. It will be interesting to see if she manages to get it from a future partner.

  18. I am a true romance novel fan but I also like to dabble in biographies, christian, self help, history, etc. I think it varies between people. Although I love the happily ever after themes of the romance novels there are other things in those books that makes them hits like: mystery, death, opticals and so forth. Even though I would love for some of the things I read to happen to me, I’m a realist first. And I think all adults know the difference between reality and fiction. Romance novels shouldn’t be compared to porn. Porn is visual and most men turn to it for satisfaction because in some twisted way they yearn for women with implants, long blonde hair, and other things that their significant others lack. I personally do not expect my husband to be prince charming but everything I read can be realistic if men would try. Now porn on the other hand is unrealistic for a lot of women because we lack the resources that they have. It’s not a bad thing to read a novel based on love and if it is, when is the next group session so I can get help. Porn has ruined people’s relationships, marriages, livelihood, etc. and its now being compared to books that women only read in downtime because we’re always busy with cooking, cleaning, homework, PTA, our careers, just to name a few. Wow!!!

  19. Out of Curiosity which 2005 study are you referring too? ‘A 2005 study even found out that women who read romance novels are less likely to divorce.’

    • I didn’t have access to the study, but it was written about in this article. Doubtful there is enough evidence to recommend reading romance novels as divorce prevention. However, it’s probably safe to say there is more than one valid viewpoint on the topic. Cheers.

  20. I read all of the comments on this post and was surprised at how common addiction to romance novels is. Back when my wife and I first met, we spent a lot of time together and had a great sex life. I’m not entirely sure what the first romance novel she read was, but I think she started reading them around when the final Twilight series book came out (we got married around 9 months after that). After that I noticed a large change in her interest in me and doing things outside of reading romance novels. We no longer have a sex life. She literally brings her Kindle everywhere, and reads during car trips, at restaurants, and until the early hours of the morning. I know she has a substantial collection of romance novels because she has shown me what she reads (she has thousands of books, most of which are romance novels). To make things more complicated, a few years after she began reading romance novels she became a romance author. I’m happy that she found her passion and am proud of her accomplishments as an author, but I have seen the same thing that Kevin and Willy described in the comments above. (To rub salt on the wound, whenever people hear about my wife’s profession they always say “Lucky man!” Everything is contrary to what you might imagine). We no longer have conversations with any depth or speak eye to eye for longer than 10 minutes. If I try talking to her while she’s reading, it’s often ignored or I get an angry response. When we spend time together, it always includes her reading her Kindle. Although she has never said anything, I can tell that her expectations of romance aren’t achievable by me now. It is very frustrating to me, but based on my experience, romance novels are detrimental to relationships. My wife appears to be fulfilled completely by reading now. Of course, I’m certain there are women who read romance novels and are able to separate the fantasies from what happens in their lives. I just haven’t observed that in my relationship with the woman I love.

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