Everything I Need to Know, I Learned From Romance Novels: Porn vs. Romance

AdviceI recently discovered three advice email messages in the spam folder – which I feel really shitty about and I apologize. This letter came in mid-August, and while it’s been almost 2 months since it was sent, I wanted to answer it and discuss here because the romance/porn accusation is unfortunately perennial. That said, I don’t know if this person is still in this relationship and I don’t have an update.

Dear Smart Bitch Sarah:

I have a general question for anyone who also loves romance that may be willing to help me untangle a sticky situation in my current relationship. I’ve loved romance novels since I was in my early teens, and they have become a pretty big part of my life since then. Unfortunately, I’m in a bit of a pickle with my boyfriend over the fact that I read them.

You see, he has admitted that at one point he was addicted to pornography, but literally threw all of his stuff away when we decided to move in together. I respect this decision on so many levels, and I’m very appreciative since I’ve had relationships where porn really became an issue, BUT, my otherwise amazing and wonderful boyfriend asked me a few days ago what the difference was between porn and my romance collection.

His argument seemed sound, citing that the sex is graphic and since women have a more emotional relation to sex than men sometimes, romance novels are essentially porn for women. I’d never really thought of it that way, though yes, there certainly have been some books I’ve read that have made me tingly in all the right places. Of course telling him that I don’t read the books for the sex would be like saying that I don’t look at Playboy for the pictures, but rather the articles. I appreciate the sex, even if it isn’t necessarily my main reason for buying the book. In fact, some of my favorite romance novels may have only one or two sex scenes in the whole 400 pages,
but certainly in the genre that isn’t completely normal, and it’s not like I can promise never to read a sex scene in a novel that has a half naked man on the cover (another item he puts on his list of why romance is like porn).

It’s obvious to me that he really wants me to stop reading them and possibly even get rid of the ones that I have, and I’m completely torn as to what to do. I LOVE my romance novels and they have been a constant companion during so many good and horrible times in my life. However, I don’t know how to explain it to my boyfriend that his sacrifice of something he loved (porn) is different than his asking me to get rid of my romance novels. I also don’t know how to argue that my novels really aren’t some specialized form of porn when they do have such graphic sex scenes in them…I put a temporary patch on the problem, explaining that my romance novels were kind of like watching a television show on HBO or Showtime. They have some pretty intense love scenes, but that isn’t the only reason you watch the show…

This is such a specialized argument that we are having that I just HAD to submit it here and see what everyone had to say. Surely some other readers have had this problem? Or have some advice on how to handle it?

Signed,

Conflicted

Dear Conflicted:

Before addressing your attempts to change his perception of the genre, I want to address his behavior. By asking that you get rid of something that is clearly very important and meaningful to you, he is attempting to limit your behavior based on his own limitations, and that is not fair or respectful of you. His decision to get rid of his pornography collection may have been, and I am presuming here, because his desire was becoming an addiction to porn, and it was causing him harm. Your romance novels do not function in the same way: you said yourself, they do not cause you harm but help you through difficult emotional times.

But in what way is your reading romance novels offensive to him? In other words, how is what you read bothersome to him? Just because he is your boyfriend does not give him the right to tell you what you can and cannot read. Moreover, his pornography problem is his problem, not yours.  Is your romance collection somehow attractive to him and he feels uncomfortable with his desire to read one?

Obviously, he is incorrect about the genre. Romances are not pornography. Granted, the half-naked dudes on the covers do not help this argument, but you yourself explained the best possible defining difference: not every romance has sex scenes, and romances are not just about the coming together of fiddly bits which then come together. In fact, your explanation was stellar, that some romances are like HBO or Showtime television series, where the love scenes are intense thanks to the wild freedom of cable, but those scenes are not the reason you’re tuning in. The point is, the emotional courtship is always present in a romance; the sex is not. Reading a romance is not merely about sexual gratification and arousal, and therefore romances are not porn. Anyone who picks up Georgette Heyer looking for Jenna Jameson is going to be woefully and comically disappointed.

What troubles me most about your letter is that your boyfriend, whom one would assume loves you, is asking you to give up something you love because he is not comfortable with it for his own personal reasons. He is attempting to assert control over you and your decisions, and dictate your behavior. I can’t even fully express how many OHSHIT sirens that sets off in my brain. That is the issue that needs to be addressed, and not necessarily by giving your paperbacks the heave-ho just to appease him. Whatever his reasons for getting rid of his porn collection may have been, they do not give him the right to control what you read. If he looks at romance and sees nothing but the sexuality of the cover and the cover copy that might promise titillation, he needs to read a few to form a more educated opinion. But if he looks at your romance novels as a barrier to his own comfort and demands that you stop reading them and get rid of them all so he feels better about himself, then you and he have a serious conversation ahead of you.

It sounds to me that he considers himself to have a pornography addiction, much like a person addicted to gambling. There are support groups for these problems, and while I am not an expert on sexual or gambling addiction, I do think his demand of you indicates a possible need for more direct help. If the presence of romance novels makes him uncomfortable because he thinks they are pornographic and he wants you to get rid of them, despite knowing how important they are to you personally, then the problem is not with the books, but with him, and his respect and understanding of you.

Controlling behavior is not healthy nor loving. That cornerstone of romance, that the hero love the heroine for who she is without demanding she change who she is, applies absolutely in real life, and absolutely without a doubt applies to you.


ETA: I have an update from Conflicted via email:

“Wow…I can’t believe in such a short amount of time, such a heated and exhaustive conversation has come from my email.

First, Thank you to everyone who has given an opinion, I like to think I’m open minded, and I like to get multiple points of view.

Second, I haven’t had a chance to read every entry on here, but I did want to address some specific concerns that people were having:

1. My boyfriend got rid of his collection independent of my desire or concern. In fact, it was something that he was working on removing from his life before we even got together. Did I appreciate the decision? Absolutely. Did I ask him to do anything with his porn? No. He has told me that at one point he would spend more than 12 hours with his porn a day, which I agree really does qualify as an addiction. I know that this is probably a battle that will continue throughout our relationship, but I do love him and respect him enough to work through these issues with him. As for porn itself, I don’t really have a problem with anyone having or using porn in a way that is satisfying to themselves and respectful to their partner. In my previous relationships where porn had become a problem, it wasn’t the porn itself, but the blatant and vocal comparison of my attributes to the women in the porn that became an issue. This isn’t the situation in my current relationship, and I can’t say that I know where everything would have landed if he hadn’t been getting rid of his porn already, but I do know that I have watched porn at times in my life, and don’t begrudge anyone who wants to use it. It is entirely the intensity of his addiction and my respect for him as a partner that has made it become such a pivotal topic of concern in our relationship.

2. Control. While it seems that some responders took my comment that my boyfriend is otherwise amazing as an excuse to ignore controlling behaviors, I would like to clarify. He hasn’t ever asked me to get rid of my books, merely asked me what the difference was between porn and my romances. This in turn gave me the impression that he was uncomfortable and probably would respect my getting rid of my collection. It is a matter of mutual respect, not control that urged me to submit my question here. I will be the first to admit that our relationship has ups and downs, we have had a couple really big fights since my email, but he is very respectful of my feelings, and is the first to admit when he is wrong. I have been in several controlling and unhealthy relationships, which is why I simply have to clarify that he is the first partner I’ve had that I felt actually respected my feelings and needs.

Now, that said, the issue has been moot since I sent my first email as I have not had time to read, but I have not gotten rid of my collection, and am hopeful that as our relationship has strengthened, he will feel more comfortable talking about it if he has problems, and that I will feel more assertive to explain my position. I think what really bothered me when he first brought it up was the fact that I really didn’t have a good grasp on how to respond. I struggled to find the words to explain the difference between porn and romance, but with all of these responses, surely I will be better equipped to be eloquent in my answers.

I am definitely going to continue to read the responses here, and I would be happy to answer any other questions that arise.

Respectfully and Gratefully,
Conflicted

PS: I do have a Nook, and don’t intend on buying the explicitly covered paperbacks either way, just as a sign of courtesy. Not hiding them for sure, just not flashing half naked men his way every two minutes. And, he seemed mildly satisfied with my comparison of romances to HBO. I do hope that if he were to bring it up again, I could ask him to read one of my novels and also use some of the advice I’ve received here.”

 

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  1. 1
    Jodi says:

    Word, word, WORD to everything SB Sarah has said. There is no excuse for anyone – anyone at all – to police what another person reads. Controlling behaviour is not okay. Not at all. Not ever. Not under circumstances.

    Now, onto the matter of romance vs porn.

    I’ve been thinking about this a bit recently, and I’ve got a bit of a half-baked theory about the origins of the two genres (which may, I would like to point out, be completely fallacious and I haven’t yet backed up with any proper research).

    Pornography has been around for as long as civilisation has, as far as I can tell. Some of earliest texts and artworks we have – from the classical period, for example – are pornographic. The romance genre, however, has slightly different origins. It’s noted in a few places that romance as a genre may have developed out of the notion of courtly love, which appeared in the Languedoc in roughly the eleventh century. I think it’s a bit unfair to say that this was the sole origin of the romance novel, but I think there is some merit to it as a partial contributor. However, I think there is another important contributor to the development of romance as a genre, and that’s the fairy tale – the omnipresent happy ending functions as a sort of proof of this.

    So my point is, I think, that the modern genres of pornography and romance novels have developed from different roots. And it would be pretty hard for them to become suddenly the same thing.

    And also, in case I didn’t say it loud enough the first time, no one has the right to police what another person enjoys. Controlling behaviour is completely, utterly, totally inappropriate.

  2. 2
    Bronte says:

    For me the biggest issue in what Conflicted wrote is that her boyfriend chose to throw away the porn of his own volition.  She didn’t ask him to.  He recognised that it wasn’t healthy for him and got rid of it.  There is a huge difference between making a decision like that for yourself, and asking someone else to get rid of something out of their lives because you think its inappropriate.  The romance versus porn issue is just window dressing I think.

  3. 3

    no one has the right to police what another person enjoys

    But if the shoe was on the other foot – a woman complaining about her male partner’s porn magazine collection, I imagine your reaction and Sarah’s would be a little different, if only because porn for men is traditionally an exploitative and harmful thing.

    Which is where this becomes murky, because even women will refer to Romance as porn for women, and erotica writers will joke about writing porn etc – I do it myself, though I absolutely despise the way many gay men dismiss m/m as nothing but porn (which it assuredly is not.)

    Visual, photographic porn is a completely different issue from textual porn – even if you’re only talking about exploitation. Even if the ‘moral’ aspect of titillation is considered, it’s pretty obvious that textual porn or porn-like material, especially erotica, and erotic romance, is much more complex in its emotional and intellectual appeal than pictures and video. To be blunt, you don’t bother to remember the names of the women who are being fucked or licked or fingering themselves in visual porn. Readers become involved in the people behind the sex scenes in written erotica. It’s a different mental exercise, and not just about getting off. With visual porn, anything that gets in the way of climaxing – whether it’s plot, characterisation, dialogue – needs to be minimised or ditched. Erotica readers won’t tolerate that.

    I think a partner, male or female, has a right to raise concerns about their lover’s behaviour, whatever the basis of those concerns. And I think the lover/spouse should at least attempt to take them seriously, if they’re not patently ridiculous – which I don’t think this is. If explaining to the person, and showing them their fears are groundless, isn’t enough, then yes, you do have to decide which is more important to you – a relationship where your choices are restricted, or the choice they seek to restrict.

    I think this guy should be given credit for recognising that porn can be an unhealthy addiction and activity, particular for guys, and I’m inclined to be more charitable than Sarah is. Romance gets a bad rap, so it’s not surprising he’s bought into it, and it’s not surprising he’s worried. He sounds like he’s not a total thug, so I hope the writer of this email has success in talking. Communication is a *good* think in a relationship.

  4. 4
    Vixenbib says:

    I think there’s an enormous gulf between romance (with or without sex) and Porn.  Personally, when I think of a really great romance novel – e.g. “Persuasion” (is there even a kiss?), “Venetia” (a few passionate kisses right at the end), or “The Shadow and The Star” (a restrained handful of plot-driven descriptions of sexual encounters between the protagonists) – I think about the individuals (major and minor) who people the book and I’m able to re-live some of the myriad emotions and physical sensations I experienced as I ‘watched’ their stories unfold: irritation, compassion, excitement, anger, frustration, a falling sensation in my stomach, delight, disgust, sadness, envy, and – “ta-da” – a very lovely, warm feeling in my ladybits. The writer’s – and therefore, my – focus has been primarily on the unfolding of the emotional relationship between the protagonists (and the unfolding of their satellite relationships).  My connection to the novel is an emotional one.

    However, when I’ve read erotic novels, the writer always seems very intent on ‘getting down to business’, and the sooner the better. The protagonists are hard or horny on page 2 and regardless of the padding of the story, it is obvious (to me at least) that sexual titillation is the main purpose of the writing.  Does that sound pejorative?  I’m not against sexual titillation, per se. I just get bored very quickly, if that’s all there is.  (I do reserve a separate category for literate and thought-provoking erotica; which, in order to be acceptable to me, must be lyrical and intelligently challenging of my prejudices!)

    In my opininon, Porn is something else again.  I try to avoid it because it just makes me feel dirty.  You know what it is.

  5. 5
    Leslie H. says:

    When I read a novel, regardless of genre, I am no longer me. I am inside the mind, spirit, and relationships of the character. This is how reading promotes empathy.

    I am not having sex with Roarke, his wife Eve is. It is the fourth wall of literature. This is probably why I find stories written in 2nd person so annoying.

    I do not read the novel to enjoy specifically the sexual content. That would in fact be pornography no matter what genre it is written in.

    Like SB Sarah, I am concerned about the thin end of the wedge.

    When I wake up in the morning, I am my own self and God is my only master. Everybody else can make suggestions.

  6. 6
    meoskop says:

    “my otherwise amazing and wonderful boyfriend “

    Dump him just because you used those words. Seriously, I’ve never known anyone to use those words where the guy didn’t turn out to be (at the very best) a total waste of her time.

    (Captcha – theres68, because obviously they are short of mutual gratification here)

  7. 7

    Dump him just because you used those words.

    What an insensitive, unkind thing to say.

  8. 8
    meoskop says:

    While I’m sorry you feel that way, I stand by my words.

    I have found that a woman using those words is generally in a negative relationship, one where any critical statement must be modified by an assurance that no, he is the most best thing ever, really, really, really.

    Couple that with him demanding that she change an important part of her life because he’s got an issue, and I don’t see this being the exception.

    It’s a red flag to me, those words.

    (captcha trouble99 – explains itself)

  9. 9
    Vixenbib says:

    Pornography is any writing or pictures “designed to stimulate sexual excitement” [Collins English Dictionary]. 

    Conflicted’s boyfriend became addicted to the stimulus.  He took action to regain control over his life. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he turned out to be terrified (and excited) at the knowledge that Conflicted’s books are sitting waiting on the bookshelf – even though these books mean much more to C than just a stimulus for sexual excitement. It is not Conflicted’s problem – but if they are to have a healthy relationship, it is definitely something that needs to be discussed between them.

    However, he has no right to dictate her behaviour to her. He does seem to have some real anxieties and issues with control – and self-control.

  10. 10
    Isabel C. says:

    I like romance. I read it; I write it. I also like porn. (I also don’t agree that it’s harmful as a general rule, but that’s a different thing.)

    And I have to say, any boyfriend of mine who persistently objected to either wouldn’t remain my boyfriend very long.  I can deal with a short, reasonably-phrased “Honey, do you expect that kind of thing from me?” question: I say no, we move on. If he kept making a fuss about it…the door is that way.  And I’d say the same thing about a girl who objected to her boyfriend’s Penthouse subscription.

    Writer’s boyfriend got rid of his collection for his own reasons, and that’s fine. Porn—like alcohol, World of Warcraft, etc—can be addictive, sure. But the letter-writer doesn’t seem to be addicted, she’s not making her boyfriend read romance novels, and it’s obnoxious for him to assume that his problem is her problem. Just because you’re an alcoholic doesn’t mean I don’t get to have a beer on Friday night.

    Life’s too short to spend with insecure, controlling partners. 

    (sure55: I’m pretty sure of this. Might still be when I’m 55.)

  11. 11

    This letter really made me think. Because I write that stuff, and I write for the company that is almost synonymous with hot sex for women, Ellora’s Cave. We’ve been called a lot of things, from pornographers to trashy writers, and for the most part, we take it with a spot of humour and a lot of private angst. Is what we are doing wrong?
    I’m a feminist, and any idea of me writing something that enables men to treat women like trash, or vice versa, is anathema to me. When I considered what I was doing and why, that was really important to me. The characters in my books always treat each other with respect, at least the heroes and heroines do. That, for me, is the big difference. They accept each other as human beings and respect their rights to do as they please. I don’t write BDSM, but I know the editors of the genre are very careful to ensure that consent and the accepted norms of that community are adhered to.
    In one of my books (“Beauty of Sunset”) the hero is a doctor and when the heroine meets him, she’s his patient. The first draft of the story had them making personal contact in his surgery before he’d formally released her from the patient/doctor relationship, although he did state that he wouldn’t treat her as his patient. My editor said that some readers might have issues with that, that it verged on an abusive relationship, so I had to rewrite it so that he signed off on her and sent her home. Their personal relationship didn’t start until they met in a social situation.
    That’s the difference between porn and what I write, I think. Imagine in a porn mag, he’d have had that surgical gown off her and her lying on the examination table in five seconds.
    I did have to face this when I decided to write erotic and that was the conclusion I came to. It’s about treating people like people, not things.
    The writer of the letter has to decide how she wants to deal with it, but if her boyfriend is uncomfortable with having the books around, she could think about electronic readers. Unless she loves having the paper objects. She still needs to talk to him about it, but if the books aren’t being shoved at him all the while, it might make things easier. I’m not for a minute suggesting that she isn’t open with him about what she’s reading, but he wouldn’t be surrounded by constant reminders. If he really was addicted to porn, the images on the covers might make him uncomfortable.

  12. 12

    First, I surely agree with SB Sarah about control.  In a relationship neither party has the right to “run” things.  It’s a joint enterprise

    I’m wondering if he thinks he has a problem with porn because Conflicted has expressed a problem with it. She shouldn’t care if he’s trolling porn sites or becoming aroused by them as long as he’s only expressing that arousal with her.  Similarly, I don’t think he should care how she’s reacting to what she’s reading as long as she only acts on any romantic urges with him.

    Here’s one suggestion.  Pick a night and time each week – say Friday night at 10 p.m.  Then go into the same room (the bedroom would be good).  She spends an hour on the computer trolling porn sites.  He spends an hour reading one of her romance novels.  Afterwards, they discuss how what they’ve seen and read makes them feel.  I’m betting the conversation might end up in bed!

    As an aside, I’d also suggest that Conflicted might show her partner some of the erotica books at Amazon’s Kindle site.  I believe they’re much closer to “porn” than romance novels. 

    I hope that Conflicted works it all out in whatever way works best for her and her partner.

  13. 13

    I’m reading this on the fly and heading out the door soon, so I’m skimming-sorry if this has been addressed.

    But I’m not automatically going to assume the guy is a jackass-mainly because of the background here.  He had a problem, one he confronted, and addressed-that took strength and it took character, a lot of people wouldn’t have bothered. 

    No, I don’t think it’s right that he demand she get rid of her romances, but it’s possible he’s acting out of fear-NOT because he wants to control her, but lets look think about some of the covers on romances, and lets think about what he has to deal with, if he is truly addicted to pornography.

    An addict, regardless of what his ‘drug of choice is’, is always going to fight those urges.

    Would it be easy for alcoholic to walk into a party where everybody is tossing them back?

    Maybe the guy is seeing these superhot covers and it’s affecting HIS problem, his decision to stay away from what was controlling him.  And he’s reacting out of fear, maybe without even truly understanding that.

    Now not ALL covers are going to be an issue there… but ya know, there are plenty that are so damn hot, yeah, I can see this very well being an issue.

    His actions do NOT automatically mean he’s an ass.  People react and do things they shouldn’t out of fear, confusion all the time-we all do it.  It doesn’t mean we’re bad people. 

    Maybe what Conflicted, assuming they are still together, first needs to do is decide… does she love this guy enough to work this through with him, because if he IS an addict, this is a lifelong fight.

    Then, if she does love him enough,  they need to figure out why he’s so bothered by the romances.  If it’s because he really does think they are porn-they need address that and he needs to understand romance isn’t porn. 

    If they are setting off something that is getting to him and affecting his decisions, then they’ll have to both make some compromises if they want this work-that’s what a relationship is about-making compromises. 

    Maybe she could consider going to digital-he wouldn’t need to see the covers, she could have her books and he wouldn’t see anything that would push buttons he’s already fighting with.

  14. 14
    kimsmith says:

    The question isn’t porn versus romance; it’s a question of addiction.

    Does the reader have more of a relationship with her books than with her boyfriend?  Is she forgoing grooming?  Skimping on her share of the housework?  Calling in sick to spend the day with a new book?  Sacrificing time she could be reading to engage in activities with her boyfriend?  Spending every last dime on paperbacks instead of establishing a healthy savings account?

    Was her boyfriend spending more time with his porn than with real people?  Did he groom when he lived by himself?  Let his housework pile up until it required an intervention?  Call in sick because he spent too much time with his videos?  Did he consider it a sacrifice to have conversation with his girlfriend?

    In determining addiction, the question becomes whether either of them has a healthy relationship with actually living their lives and functioning in society.  And yes, reading can be addictive, too.  Or an escape that let’s us escape too much, becoming a complete avoidance of responsibilities.

    There’s too much we don’t know about the situation to determine whether his act of disposing of his porn collection was a healthy act.  I’m not saying the writer of the letter is dishonest; just that we’re only getting one perspective here.

    For instance, did he get rid of it:

    * because she saw it as an ugly thing?

    * because he thought he wouldn’t need to look at naked pictures of strange women since he had a real live one he “could look at any time he wants” (a delusion that gets dispelled pretty quickly in real relationships)?

    * he had a fetish he is afraid to share (one that would be painfully obvious once she saw the breadth of his shoe-licking videos)?

    *  he thinks he’s never going to masturbate again?

    * he wasn’t really comfortable with them to begin with, so can’t share with his spouse?

    * he was making a sacrifice to the relationship?

    * he think his girlfriend was insecure, and that getting rid of them sent a message that she was more important?

    * he considers them part of his childhood, a childish thing to be left behind when he enters a mature relationship?

    There are a lot of reasons people clean out their lives when entering a new relationship, and not all of them are healthy, or even based on realistic expectations.

    Repressing a fetish, for example, will eventually put pressure on the relationship; if he didn’t tell her about it to begin with, when he finally has to admit he needs it (despite thinking he could live without it), she may find out she can’t do that for him, that wasn’t what she signed on for, and that’s the end of the relationship.

    So I worry.  The whole debate about porn versus romance is a distraction.

    And if the answer is, no, he wasn’t addicted to porn, then who cares what he did with it?  And if the other part of the answer is, no, she isn’t addicted to books, then who cares if she has a big pile of them, so long as they have storage for it, and always plan on storage for it?

  15. 15
    Faellie says:

    Pron which consists of pictures (moving or still) of real people is exploitative of the persons depicted and degrading of both the persons depicted and the persons seeing it.  It should be avoided at all costs.  Looking at it cannot be justified for any reason bar urgent necessity by the professionals controlling it (such as police working on prosecutions of the sort of stuff that involves children or unconsented violence).

    Stories involving plot and character are an entirely different matter.  The romance genre is, essentially, the emotional equivalent of the action-based and plot-based thriller.  Romances and thrillers, and all other forms of fiction, are a part of the story-telling imperative that has been an essential part of human culture as far back as anyone can tell.  Human beings, and human societies, can live without pron, and are better for it, but they cannot live without stories.

  16. 16

    I think this boyfriend displays typical addict behavior.  Recovering from addiction is hard.  The brain wants whatever makes it feel good, even months or years after cessation.  It’s natural for an addict to feel resentful of people who can enjoy the things they can’t.

    I agree with Sarah that it’s HIS problem, and probably a cry for help.  Men often don’t want to admit they’re struggling.  So they look around and find another outlet for their frustration.  Is this fun to deal with?  No.  But I think it can get better with time and open communication and understanding.

    If he was an alcoholic, and she was drinking in front of him or leaving bottles around, I would find that insensitive.  This is not the same thing, but it’s still a trigger for him.  Maybe she can keep the really explicit books/sexy covers out of sight.  Get an ereader.

    I also read somewhere that addicts who engage in vigorous exercise are more likely to stay clean.  Educating him about romance vs. porn is great, but getting away from the trigger, going for a walk/jog etc, or trying to talk it out might work too.

  17. 17
    Mireya says:

    My first reactions after reading the post were “did she ask him or express to him that she wanted him to get rid of the porn that he is now pretty much telling her he wants tis for tat?” followed by “another one that doesn’t have a clue as to what romance is”.  Either way, I have to agree that this is an incomplete picture.  Though the first reaction among many is bound to be “how dare he ask her to stop reading whatever she wants to read” or “how dare he call romance, porn” fact remains that there are bits and pieces of information missing from this picture.  On a side note, it is rather obvious that the person that sent the question does not know herself how to define romance.  If she did, she would have been able to explain to him and even illustrate the difference and throw the ball back to his side of the court.  Since I started reading romance (via erotic romance at first), to this day I continue to see people interchangeably using the terms “erotica” and “porn/smut” to refer to erotic romance.  And of course, there are those that refer to all romance as “porn for women”.  I think that the first line of defense is for the fan of romance to be able to say “you are wrong, this is why and you should read this and this to see what I am talking about”.  That way the argument that romance is porn can’t be used as any sort of excuse to manipulate someone or to distract attention to the real issues behind whatever is being argued about.  I am no expert, but I’d like to see a bit more clarification on the part of the person who sent the question to get a more complete scenario.

  18. 18
    Isabel C. says:

    What it comes down to, for me, is that girlfriend != therapist. If the guy had come out and said “Hey, these covers are triggering for me—can you go for something less explicit, or get e-book versions?”, that would be fine. But I don’t think his girlfriend should have to do the heavy lifting and put up with oh-my-God-stop-reading-porn discussions in order to get him there. If the guy can’t verbalize his issues in an adult manner, he shouldn’t be in an adult relationship.

    The porn v. romance thing is pretty peripheral as far as I’m concerned.

    Also what kimsmith said.

    Faellie, we obviously have very different views of porn, and that’s fine, and also pretty tangential to the main discussion. However, I think it’s worth pointing out that I have friends who did work in adult modeling, and who don’t feel either exploited or degraded by the experience as a whole; I also, on behalf of myself and other friends, do bristle a little at the implication that enjoying certain forms of media degrades us.

  19. 19
    Heather says:

    So if romance books are off limits, would that mean any books with sex scenes are off limits? Horror, thrillers, mysteries, “literary fiction” – all of those genres have books where two (or more) people get it on. Does that mean those books would be off limits as well? If he truly had an addiction to porn (and I’m one of those who don’t equate watching porn to an automatic addiction), then good on him for taking steps, but that doesn’t mean that you have to eliminate all references to sex in your book. That’s like if he were a recovering gambler and wanted you to stop playing solitaire on the computer because it has cards in it so it’s “like gambling”.

    I think you should really reconsider this relationship with him, but not that he is necessarily an abuser (although abusers do like to control others, so watch out.) This guy sounds like someone who will always keep a scorecard in the relationship, where the relationship is built on quid pro quos. He did something for you (gave up porn), then you will have to do something equally as important for him. Before he takes out the garbage, does the dishes, washes the laundry, he may just ask himself what have you done for him, and if you hadn’t done something that he considers equal, he’s going to hold it against you until you balance the equation. And if it’s something bigger like children, relocating due to a new job, or buying the house you like instead of the one he likes, he’s going to expect you to give up something he considers equally as important to you, and honestly that is a terrible way to conduct a relationship. No good, healthy, longterm relationship is 50/50 all the time, but he may try to make it that way because that is the “fair” way to have a relationship. Trust me, it’s not.

  20. 20
    Janne Lewis says:

    I’m not a psychologist and I don’t have any training as a mental health counselor, but as a writer I have to probe the actions and thoughts of my characters and that makes me wonder what lies at the core of Conflicted’s boyfriend’s demands. It could be that he is less interested in controlling Conflicted and more concerned about protecting himself. Maybe he is insecure about the physical perfection of those half-naked men on the romance book covers. Maybe he worries that he can’t possibly be the kind of perfect hero/lover Conflicted reads about—and that could mean worrying about his sexual performance but also about his ability (and willingness) to offer the emotional intimacy that is at the heart of a good romance novel. Maybe he realizes that watching porn limited his ability to connect to real women—people who are not physically perfect or constantly in heat—and he worries that Conflicted is similarly unable to really love him with his flaws because he isn’t the hero type.  Conflicted’s assurance that she loves him the way he is, that she can differentiate between idealized fictional relationships and real life, might remove the threat he feels. If it doesn’t, she has to seriously think about what that means for all aspects of their relationship. Just my two cents.

  21. 21
    Vixenbib says:

    The debate about porn and romance may – or may not – be a distraction for Conflicted. 

    Yes, we only have one side of the story here – but someone has asked for advice and we can, individually, choose to offer our opinion, based on what she’s told us.  It is also possible to offer opinions on what we haven’t been told. Whatever, they are only opinions.  No-one has a monopoly on The Truth.  Even if we were to hear both sides of the story, we could still only offer opinions.  I write this because some people sound so bloody sure that they are right and anyone who has a different opinion is wrong!  My hackles rise. I hate being dictated to.  I’m guessing that Conflicted doesn’t want to be dictated to, either.

    I

  22. 22
    romantic@heart says:

    I think the difference between porn and sex is simple. Porn is all about sex and/or stimulating the sex organ. Period. Romance novels stimulate the emotions as well as the mind. When I read a romance novel, I immediately recognize the heroine as someone I want to root for or someone too stupid to live and one I don’t want to have any part of. Same with the hero – a champ or a chump. The plots (or lack thereof) in the romance books speak to my imagination. They can be funny, sad, horrific, scary, educational, even a public safety announcement at times. Even going so far as – everything I need to know to recognize manipulative, abusive, masochistic, sadistic men/predators or my ideal boyfriend/husband I learned from a romance book.  Porn is geared up towards one thing – orgasm and how you achieve it.

    But, the question really shouldn’t be about whether romance books are pornography, too. The question should be is it addictive, too? If one is constantly buried in her books, spending money she couldn’t afford and neglecting her responsibilities, then it’s equally as destructive as porn and one should walk away from it. But, while men tend to have porn take over their lives, most women use romance novels as an escape for a few hours here and there away from either the daily monotony or stress of their lives.

  23. 23
    romantic@heart says:

    Ooops. Forgot to add my ‘advice.’

    Conflicted,

            He got rid of his porn stash because he was addicted to it. If you aren’t addicted to your romance novels, why must you stop? If he wasn’t addicted to porn and it wasn’t an issue in your relationship, would you have asked him to stop reading porn for the simple reason that he has them? If not, then he shouldn’t ask you to stop reading something enjoyable – but not harmful (to your relationship) – either.

  24. 24
    Lynn M says:

    I’m with Heather in that this situation smacks of resentment on the part of the boyfriend more than any kind of genuine concern. While he may not admit it – or even realize it – I see his asking/demanding that she give up romance novels as an expression of resentment because he gave up his porn. Especially given his lack of knowledge about romance books – that some don’t contain any sex whatsoever – and that he’s basing his opinion on the covers of a few, his argument comes over as petulant. If I can’t do/have what I love, then you can’t do/have what you love.

    If he felt his porn habit had reached an addiction stage, which I define to mean that he found that he could not engage in healthy, mutually consensual sexual relationships without aid of the porn, then he was right to give it up. If she is spending more time reading romance novels to the detriment of leading a healthy life, then she should give them up as well. But that isn’t the case here. His request is unreasonable.

    All that said, perhaps it is fair for Conflicted to show sensitivity simply because she loves this guy and wants to support his efforts to stay away from porn. Perhaps the books with suggestive covers could be stored out of site. Perhaps she could invest in an e-reader and use ebook versions of the more sexually explicit titles. But if he truly requires her abandoning all of her romance novel reading as some grand gesture or to make things “fair” for him, then perhaps she should reconsider this relationship.

  25. 25
    JamiSings says:

    Things like this, because of my own experience with my first/only boyfriend, always set off warning bells for me. He tried to change me too and was “otherwise amazing.” I believe in God, he was an atheist, I like Star Trek, he loved Star Wars. He would call me “stupid” and “idiot.” Tried to change my taste in music – and he also tried to make me feel bad for reading romance novels. (I tried to solve the latter by loaning him one but he refused to read it. He did draw out elements of the cover.) Eventually the relationship went from verbal/mental abuse to physical. I dumped him when he left bruises on me.

    That’s why I think people shouldn’t try to change people except for dangerous things – like smoking, drinking to excess, drug use – that sort of thing. But don’t try to change what they read, watch, listen to, or even believe in. If you actually really love them you’re going to accept that they prefer Glenn Miller to Lady Gaga.

    If I had been in this woman’s shoes, I would’ve dumped him. But that’s just me.

  26. 26
    Chicklet says:

    I’m due to a meeting in five minutes, so this will be brief. My uncle is an alcoholic with 30+ years of sobriety achieved, but he never asked my aunt to not drink alcohol. She drinks very little, but they do have a few bottles of liquor and wine in the house, for when they entertain. If Conflicted’s boyfriend wants her to remove her romance novels because they may be triggering for him, that’s one thing; asking her to stop reading them entirely because *he* has an addiction to porn is something else.

  27. 27
    Jill Myles says:

    I agree that it sounds like an addiction thing to me, rather than a OMG HE THINKS ROMANCE IS PORN sort of thing. He’s a recovering addict – maybe it’s difficult for him to see you sitting there, reading things that in his mind, are titillating, and maybe he’s trying to help you by trying to ‘break you’ of this habit (whether right or wrong).

    My husband and I actually went through something similar with MMOs. We both played a ridiculously unhealthy amount. He realized it was unhealthy and quit, and eventually talked me into quitting. It was a combination of him being concerned for me (because he knew what the addiction was like) and because it was hard for him to stay focused with me sitting across the room gaming.

    I’m not saying it’s exactly the same thing and I’m not saying to give up your romances, of course. But you need to really talk this out (and even bring in a counselor if necessary).  Is it the covers? Is it what he thinks the content is? Would he object to you reading fantasy or literary fiction or is it just reading in general? You need to drill down and find out what the core issue is.

    Also? I suggest you get a Kindle/Nook/Sony. That way if you want to read something, he doesn’t have to see the cover and imagine things that are probably much worse than the actual content.

    Good luck, whatever you decide! It’s a tricky situation.

  28. 28
    RebeccaJ says:

    I’ve been married for 30 years and I’d like to weigh in on this a little differently. I don’t think the question is the porn/romance.

    You said he was ‘addicted’ to his porn. There is a BIG difference between enjoying something and being addicted to it, so the issue is why should you have to give up something you enjoy because your bf has an addiction?

  29. 29
    RebeccaJ says:

    I’m thinking this just sounds more like, “if I have to give up something, YOU have to give up something,” and that’s not how it should work. Unless you would rather read than be with him, unless you’d rather masturbate to a book than be with him and unless you’d rather talk to your book than talk to him, you shouldn’t have to justify reading.

  30. 30
    J says:

    Lots of good advice here, so won’t reiterate – but one thing bothered me.  Faellie said “Pron (sic) which consists of pictures (moving or still) of real people is exploitative of the persons depicted and degrading of both the persons depicted and the persons seeing it.  It should be avoided at all costs.  Looking at it cannot be justified for any reason…” – um, no.  Porn can be exploitive, but is not always.  There is no reason to avoid it, unless it bothers you.  Me…I like watching the occasional porn movie – I’m not addicted, but once in a while it adds a little spice to an evening, and as long as I (and a partner sometimes) enjoy it (and I’ve felt tingly or amused, but never degraded), that is reason enough. 
    (instead 23 – instead of being so judgemental, perhaps watching 23 minutes of a good porn flick might change your mind?)

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