Good morning! Everyone ready to point and laugh? Get your finger ready – no, not THAT one, the OTHER one – to mock with abandon specious research and shoddy statistics pointing out a supposed flaw in our love of romance novels.
Ahoy! What steaming pile of crap through yonder website breaks! Women still in grip of idealised love and sex, purveyed by romantic fiction.
Oh, no, are you ok? Surely you didn’t hurt yourself pointing and laughing already because there’s a LOT MORE COMING.
Susan Quilliam, who is not a scientist but instead a “broadcaster and agony aunt” ( the hell does that mean?!) and relationship psychologist who recently authored “The New Joy of Sex,” contributed this article to the Journal of Family Planning and Reproductive Health Care.
Mmmm. Irony. The author of a book about positive sexuality for men and women mocking and lambasting a genre that is also about… positive sexuality for men and women.
The summary of the article has the standard smacks of the genre: that sex and relationships are idealized, that women readers are too influenced by the genre and need to “put down the books – and pick up reality.”
Standard operating procedure – we can’t tell the difference between fiction and reality, and we’re more comfortable living in a fantasy world than dealing with our own problems. Bollocks rubbish horsecrap, all of it.
But this part really raised my brows:
“Above all we teach that sex may be wonderful and relationships loving, but neither are ever perfect and that idealising them is the short way to heartbreak,” she writes.
“And while romance may be the wonderful foundation for a novel, it’s not in itself a sufficiently strong foundation for running a lifelong relationship,” she says.
And there’s another more “worrying difference” between sexual health professionals and the producers of romantic fiction, says Ms Quilliam. “To be blunt, we like condoms – for protection and for contraception – and they don’t.”
She points to a recent survey of romantic fiction titles in which only one in 10 mentioned condom use, with most scenarios depicting the heroine typically rejecting their use on the grounds that she wanted “no barrier” between her and the hero.
The romance readers who responded to the survey understood that they were reading fictional accounts and that spontaneous sexual encounters were never risk free, but there was a clear correlation between the frequency of romance reading and negative attitudes to condom use, she says.
Point, laugh, and be baffled with me, won’t you?
I’m immediately suspicious of anything referencing “a recent survey,” because there are no sources cited. Who did the survey? Who participated? Four out of five dentists? What was this “survey” mentioned in the summary? What “research” or “Fresh hell” is this?
A longer article is available for those who seek it out – which someone did! Jonathan Allen, one of many scholars studying the genre at present, found the full article and reported that the “Survey” was as follows:
86 romance novels were surveyed, 8 excluded, sample determined by 78 published b/w 1981 and 1996; 46 authors 21 pubs.
No, no, don’t break things. Point and laugh, point and laugh. A survey of 78 novels from 1981-1996. Books that are 15 years old or more. That’s the “contemporary” portrayal of sexuality being discussed in this article.
As Angela James pointed out, “86 romance novels isn’t even one month of Harlequin releases!”
While we’re pointing and laughing at the idiocy of using a 15-20 year old book to judge what the genre is saying right now, let me just make sure to point out that YES CONDOMS are used in romance novels. They’re used frequently, in fact!
Even though, as Marina Braverman cited, condoms are the choice of only 16.1% of American women according to the 2006-2008 Guttmacher Institute study of women who practice contraception, they make a very frequent appearance in romance fiction.
Why? Because romance readers like to believe that romance heroes and heroines aren’t dumb. A sex scene in a contemporary-set romance without a condom or discussion of contraception means that the reader ultimately doubts the intelligence of both parties. Moreover, authors have been known to groan about writing the condom into the scene, even though it is expected, because the physical act of using a condom is somewhat awkward and not really that sexy. Sex scenes with contraception are tricky but expected by readers.
I’m more apt to notice if there is NOT a discussion or mention of condoms, and specifically condoms, because it’s not in the least romantic to read about people who are having sex with one another for the first time who do not think about pregnancy and STDs. Condoms take care of both issues in the mind of the reader without having to interrupt a sensual scene with a, “By the way, you got any diseases?” conversation appearing in the midst.
This entire article is factually wrong, poorly sampled, and based on outdated, specious research. There have been considerable sexual health and contraception method advancements since 1997. The same is true of the romance genre.
You know what makes me extra more pointy and stabby – sorry, laugh-y? This is a journal about a subject of which I think very highly. The study of family planning and reproductive health is, in a word, important. Crucial, even. Romance novels depict female sexuality in a frequently positive and empowering manner, and are one of the few forms of popular culture entertainment that does so.
So to have the sexuality judged on a very limited and outdated sample is disappointing enough that I’m thinking of using that OTHER finger. But I won’t.
Instead I’ll imagine judging the scientific research and work of every other individual who has contributed to the Journal of Family Planning and Reproductive Health Care based on the shoddy supporting research and crap thesis of this one article. I can totally judge the entire journal’s history and the credentials of every person who has written for it based on one article, right? Of course I can. It’s the Quilliam method! About as effective as the rhythm method!
More than anything, I wish that Susan Quilliam had a better and more recent understanding of the complex and positive portrayal of female sexuality in romance novels. By using an outdated sample, she’s maligned the genre, and judging by her credentials and expertise in women’s sexual health, she’d be a wonderful asset to our side of the argument in support of romance fiction.
Ms. Quilliam, if I can recommend novels that contradict the research you used, novels which feature positive portrayals of female sexuality, contraceptive use beyond mere condoms, and healthy sexual and emotional relationships, please do let me know. There are thousands.
Got one to recommend? Please feel free – I know you’ve probably got a suggestion list of ten in your mind already!