Shooting Fish in a Barrel with Addictive Romance Novels

ETA: Thanks to Carolyn Jewel for the link: it seems most of this article is plagiarized from a letter to the editor from 2007. OH THE HILARITY. So not only does Sayer Giles have her head up her bum BUT she’s a plagiarist, too? WOW. JUST WOW.

Another day, another disparaging article about romance novels. If you haven’t seen it, here’s the link that set Twitter on fire this morning and insulted so many of us who read and write the genre: Romance novels can be addictive as pornography.

What set my hair on fire about this article is that this is EXACTLY the attitude I was trying so hard to combat in my upcoming book, the one where romance readers and authors worked together to help me defend against this crap.

At least it’s a bit more rare to see the asshattery displayed in flaming colors like this. Used to be weekly. Now my blood pressure has time to level out to somewhat normal numbers.

Kimberly Sayer Giles, of LDS Life Coaching, outlines that romance is porn, some women are addicted to it, and conveniently she has a few steps toward wearing yourself off the romance now that she’s insulted us all most thoroughly.

First, I have a question: LDS Life Coaching? LDS as in Latter Day Saints? Is there a Mormon prohibition against romance novels or fiction depicting sex? I know of some of the other Mormon prohibitions but am unfamiliar with any regarding sexuality in fiction or romance specifically. Sandy Kidd tweeted that, “sex depictions are taboo, even between married het couples in romance books.”

Yet Laura Hunsaker’s sister pimped Hunsaker’s books to her LDS book group (nice sister!). And Andria Robb responded that she’s Mormon and has “never been told that I can’t read romances. It would be a very sad day for me if I couldn’t.”

Agreed, ma’am.

So it might be somewhat narrow set of religious prohibitions or interpretations that serves as the motivation for this article, but I suspect not. I think it’s more that Sayer Giles has her head up her ass and is so wrong I’m not even sure where to begin to try to flag her back to reality.

I doubt it is even worth it to try, since it’s one long crazy fiesta. Maureen Johnson likened finding the crazy parts to an Easter egg hunt where the eggs are huge.

Like, the size of Yugos, says I.

Citing sources from Focus on the Family, a conservative Christian site that provides “Christian advice on marriage, parenting and other topics,” Sayer Giles backs up her porn-for-women-therefore-it’s-bad argument with specious supporting evidence.

Dr. Juli Slattery says that a male looking at porn experiences a “neurochemical” reaction while women experience that same high reading a romance – and thus “experience the same addicting chemical release as men do” when they view pornography.

Wow. That there is some science.

Sayer Giles continues that all that romance promotes dissatisfaction with real relationships because real life doesn’t measure up to the fantasy.

Here’s my favorite part: A pornography addiction counselor named Vicki Burress also equates pornography with reading romances, then says that “Women involved in pornography have a hard time keeping their family together.”

I refuse to debate the idea that a woman’s responses to anything are “emotional” or the idea that romance is pornography, because it’s a tired, lame argument. And it’s dumb.

And wrong.

And the responsibility of holding a marriage together falls on both parties, by the way. Not just one.

I’m also not going to say, “Oh. It’s Mormons” as some sort of explanation because there are many Mormon readers and writers of romance whom I suspect disagree mightily with this argument.

I am going to say the following, again and again and again: romances are good. Romances are fantastic, in fact. There are terribly few places wherein women’s emotional experiences, personal troubles and intimate sexuality are portrayed favorably.

In this slackass excuse for journalism, Sayer Giles writes, “Women may find their standard for intimacy begins to change over time because may not be able to get as satisfied with their partners as they can reading a book.”

Well, hold on a minute, there. Actually, yes. We do learn that there are some behaviors and habits we should not be satisfied with. And many of us learn to think better of ourselves from romances.

So we may find that we are not satisfied with the intimacy of our relationships – but I don’t think the automatic next step is cheating. It might just be asking for what we’d like in a relationship, and standing up for ourselves and our own desires. Being inspired to be the strong heroine of our own lives is quite a coaching-worthy goal, isn’t it?

Let me quote Robyn Carr’s contribution to “Everything I Know About Love, I Learned From Romance Novels,” because she said it best:

… what do we learn from romance novels that we shouldn’t get over?  When our heroines walk away from lying, cheating, abusive relationships, our readers stand up and cheer!  When our heroes fail to fall for mean, selfish, manipulative women, our readers applaud! 

Men and women in real life and in romance novels find themselves trapped in unhealthy, destructive relationships all the time, and when they choose to believe they deserve love, respect and healthy, enduring relationships, when they reclaim their lives and demand only excellent treatment and a love they can fully trust, life is good.  Readers are not only satisfied – they use those characters as role models. 

What saddens me most is that this is a “life coach” writing this article. Yes, by all means, let’s tell women who read about commitment, emotions, sexuality, trust, honor, and happiness that they have a problem and can’t stop themselves. Let’s treat our indulgences and our happy interludes as something to be ashamed of.  Let’s shame those who read regularly about fidelity, courage, honesty and strength. That’s good coaching.

But then, I agree with Susan, who said via Twitter that the “article read to me like fear-mongering by those threatened by female empowerment.”

Ayup. I can see that point, clearly.

But what makes me even more discouraged is that somewhere, a person is going to read this and might think this is good advice, that romances are terrible and destructive, and stop reading them, even though they made her happy. Or, a reader is going to be told to stop reading them, or made to stop.

The likelihood of that person reading this page along with that pile of festering tripe is slim, but let me say this anyway: Romances are not bad for you. There is nothing wrong with you for liking them. There is nothing wrong with you for exploring different worlds, different relationships, different emotions, different personal experiences through fiction, and if romances are your preferred way to be entertained, more power to you.

In fact, around here, and on many, many other sites online, there are thousands if not hundreds of thousands of readers who love romances as much as you do, who understand that they make you happy. Welcome. We’re glad to have you with us.

There is nothing wrong with wanting to be happy. You and your romances are awesome, just the way you are.



Ranty McRant

Comments are Closed

  1. Shai says:

    As I Twitterpated earlier, after reading that article, I now wonder if reading fiction about aliens will make me be dissatisfied with being human?

  2. Sara H says:

    Thank you, thank you THANK YOU!
    Excellent article. Now I don’t feel like punching.

  3. Sad thing is I had this same argument with a childhood friend who just couldn’t get over I was writing “those books”. Because (and she is a very devoute woman to her faith) books she’d read “like those” tended to take her mind away from her purpose of serving the Lord. OK. Sure. What works for you works for you. But PLEASE don’t tell me that “those” books are bad for everyone because they don’t work for you. That’s the part that really tips me in to *foreheaddesk* mode.


    I totally agree with everything you just said. The whole article was too Victorian for words. If women would learn to understand sexuality in a responsible manner and teach their daughters to have the same viewpoint, articles like this might not even be thought of. I’ve read romance novels since I was 14 (I’m 22 now). And because of that, I have formed my own standards and views of relationships and I won’t settle for what is easiest as I see a lot of my friends do. I don’t expect my future husband (whoever he may be) to look like a romance hero, but I do expect him to treat me with the respect (both in and out of bed) that a romance hero would. When will all women stop believing that they don’t deserve to enjoy their sexuality? When will they learn that the only shame comes from not discussing it? It’s like refusing to say Voldemort’s name.

  5. Scraps says:

    Duuuude….my husband loves it when I read romance novels.  He get’s jumped more often.  Sounds like something good to me.  What a jackwad.

  6. Sharon says:

    Oh, why stop at porn?? I mean, all those crazy, over-the-top thrillers fostering vicarious adrenaline rushes, aren’t they “addictive” too? And how about all that holier-than-thou, uber-pious religious reading? Doesn’t that create an emotional/spiritual high of sorts? What about those contentious, vitriolic political publications and blogs? Don’t they provide an echo-chamber that can be powerfully addictive?

    Heck, ANYTHING can become a drug—anything. Reality TV, religion, politics, food, shopping, exercise, collecting weird objets d’art. But that’s a personality flaw. That’s the person. Not the material (yes, I know, heroin, et al., but that’s a chemical substance designed to create a chemical high and serves no other purpose).

    If a person finds his or her regular reading material is becoming an issue, then by all means they should distance themselves from it, or change it up, or balance it with something else, but they have no right to claim the material is always dangerous for everyone else.

    Personal responsibility folks. It’s a wonderful thing…

  7. shiloh says:

    Here’s my favorite part: A pornography addiction counselor named Vicki Burress also equates pornography with reading romances, then says that “Women involved in pornography have a hard time keeping their family together.”

    Well, that sucks.  And just think, my and my guy have been together since high school, and are coming up on our 15th wedding anniversary.  We’ve got three kids, too, who seem so happy (spoiled rotten) and well-adjusted.

    Guess they are all FAKING it… wwwwwaaahhhhh!!!!!

  8. canadacole says:

    This romance-loving Mormon girl is appalled.  APPALLED.  As if Glen Beck didn’t make us look bad enough.  Just remember that there are wack-a-doodles in every group, please.  I wonder what this article will do to the small but successful LDS-romance genre?

    Captcha: Mean33…this ridiculousness makes me feel at least 33 types of mean.

  9. Therese says:

    This made me want to cry. Romances get such a bad rap. And why? Because it makes us happy? Ugh. I can’t even continue getting upset about this or I’ll never stop. Great post. I like your final comment. Your final paragraph.

  10. Daisy Harris says:

    Having worked for an addiction non-profit and done actual addiction research…with, like, numbers and pictures of brains and stuff…my patience for this type of thing is wafer-thin.

    There are no numbers whatsoever to back up the idea that romance breaks up marriages. I’m sure that somewhere there’s a depressed person reading romances as a way to escape- same as depressed people watch too much TV. But overall, the numbers show that romance is beneficial to relationships.

    Not that this matters. People with a theory and a prejudice will spout any faux science they can to back up their beliefs.

  11. PK says:

    I read this article and was saddened and angered, like you, that it was written by a woman who professes to be a life coach. Instead of being glad that her clients could read about positive role models and outcomes to desperate situations illuminated in good lights, she’s quoting fake science and narrowly-focused study groups (who, herself and some cult activists?).

    And Robyn Carr’s quote from EIKAL is totally apropos.  One of these days, maybe the asshattery will cease.

  12. Matt says:

    So, being and male, I’m okay right? 😛

    Seriously, articles like this tick me off more than works can express! This isn’t the 1800s, we need to quick acting like it.

  13. What I found so disquieting about it wasn’t even the tired old comparison of romance to porn, but the underlying indictment of fiction in general as a waste of time, a substitute for real life.  We’re told to learn to play an instrument or read a self-help book, to “invest in your real life, not fictional characters”. 

    I don’t understand the implication of either/or, that it’s us or the characters, a fictional shadowland or “real” life.  Personally, I find reading fiction an investment in my own life, a means to stretch my imagination, challenge my preconceptions, view life through other pairs of eyes. 

    But maybe that’s because I’m already an addict….

  14. I don’t think it’s worth giving her the airtime. It’s complete nonsense, and that’s all there is to it. Not worth getting worked up about and definitely not worth linking to.

  15. Anna says:

    KSL is owned by the LDS Church. So it isn’t surprising that they would run this type of story.

  16. Karen S. says:

    As I mentioned on twitter, if someone is addicted to romance novels to the extent of ignoring real life, the problem is not with the novels, it’s with them.  Romance novels are just the form of escapism that grabbed them; it could have been a TV show, a video game, a fandom, anything that took them out of their everyday life.  Not that escapism is a problem, as long as it doesn’t negatively affect real life.

    Also, I totally support what Robyn Carr said in the quote above about what the good ones say about what we should want in relationships in general; when it comes to specific plots or characters, though, they’re *constructed to a be a certain way* by the author.  How well they’re constructed and how well they resemble real people depends on the author, but the fact remains that the plot and characters are created to go a certain way.  Real people, not so much, unfortunately. 😀

    And that commenter who says she was addicted to them when she was younger and therefore was waiting for someone to “save” her makes me facepalm.  Hard.  Nice that she’s learned the lesson now, but a) has she read any recent romance novels? and b) depending how young she was, maybe that was more the fault of being a teenager/young adult, rather than the romances.

    (I’ll avoid commenting on the commenters’ discussion of Twilight in this context.)

  17. Amelia James says:

    Oh how sad. I grew up listening to that BS. My mom would probably believe every word of that article. That’s exactly why I haven’t told her I write romance novels. It makes me sad. It makes me angry. It makes me disgusted. Wow. I just don’t know what to say.

  18. Laurel says:

    I’ve been close to people who have struggled with addiction. The comparison of reading habits to the hell they went through and the struggle to regain control of their brain chemistry is beyond absurd.

    I’m pretty sure no one ever died from consuming too many romance novels at the same time.

  19. Jenn LeBlanc says:

    I have one thing to say about this mess. Maybe two. I’ll try.

    1. I had never read a romance until three years ago and now am I not only happily obsessed, but I am also an author.
    2. Three years ago I was downloading divorce paperwork. Today I have never been happier in my marriage. It is directly related to the romance novels I read. Directly. I won’t go into detail here.

    LDS? Really? Since when do we listen to them.

  20. Minx Malone says:

    It’s hard to believe I’m still reading this kind of thing in 2011.  I feel like my brain just regressed 20 years reading that article.

    Her awesome-sauce heavily biased empirical data aside, why are only women questioned when they enjoy something?  I’ve NEVER seen this attitude applied to stereotypically male driven fiction.

    Are all those mystery/thrillers fueling future serial killers?  Are the political conspiracy tales a threat to our government?

    The whole thing is so ridiculous it makes my head hurt.

  21. LOVE this post! In fact, I blogged my outrage as well, today. I love how supportive the romance reading and writing community is, and how fiercely protective we are of the genre we love! Ms. Sayer Giles sounds scared to me. And when faced with feelings she felt were sinful, she resorted to lashing out.

  22. Sharon says:

    I’ve seen this from Catholic quarters, too—some of the more rad-trad Catholic convert/revert circles condemn romance novels as porn, too, although they focus (of course) on the physical sex. Georgette Heyer is okay, but Julia Quinn is not, for example. Because, you know, sex, our bodies, nekkedness = necessary evil for procreative purposes only. Any depiction of a woman actually enjoying sex is heresy. /rolleyes.

    But they really, really like books and movies with lots and lots of gratuitous violence in those circles. Go figure.

  23. Honestly, I was waiting for the ‘it’s a joke’ comment at the end of the article. All the way through I was convinced it was a wind up. Guess the joke’s on me.

  24. ashley says:

    I HATE when people say that romance novels make women dissatisfied, or give them unrealistic ideals for marriage.  Every time I read a good romance I’m reminded of why I love my boyfriend, and of how he has so many of the qualities that a romance hero has.  I wish people would stop using this stupid argument

  25. As if Glen Beck didn’t make us look bad enough.

    He’s a Mormon?! I do feel bad for you….

    Not to be too crude, but romance novels and romantica and erotica does have a big effect on my relationship with my husband…it makes me want to jump his bones more! Not the fantasy man in the novel, but my flesh-n-bone hubby of nearly 16 years.

    How is romance porn? It isn’t even as graphic as your traditional XXX porn.

  26. Jenn LeBlanc says:

    “LDS? Really? Since when do we listen to them.”

    I apologize, that was little and callous, I shouldn’t have added that last comment about LDS and it isn’t something I generally do. Generalize. Because generalization is not okay.

    My problem is with the article and the writer directly, not the LDS church or its members. Entirely inappropriate response.

    Apologies apologies apologies.

  27. Mireya says:

    God forbid that well-adjusted, intelligent, educated, happily married women read romance.  God forbid that well-adjusted, intelligent, educated, happily married men watch porn.  I wonder what would happen if that woman found out that a lot of women actually do like to read romance AND watch porn … and sometimes even watch the porn with their husbands… oh my …

    Joking aside, attitudes like the article’s author piss me off.  I read romance for escapism, the same reason why my husband reads sci-fi and fantasy.  Romance kept me sane when my mother got ill with cancer. 

    Anyway, I better go do some work, I feel my blood pressure getting “boily”.

  28. AllyJS says:

    I like how when you want to check the comments, the featured ones are what you see first. And they make the article’s author seem completely valid.


  29. DreadPirateRachel says:

    What I found so disquieting about it wasn’t even the tired old comparison of romance to porn, but the underlying indictment of fiction in general as a waste of time, a substitute for real life.  We’re told to learn to play an instrument or read a self-help book, to “invest in your real life, not fictional characters”.

    I completely agree. I would argue that some of these so-called “self-help” books can cause infinitely more psychological damage than any fiction; after all, fiction does not masquerade as truth, but self-help books claim to teach their readers the “right” way to live—as if there is a single, absolute, one-size-fits-all “right way.”

    Not only that, but I do play instruments (many of them); I have a very healthy and loving marriage (three years next month); I have many friends; I get along great with my family; I am a productive member of society, both holding a job and attending college; and when I have time, I read romance novels. Go figure.

  30. Matt says:

    Agreed with all that’s said!

  31. Sharon says:

    @Mireya—I’m as uncomfortable with linking romance to porn in your context as I am in the original context of this post. The porn industry vicitmizes women for male gratification (yes, I know, there are niche porn entities catering to women and to alternate lifestyles, but there’s victimization and abuse among those circles, too). Romance novels victimize no one, and promote healthy emotional and sexual relationships (again, I realize there are sub-genres that may not adhere to this, but they are the exception and I wouldn’t categorize them as “romance”).

  32. Isabel C. says:

    What Mireya said. I take issue with the assumption that *porn*‘s addictive, except in the sense that anything can be for the right personality.

    Honestly? Having romantic and sexual fantasies available—whether they’re porn, romance novels, or daydreams about Thor—probably has, indeed, made me a little more picky. If I have a fictional way to play out those urges, I’m far less likely to settle for an evening with Schlubby McDoughFace and His Unfortunate Facial Hair Stylings.

    Not really seeing how that’s a bad thing.

  33. Keneisha says:

    Honestly, I don’t read Romance novels, However, I do like my novels to have a bit of romance in them! And, as a young girl who LOVES to read, I also believe that no one should be told what they can or can not read because a few people in their religion look down on it! That’s almost as bad as burning books because you believe your God would not want you reading them! In truth, reading is knowledge and knowledge is power! People fear power. Reading romance novels or any type of novel where a female has power can be scary to some. But I can honestly say that anyone refusing to allow people to read certain types of novels, or refuse to read themselves, is missing out. I come from a broken family and for the longest time I refused to have a relationship with anyone thinking that it was just going to end up like my parents but after I started reading stories about how not all relationships are as screwed as my families, it gives hope to girls who never cared to get married or even date because “All guys are the same”. Of course I know no guy is as perfect as the guy in the novels, Like right now, I am in the middle of Melissa Marr’s Wicked Lovely series and I’m sorry but it is rare that you will find the guy who will stick around and be with you even though you’re with someone else, but it shows a love strong enough to get through anything! Love is hard but it’s do-able! And to be honest, without novels like that I wouldn’t have started seeing me as the marrying type! I would have missed out on A LOT!

  34. PixelFish says:

    I can’t speak for all Mormons, but as an ex-Mormon, I remember being told in my youth that I shouldn’t read romance novels with explicit or implied sex, that they were just another form of pornography. The folks who told me this included advisors for the Young Women’s auxiliary, my bishop, multiple talks in church, seminary teachers, and home teachers. I’m sure it’s been referenced obliquely in conference talks too because everything taught generally trickles down from the GAs. This was common enough that I’m rather surprised that other Mormons escaped it—but things could have gotten more lax in the last twelve years since I left Utah.

    Because of this, I didn’t actually start reading romance much until I hit adulthood. I was terribly embarrassed by the covers, and so got most of my romance trickled in via other genres (like Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders or Elizabeth Peter’s Amelia Peabody books).

    I have to note that there are LDS folks who think that Titanic was pornographic because Kate Winslet was nekkid and that my Mormon mother thinks I’m an alcoholic because I have a drink once every four months or so. And when the Rodin exhibit went to BYU, apparently they had to put the Kiss somewhere in a room with warning labels so innocent children wouldn’t see it. My science fiction reading parents chastised me for giving John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War to my younger brother because the main character names his BrainPal “Asshole”. One of my friends in Utah has complained to me about the relative tameness of her book club—she got a lot of flack for suggesting books that were too secular. Lack of perspective may be a huge problem here.

    (As the person above notes, Georgette Heyer would be considered okay. Jude Devereaux, not so much. Jane Austen is revered. Harlequins from the era when kissing was followed by marriage would also be fine. Barbara Cartland of the breathy, ellipses-ridden heroines would pass. Tessa Dare or Eloisa James wouldn’t.)

    There are a number of LDS romance authors, but those that want to sell to a primarily LDS audience generally write books about LDS gospel principles like temple marriage, and the romance is secondary to the gospel aspects. (See Anita Stansfield and everything Jack Weyland ever wrote.) Those that write for a wider audience probably tend to have sex only occur after marriage and it’s probably implied more euphemistically.  (I can say from personal experience that when I mentioned I wanted to write books to my bishop, he asked if they would reflect my personal values and not get explicit or have swearing.)

    All that said, certain younger segments of the LDS population may look upon these warnings less authoritatively than our parents did. I know lots of my still-LDS friends read widely, and a lot of them are involved in fan fic communities. So it’s not all LDS folks….but these Victorian attitudes are still very much present in LDS-centric Utah.

  35. --E says:

    No religion is uniform across all its adherents. Several of the generally-more-conservative religions have in recent years seen a rise of extremely-more-conservative subgroups within them.

    These subgroups are very much about keeping teh wimmenz in the kitchen, and preventing them from discovering that sex is supposed to be more than just a service they are obligated to provide for their husband. The saddest part is that most of the women are brainwashed to think that this is right and normal.

    I wonder how many of these folks objected to romance novels back in the 80s when the rapist-hero was the standard.

  36. Tasha says:

    Don’t save all your indignation for the LDS.

    Juli Slattery, whose research is used as the basis for the article, is with Focus on the Family, so this seems to be an LDS article based on work by evangelical Christians.

  37. Sheila says:

    A nurse told me once, that a heart doctor at her hospital said “If it tastes good, spit it out, its not good for you.”

    I think a lot of people have that same attitude towards romance.  “If it makes you happy it can’t be good for you. Stop it.”  People associate happy with selfishness, not the healthy, growing, bettering oneself type of happy, but me me me first and always happy.

    Which is sad.

  38. Olivia says:

    What I found so disquieting about it wasn’t even the tired old comparison of romance to porn, but the underlying indictment of fiction in general as a waste of time, a substitute for real life.  We’re told to learn to play an instrument or read a self-help book, to “invest in your real life, not fictional characters”.

    Normally in these kind of romance hit-pieces, the contrast is between romance and “high” literature or literary fiction. Seeing the number of times this article recommended self-help instead was disquieting. The “solutions” they suggested were, in order:
    1. stop reading romance
    2. work on your real relationship
    3. find a real relationship, if you don’t already have one
    4. get a hobby
    5. read something else, like a self-help book

    Seems like someone’s really threatened by women who read and think for themselves.

  39. Hannah says:

    I refuse to take that article seriously becuase it’s written from such an anachronistic perspective that has nothing to do with my own life. Still, I agree that attitudes like that suck!

  40. Sharon says:


    Interestingly enough, Caitlyn Flanagan (uh-huh, that Caitlyn Flanagan) asserted several months back in one of her WSJ pieces that women want to be “taken” a la the rapier old-skool romance novels.

    So I’m guessin’ those scenarios are just A-OK with that crowd. Just as long as the woman never willingly enjoys sex.

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