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Is romance "fiction"?

Friday July 8th, 2011

Romantic fiction is clouding many women’s views of love and sex because the genre idealises relationships, it has been claimed.

Broadcaster and agony aunt Susan Quilliam claims the rose-tinted view of relationships found within the pages of those books is not doing women any favours.

Writing in this month’s Journal of Family Planning and Reproductive Health Care, Mrs Quilliam says although romantic fiction has come a long way in terms of depicting a more realistic view of the world, there is “still a deep strand of escapism, perfectionism and idealisation runs through the genre”.

And the novels, which account for nearly half of all fiction titles sold in some countries, influence a “huge number” of issues in clinics and therapy rooms, she says.

“What we see ... is more likely to be influenced by Mills & Boon than by the Family Planning Association,” she writes.

Mrs Qulliam says the messages in the novels are opposite to what she and her colleagues promote, citing portrayals of non-consensual sex and female characters who are “awakened” by a man rather than being in charge of their own desires.

The books often depict unreal expectations, she claims, with heroines always achieving a life of multiple orgasms and trouble-free pregnancies. She also condemns romantic fiction writers for often snubbing condoms.

“To be blunt, we like condoms - for protection and for contraception - and they don’t,” says Mrs Quilliam, referring to a recent survey of romantic fiction titles in which only one in 10 mentioned condom use.

Romance may be a “wonderful foundation for a novel”, but it is not a sufficiently strong foundation for a lifelong relationship.

“I’m not arguing that all romantic fiction is misguided, wrong or evil - to do so would be to negate my teenage self as well as the many millions of readers who innocently enjoy romances,” Ms Quilliam writes.

“Sometimes the kindest and wisest thing we can do for our clients is to encourage them to put down the books - and pick up reality.”

He seized her in his manly arms and bent his lips to hers - The surprising impact that romantic novels have on our work J Fam Planning Reprod Health Care 2011; 37: 179-81

Tags: General Health | Women’s Health & Gynaecology

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