Wednesday, June 1

Romance Novels = Pornography... WHAT?

First, here's the link to the article: Romance Novels Can be as Addictive as Pornography.

I'd like to make it known that this article sees to have been 'heavily influenced' (a.k.a. plagerized) by this article: Erotica Breeds Dissatisfaction, the rebuttal to which is very well written here: There's a Plot; Erotica is Harmless.

And of course, from my favorite Romance Blog of All Time (Smart Bitches Trashy Books) comes this rebuttal: Shooting Fish in a Barrel with Addictive Romance Novels. Well said, well said. Personally I'd like to offer my own rebuttal to this idiotic theory with a short rant. Although I've far less experience that my beloved Smart Bitch Sarah Wendell, I shall endeavor to use my scientific viewpoint to add a new perspective.

First, this quote:
"Men are very visual, and viewing pornography produces a euphoric drug in the body. This drug is the reason pornography becomes addictive. When the natural high wears off, a man will crash and feel depressed (as happens with any drug) and crave another hit.
Women are more stimulated by romance than sex, so when they read romantic stories (and they don’t have to be explicit to work) they can experience the same addicting chemical release as men do."
Now, I don't claim to be a scientific expert on ALL neurochemicals, but I do know a shit load of information about this particular subject. First, I agree that everything said in that post is true, but the words are manipulated to make romance look bad. Endorphins are released in the brain during stages of sexual excitement AS WELL AS DURING VARIOUS OTHER ACTIVITIES, and no doubt reading romance and watching porn, for women and men respectively, produces those endorphins in the body.

There is no doubt in my mind that Endorphins are released in my brain when I read a romance because I AM so much happier when I'm done. But that doesn't mean I'm addicted. Endorphins are released after a long run, when eating chocolate ice cream, or when playing piano (if this is an activity you enjoy). For my mom, Endorphins are released while she reads a good mystery novel. Should my mother stop reading mysteries, should my father stop working on cars, simply because it makes him happy and releases a drug in his brain? Drugs, I hate to tell you, are naturally released in our body all the time - and there's little you can do to stop it. But really, why would you want to? Stress hormones like Cortisol or Epinephrine, happiness neurotransmitters like Serotonin and Dopamine, and countless other drugs are constantly being released by our pituitary or adrenal glands. Happy drugs, naturally made ones at least, are GREAT for your body. Why? I'll tell you.

When the human stress response system first developed in the primitive era, stress came in short bursts (a hunt or a predator) followed by immediate exercise and resolution. The exercise and resolution led to the decreased production of stress hormones (called catecholamines) and increased production of endorphins, effectively triggering the end of the stress-response system (aka no more stress). In our modern times, stress is never immediately resolved but has prolonged effects on our body that can lead to a variety of ill effects, some even fatal. Also, rarely is the release of stress hormones coupled with exercise. The hormonal imbalance leads to unhappiness and depression, as well as constant tension. Romance novels have the same effect on the brain as exercise does - it releases endorphins that combat the stress feeling and reducing the impact of the hormonal imbalance. With the correction of the imbalance comes reduced risks for any number of diseases, as well as a stronger immune system, decreased likelihood of heart attacks and obesity. In effect, reading romance novels is good for your health. Yes. That's right. Really.

 Furthermore, why is the release of endorphins in our brain considered porn? Why is it porn to read or view or do something that makes you happy?

Well, that's when the devil's advocate says that romance reading is harmful in the way mystery reading or piano playing are not. After all:
""In fact, some marriage therapists caution that women can become as dangerously unbalanced by these books’ entrancing but distorted messages as men can be by the distorted messages of pornography,” said best-selling author Shaunti Feldhahn, who studies the differences between men and women."
Women can become dangerously unbalanced by a lot of things, as can men. No doubt there are many unrealistic ideals in romance novels: Men that meet every ideal and never argue with their women about anything more than the type of dog they should own is admittedly unrealistic. I would agree that some women may harbor unrealistic ideals for the men in their lives - but I would never fault a woman for setting her standards too high, and high standards are exactly what romance novels inspire in women. Romance novels address social, emotional, and sexual issues for women in a society that is still too scared to teach its teens about condoms even as pregnancy rates rise. Romance shows women that they should expect a lot from their men and that they are worthy of the best in all areas.

Yes, a woman who expects a flesh and blood Fabio to ride in and save the day is unrealistic, but most romance heroines don't act that way and romance readers are inclined to follow in the footsteps of the strong, self-sufficient, successful, determined, motivated heroines in the novels they read. The year I began reading romance novels regularly in high school (my Junior Year) my GPA went from a 92 - 94 average to a 98 - 100 average. I strongly believe this is because the women I was reading about, and thus modeling myself after in my formative years, were very successful, inspiring, and hard-working women. Also, romance heroines don't (generally) give their favors away for free. At the time I began reading romance, the issue of whether to have sex with my boyfriends was pressing. Although I don't say that abstinence is the only way, I'm glad today that I saved myself for when I truly love someone. The heroines in my romance novels showed me through thought and action that making love required love, and that I shouldn't settle for anything less. What kind of porn is it that makes you want to love?

Well, Rose, you can't deny the effect romance novels have on relationships. For instance:
"“For many women, these novels really do promote dissatisfaction with their real relationships,” Slattery wrote."
""Women involved in pornography have a hard time keeping their family together,” she said."
First of all, good. Men get a lot of slack these days for much of their atrocious behavior, and dissatisfaction with a relationship can be a good thing. Romance novels can inspire dissatisfaction in women in abusive relationships by showing them what love and tenderness can be like. It can give these women hope for a better relationship and a better future. Women are told not to set high standards in their relationships and I say Why the Hell Not? Why shouldn't I expect my guy to be sensitive, caring, and kind or whatever other qualities I admire? Why shouldn't I expect love? Why shouldn't I have high standards? Romance novels inspire readers to recognize their own worth. How is that dangerous?

Second of all, we've already debated the point of pornography. And for that second quote I'd like to steal a line from Sarah Wendell: Keeping the family together is no longer the responsibility of the woman. In the 1800s through the 1960s, sure, but women today do not hold all familial responsibility. Women and men hold responsibility for keeping the family together and I know many a happily married, voracious romance novel reader with a large, well-loved family. Women who read romance are often more informed on the trials of love, but are also more sensitive and forgiving. Also, the romance community is a large support network of bloggers, reviewers, readers, and authors and any romance reader has a huge community to fall back on when having relationship issues. Most often, when I talk to a fellow romance reader, a romance book gives them the courage to address and work through issues with their spouse. Romance novels give women a voice, which can often keep a family together in times of trouble.

Well, that's all well and good, Rose, but romance novels still bring readers into a fantasy and away from the real world. In fact:
"Romance novels are a booming business. Analysts believe book sales are increasing because romance novels provide a perfect escape during tough times."
Doesn't fantasy, sci fi, mystery, self-help, video games, TV shows... hell anything that one reads or watches or does inspire escape? That's why people read! Any fiction novel, and many nonfiction as well, is an escape from the real world even though some argue that genres other than romance address more 'real' issues. To this I say, "Pick up a copy of Lori Foster's When You Dare and read about the horrors of human trafficking. Pick up a copy of Stormfire by Christine Monson and recognize how far women's rights have progressed since Catherine's time. Read a historical and learn about the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror from a personal view of a peasant or lady. Look at what life was really like for a 1950's housewife. Delve into a contemporary and you'll learn about a variety of issues, from criminal to social to economic. Everywhere you look in a romance novel, there are real-life issues and learning to be discovered if you're not too dim-witted or myopic to look for them.
Romance is not the only genre that inspires escape, and I think the writer of our article that compares Romance to Porn would do well to remember that. Our real lives are full of disappointments and stressors, at our job or in our home. Often, an escape can help us deal helpfully with those issues by relieving some of the tension we feel and making our lives feel more bearable.

And I'm going to stop here, even though there's so much more to say. PLEASE check out that Smart Bitches link  - it's a well written and eloquent reply to this moronic article. And please, for the love of... well... love, KEEP READING ROMANCE. People of the world are too scared to talk about love or sex or, good heavens, enjoying it for any reason other than procreation. This is especially true for women, who are expected to be chaste and pure and therefore not enjoy sex. But romance readers are slowly cultivating a society in which love and women that won't settle for anything less are acceptable. Keep reading and teach your children the same love and respect for love.


  1. A clever and well-written post on a hot topic. I've been thinking about writing a rebuttal of that article ever since it came out!

  2. Thanks, Cody! I'd love to read your rebuttal if you ever get around to writing it - send me a link!


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