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Why Romance Novels Aren't Emotional Porn


Jun 7 2011
Just because such novels are about escape doesn't mean they are destructive.

I slink into bed, click on my light, and grab the book. Guilt shakes me a bit. After all I've read about these sorts of stories, I figure by the end I'll hate my husband or hunger for more of the escape they offer.

So why do I risk this? Because the night before, I had sat next to its author at a book-signing. Because she and I chatted and laughed for hours. Because I really liked her. And because I want to find out if it's true: Whether she, as a romance novelist, is really just an emotional pornographer.

The belief that popular romance novels are "pornography for women" has been around a long time. In my tenure as editor of Marriage Partnership magazine a decade ago, we ran stories of women addicted to romance novels, whose obsession with romantic ideals had destroyed their marriages. Other articles have claimed romance novels are sort of a gateway drug to actual porn for women. Others still say that even romantic comedies are a sort of emotional porn. And just a few weeks ago, popular Southern Baptist theologian Russell Moore wrote about a new book that equates romance novels with porn.

While Moore doesn't morally equate the two, he sees strong similarities. "Both are based on an illusion," Moore writes. Even with Christian romance novels, Moore says, "A lot of this genre … is simply a Christianization of a form not intended to enhance intimacy but to escape to an artificial illusion of it."

Hence, my guilt.

As it turned out, however, after finishing and enjoying my first, then second Christian romance novel—Yukon Wedding by my book-signing friend Allie Pleiter, and Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers—I still preferred my own husband to the books' hard-chested, rugged, rich, and righteous heroes. (I find it terribly sexy that my husband doesn't see me in need of constant rescue.) And even after two back-to-back romances, I wasn't compelled to rush out and buy more. I may be hooked on reading, but not on romance, per se.

Still, Moore's premise nagged at me. I did enjoy the "escape" and illusion the books offered. It's nice to enter a world where broken people get their pieces put back together.

So I asked Pleiter, a Chicago-based writer who boasts 12 published romance novels (plus 2 non-fiction works), a speech degree from Northwestern University, six translations of Beowolf, and a happy 21-year marriage, what she thought of the charges. I wanted to know what she had to say about those who claim her genre sets up women for unrealistic expectations and has the power to derail marriages.

From: June 2011

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