Healthy living

Romantic fiction can be bad for your love life

Romantic fiction can be bad for your (actual) love life Promotes unrealistic expectations

Reading too much romantic fiction, such as the ever-popular Mills and Boon books, can be bad for women's sexual and emotional health, an expert has warned.

Modern women are still heavily influenced by the rose-tinted view of relationships found in the pages of romantic novels, relationship psychologist Susan Quilliam said.

The idealised version of love and sex promotes unreal expectations, she added, with the heroine inevitably looking forward to a life of multiple orgasms, trouble-free pregnancies and living happily ever after with her (usually rich) partner.

In some parts of the world, romantic novels make up nearly half of all fiction titles sold, and they're not doing women any favours, Ms Quilliam said.

"I would argue that a huge number of the issues we see in our clinics and therapy rooms are influenced by romantic fiction," she wrote in the Journal of Family Planning and Reproductive Health Care.

"What we see... is more likely to be influenced by Mills and Boon than by the Family Planning Association."

Ms Quilliam also criticised the novels for failing to promote safe sex.

"To be blunt, we like condoms - for protection and for contraception - and they don't, she said."

She pointed to a recent survey of romantic fiction titles which found that only one in 10 mentioned condom use. Often the heroine rejected using a condom on the grounds that she wanted "no barrier" between her and the hero.

And while the books have come a long way in terms of depicting a more realistic view of the world, with career women, sensitive men and even single parents, "still a deep strand of escapism, perfectionism and idealisation runs through the genre," she wrote.

She was also critical of the portrayals of non-consensual sex and female characters who are "awakened" by a man rather than being in charge of their own desires.

"Clearly those messages run counter to those we try to promote," Ms Quilliam said.

"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 concluded: "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."

This article was published on Thu 7 July 2011

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