Porn vs Romance Novels

From an ’04 book chapter by Cathy Salmon on porn vs. romance novels:

There is such a thing as a pornography consumed exclusively by women .. it is the romance novel.  Romance novels account for 40% of mass market paperback sales in the United States …. The realm of the romance novel, which might be called "romantopia," is a utopian erotic female counterfantasy to pornotopia.   Just as porn actresses exhibit a suspiciously male-like sexuality, romances are exercises in the imaginative transformation of masculinity to conform with female standards.  …

The public debate over pornography has been going on for years …. [and] had has covered everything from the treatment of women within the industry, to the image of women it presents and the impact of that image on men in the general population as well as the effects on women in the general population. … [Studies show] men who viewed sexually explicit films did not have negative attitudes toward women’s rights, nor were they more accepting of marital or date rape.  … [Regarding] the incidence of rape in several societies … increased availability was not associated with increased reports of rape. …

On a personal level, women often express concern over a partner’s regular purchasing of Playboy or watching pornographic videos.  In particular there is a verbalized concern that these things will effect their relationships.  … [And in fact] males that viewed images of attractive models reported being less committee to their partner after the viewing.  … Playboy centerfolds … got the same results.  … Modern media .. perhaps giving men an unrealistic view of how many attractive available women are out there.

If women complain porn hurts relationships by giving men unrealistic expectations, why don’t men complain romance novels hurt relationships by giving women unrealistic expectations?  Why so much more effort to regulate porn than romance novels?  Is it just that men complain less overall?  HT to Fortune Elkins.

Added 2Nov: Robert Wiblin found this Atlantic quote:

in a 2006 study, the Clemson economist Todd Kendall found that a 10 percent increase in Internet access is associated with a 7 percent decline in reported rapes.

 

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  • Stuart Armstrong

    I’d finger the mental-over-the-physical bias first. Porn can be appreciated by the dumbest, while romance novels require a bit more effort to craft and read (talking about middle of the road examples for both categories here).

    Is there some evidence for this factor being more important than gender? Well, to remove the variable, I’d suggest looking at the main male-female movie division: action movies versus romantic comedies. I never seen a bias in the treatment of these; if anything, action movies tend to get slightly better press than romantic comedies.

    Finally, there may be some justification for the mental-over-physical bias (or at least, there may have been until recently) in that it’s more possible to imagine someone dramatically changing their behaviour than someone dramatically changing their bodies.

  • ferridder

    Objection: Assumes facts (“romance novels hurt relationships”) not in evidence.

    Anyways, I’d imagine such complaints are made mostly in private, to family and friends, which is why they are hard to observe.

  • http://www.nancybuttons.com Nancy Lebovitz

    Maybe it’s just that you can see pornography without making an effort, so that if you’re the sort of person who’s annoyed by pornography, you can get angry at it in a moment.

    If you’re the sort of person who’d be annoyed by romances, you’d have to read whole novels to get the effect.

  • Lake

    @ Nancy Lebowitz: that makes lots of sense.

  • guest

    I’d also stress the mental-vs-physical distinction. Complaining about romance novels being porn-like would require a deep understanding of women’s erotic psychology. Very few men have this kind of savy – and those who do have no reason to complain, if you know what I mean.

  • http://denisbider.blogspot.com denis bider

    Romance novels are celebrations of naive infatuation and of being in love, rather than loving. The modern-age fad in our society is that being in-love is something to aspire to, rather than something to control and to avoid, for the irrational craziness that it is. Criticizing romance novels would basically go against a popular fad – it would be much like criticizing tech stocks in ’99 or criticizing real estate in ’04.

  • http://denisbider.blogspot.com denis bider

    In other words, it’s not a mental-vs-physical bias, it’s an anti-reason bias. Unreasonable people who don’t understand reason feel justified to be against reason, but reasonable people who don’t understand unreason do not feel equal passion to be against unreason.

  • http://www.nancybuttons.com Nancy Lebovitz

    Would people who opine about romance novels say something about how many they’ve read?

  • Aspiring Vulcan

    Excellent. Although I’m sure someone is going to say you’re a sexist or a misogynist.

  • Karo

    The “mental-over-physical” distinction mentioned above, and the lower immediate visibility of romance novels than pornography (written word vs images) sound like plausible explanations.

    But, additionaly, this might be another case where things pertaining to the male perspective are considered to belong inherently to the public space, to be adequate subject for debate and interest, while things pertaining to the female perspective are disregarded as inconsequential, innocent entertainment, on the lines of “makeup, cooking, and stain lifting advice”. Given this lack of serious treatment, romance novels and the unrealistic ideas they present are not perceived as a threat to masculinity.

  • Lake

    Another possibility: porn and romance novels aren’t exactly on a moral par. In particular, romance novels don’t have anything like the same association with the physical abuse of naive and/or troubled real people. Romance novels are purely imaginary in a way that porn isn’t. So perhaps some of the complaints about relationship harm are proxies for or overspill from other worries.

    • Jon

      Good point!

  • John

    Lake makes a good point, I believe.

    Porn is real, romance novels are fantasy. That only matters, of course, if porn actors\actresses actually are harmed (mentally or physically) in their line of work. If it were pure enjoyment and voluntary choice, without predation of the underprivileged or troubled people, then there would be no difference.

    Not to make a comparison I particularly agree with, but its kind of like violence – reading about violence is one thing, watching REAL violence (a la snuff videos) is completely reprehensible.

  • Chris

    Lake: I don’t buy the argument that people oppose porn because of “physical abuse of…people” (presumably during the filming of it). Most people who oppose porn also oppose hentai anime, computer generated porn and similar things.

    I actually think that concern for victimized actresses (why never the actors?) is just a rationalization, not the real reason for opposing porn.

  • Nick Tarleton

    Like Denis said, romance is an applause light, while porn/sex isn’t, but is obviously ‘impure’ (as in Haidt’s moral dimension).

  • curious

    there could also be a big discrepancy in the pervasiveness of exposure to romance novels vs. porn. i.e., i (female) have never read a romance novel and don’t know personally a single woman who does. on the other hand, every guy i know except one admits to watching porn occasionally. maybe more women have partners watching porn to complain about than men who have partners reading romance.

    of course my social circle is not any kind of meaningful sample, but it’s worth keeping in mind that high sales of romance novels don’t necessarily imply that a large percentage of women are reading them. it’s likely that a small, committed fan base makes repeated purchases within the genre.

  • http://users.ox.ac.uk/~ball2568/ Pablo Stafforini

    The modern-age fad in our society is that being in-love is something to aspire to, rather than something to control and to avoid, for the irrational craziness that it is

    I find it difficult to agree with this statement, since for me there is no other experience that feels as good as the experience of being in love. I concede, however, that for some people this doesn’t seem to be the case, and that in some cultures being in love is not regarded as a desirable state to be in (see Frank Tallis’s Love Sick).

    Although I’m a fan of Victorian love stories, I never read a romance novel, and know absolutely nothing about them. Still, every once in a while I wonder whether I should try one out, given the (vicarious) experiences that they are designed to induce in those who read them. Yes, these books are fine-tuned for the female brain, but just as some women enjoy porn, so maybe some men can find romance novels enjoyable. Any suggestions?

  • Tim Tyler

    Any suggestions – for “male” romance novels? Lolita? 😉 The Unbearable Lightness of Being (though that treads the line between romance and pornography a bit)?

  • Tyrrell McAllister

    Robin Hansen: If women complain porn hurts relationships by giving men unrealistic expectations, why don’t men complain romance novels hurt relationships by giving women unrealistic expectations?

    There are two questions here:

    (1) Do romance novels (respectively, pornography) lead women (respectively, men) to have false beliefs about the opposite sex?

    (2) Granting that that’s the case, why does this prospect worry women, and why doesn’t it worry men?

    I’ll pass over (1) and consider (2).

    Women don’t like how they are portrayed in pornography because women who act like the female characters in pornography receive a lot of social condemnation. They also receive a lot of sexual attention that many women don’t want to receive. In short, a woman who is widely thought to be like a female porn character can expect to be treated in a way that many women wouldn’t like. If the answer to (1) above is “yes”, then many women will be treated in a way that they don’t like because of pornography.

    Men, on the other hand, don’t mind how they are portrayed in romance novels because male romance-novel heroes share a lot of qualities with male heroes in general. Male heroes are generally bold, can-do types who get what they want and by praiseworthy means. It’s no mystery that a man wouldn’t mind it if romance-novel readers were biased to think that he’s like that. He doesn’t anticipate being mistreated as a result.

    Now, as in the case with women and pornography, the man might expect to receive more sexual attention as a result of this bias. But I think that the standard ev-psych account explains why the man reacts differently to this prospect.

  • Mikko

    of course my social circle is not any kind of meaningful sample, but it’s worth keeping in mind that high sales of romance novels don’t necessarily imply that a large percentage of women are reading them. it’s likely that a small, committed fan base makes repeated purchases within the genre.

    From http://www.rwanational.org/cs/the_romance_genre/romance_literature_statistics:

    Romance fiction: $1.375 billion in estimated revenue for 2007
    Of those who read books in 2007, one in five read romance novels. (AP-Ipsos Poll)

    I also read somewhere that all of top 10 book titles would be romance novels, so they are excluded from these lists.

    More likely explanation seems to be that in various social circles people who consume romance novels are frowned upon, and thus people are not forthcoming about their hobby. Which is interesting, considering the analogy with porn.

  • http://silasx.blogspot.com Silas

    Lake: In particular, romance novels don’t have anything like the same association with the physical abuse of naive and/or troubled real people.

    Okay, I can see that, but they’re still vulnerable to the argument about what kinds of behavior they encourage. Specifically, romance novels glorify what in the real world would be called rape, but in which the man is able to psychically (and correctly) infer that a woman’s resistance is non-serious.

    Think for a minute about what incentives that creates. “Hey guys! Women secretly want you to force sex on them when they overtly reject it! Now, make sure to adhere these constrictive date rules feminists came up with, okay?”

  • curious

    @Mikko: thx for the figures.

    AP-Ipsos also says that a quarter of women did not read a single book in 2007. http://www.iht.com/articles/ap/2007/08/21/america/NA-GEN-US-Reading-Habits-AP-Poll.php

    so if 75% of women are book readers, and one in five reads romance, then 15% of women are reading romance. anyone want to venture that 15% (or less) of men use porn? i think i’m going to stick with my guess that more women have a porn-watching partner to complain about…

  • curious

    also: the respective potentials for these media to a) become addictive and b) replace real-life sexual relationships seems very relevant here.

    [from my limited understanding of male porn use, i expect that] male use of porn often involves a sexual experience. men who are satisfying their drives through porn would have less need to do so with real-life partners, perhaps to the detriment of relationships. and people can become addicted to porn, to the extent that it interferes with the rest of their lives and rehab is required. woeful tales of relationships destroyed by pornography can be found all over teh internets.

    has anyone ever heard of relationships falling apart due to women being consumed with reading romance? how about women needing rehabilitation for romance-novel addiction?

    [criket. cricket.]

    • bob smith

      I read somewhere that 2/3rds of all divorces are initiated by women. Given your own bias, you can interpret this in one of two ways: 1. that men are lousy husbands and need to shape up or 2. that women have unrealistic expectations.

      I’d wager that women are to blame, because they have little reason to question their own expectations of men, which are never morally suspect, while men, who if they are 30 years of age, grew up with post 60s identity politics, talk shows about girls and self esteem, sensitivity training, and endless characterizations of piggish and insensitive men in movies and in sitcoms.

      I wouldn’t blame this on romance novels necessarily, but rather on the cultural context in which they are consumed. The same female desires that make the idealized men in romance novels so attractive are at the root of marital dysfunction to the extent that women are responsible for it.

      Remember that women live their lives in a sea of potential mates who drop out of the sky at a moments notice and jostle and compete for their attention. They are the courted, not the courters. Naturally, given this lofty position of power (and it is power), their needs, desires, and expectations would take precedent in all but the most uncommon of instances (namely, if the male in question is wealthy, powerful, uncommonly physically attractive, etc.).

      Of course women have unrealistic expectations of men and look for two dimensional representations of masculinity rather than real human beings, just as any man who expects a barbie doll has unrealistic expectations of women. If romance novels are not a cause, they are at least a symptom.

  • Lake

    I don’t deny that romance novels might be deleterious in their own way. But if Robin was looking to explain the different *quantities* of complaint associated with porn and romance novels, the fact that there simply are more reasons to complain about porn might supply a useful clue.

  • Ulrich_Roarke

    “If women complain porn hurts relationships by giving men unrealistic expectations, why don’t men complain romance novels hurt relationships by giving women unrealistic expectations?”

    Men don’t complain because the weight of the unrealistic expectations created by BOTH genres falls on women. For porn, there is the unrealistic expectation men have of a woman’s physical appearance and her psychology. When men seek this, women will attempt to achieve it, and, failing that (which they will), they will often blame themselves (for failing to achieve the physical ideal) and resort to faking what they can (the psychology of male sexuality), both of which will harm them psychologically. It’s true that many women will not fall prey to this, but many will, especially young women.

    Will men attempt to achieve the romance novel ideal? Pretty unlikely. First of all, as pointed out by others, men are not very exposed to the idea. They are almost certainly not reading romance novels, and they are probably not watching many romance movies. So they wouldn’t even realize there’s an ideal they’re failing to live up to. Second, it’s probably as hard to be a dashing hero as it is to be a beautiful nympho, and, because young men are not seeking female approval as much as young women are seeking male approval, “dashing hero” is on the bad end of a cost-to-benefit analysis. (You can, of course, dispute the reality of this distinction between male and female approval-seeking behavior, and also criticize it normatively for portraying women as helpless societal victims, but I think you’d be hard-pressed to argue it has zero truth to it. And I bet I can find great back-up in the Annals of Anecdotes and the nop-notch journal Psychology Today.) So, yes, it’s hard to be physically beautiful and change your sexual psychology, but vulnerable women will try themselves into a stupor, while men probably won’t know to try and won’t try if they know.

    So women are disappointed both by their failed expectations of themselves (due to porn) and their failed expectations of men (due to romance novels), and the weight of both disappointments falls on those women. Meanwhile, men are unaware of the romance ideal and simply disappointed that the women they have to choose from fail the porn ideal.

    • bob smith

      I like that you recognized your own assertion as bullshit and suffered a moments doubt, resulting in a disclaimer. Of course young men seek women’s approval, in fact they must seek it or else they remain virgins, “losers,” loners, and nerds.

      The weight of the courtship ritual – the responsibility of initiating it – is on young men, and it is up to them to figure out how to successfully make that happen in a culture that gives them only incoherent and contradictory signals regarding how to go about it. Socially stunted women don’t shoot up their colleges and remain virgins until age 40, they merely end up in relationships with men who don’t respect them. The point is that they are still capable of having relationships and have a far greater likelihood of acheiving at least some degree of intimacy. This is a far superior posittion to be in than the socially stunted male, No female is going to court him. He’ll likely just blow his brains out – oh wait, the male sucidie rate is four times that of the female sucide rate. I guess that’s how it works.

      You mentioned studies, there are quite a few interesting studies on gender differences in college freshmen. Almost every study has found that men report more difficulties making friends, more substance abuse, and a greater likelihood to think of themselves as “losers,” while women generally have an easier time making friends, reporting feelings of social satisfaction, and are more likely to report being in a relationship.

      Another great study shows that obese women have just as active sex lives as those who are thin, and may possibly be having more sex. Clearly, whatever social pressurs women may feel to be thin and attractive are exaggerated, while the male suicide rate and instances of lonely loser virgin males shooting up their schools suggests that social pressures applied to men *by women* are not exaggerated at all.

  • crush on lyle

    One can be opposed to porn in theory or porn in practice. Most reasonable feminists, as far as I know, if they are opposed to porn are opposed to porn in practice (anime would likely not be an issue) because the industry is completely controlled by men and exploitative of (actual) women. Romance novels do not exploit men.

    The argument that porn creates unrealistic expectations in men is a silly one, even if there is supporting evidence. People probably rate their own cooking as less satisfactory after viewing images of food from a fine restaurant … that doesn’t mean fine restaurants shouldn’t exist.

  • steven

    men who are satisfying their drives through porn would have less need to do so with real-life partners, perhaps to the detriment of relationships.

    I thought needy was bad.

  • http://chrisyeh.blogspot.com Chris Yeh

    There are male romance novels. The adventure/thriller is the male equivalent. Just substitute weaponry and killing for ripped pecs and slow dances.

  • Felix

    One complication with this post and some comments is the comparison, “Porn” versus “romance novels”. It might be better to compare “porn novels” to “romance novels”. That way, confusions such as comparing seeing with reading would go away.

    If you don’t know what you’re talking about, you can get a quick overview at your local supermarket. Both types of books are on sale there. The romance novels will be easy to spot, as they usually fill a section about 3 to 6 feet wide. For porn, look inside a few westerns, war, action, etc. books. You’ll find ones that are pure porn.

    What’s the difference between romance and porn novels?

    First, in a porn book, you have sex by page 3. Only the occasional romance novel has a sex scene in the first chapter. They *both* have lots of sex, though. (Guys, take note.)

    Porn books are written by guys. As you’d expect, the female characters are male in mind – in the same way that almost all characters in sit-coms are junior high school aged, actors and costumes notwithstanding.

    Romance novels are written by women. As you’d expect, the male characters are female in mind.

    If you’ve not noticed the (fe)male-in-mind thing, read an old Clive Cussler novel. All action. And the females are pure male in mind. (In one of his novels, the female character chooses her male by which of two she prefers in bed!)

    Of note: A few romance novels contain male characters who are mostly male. That’s the mark of a really good author, I think. Or one who uses input from a trusted male.

    Both types of novels follow a few, very well defined formulas. Picking out either type of book is rather like going to a fast food restaurant. You know what you’re in for.

    For instance, 9 times out of 10, the first two characters introduced in a romance novel are the “couple”. The whole story revolves around their communications and shared-understanding problems – which they resolve. And, in the end, the female will be satisfyingly pregnant. The male, who has spent several years of his life having sex with a vague gob of females, is now exclusively devoted to the female.

    Meanwhile, back at the ranch, in porn, the story doesn’t get in the way of the sex. We all know why we’re here, guys. Author, don’t waste our time.

    Both types of novels are throw-aways. You read ’em and forget ’em. You can pick them up and put them down at any time.

    Both types of novels take no mental effort to read (or to listen to while driving – which makes them excellent commuter fare).

    They have both been around “forever”.

    Find a 100 year old newspaper and go to the “literature” section. You’ll find ads for bodice rippers.

    Oddly enough, you can find plenty of romance novels in a public library. Pure porn generally doesn’t make it to libraries. What! Are librarians female? 🙂

    If you’re male and have not read any romance novels, I (a male) encourage you to do so. They are a flabbergasting window in to another world. A world not only of sight and sound, but of mind as well. We call it … oh. Never mind.

  • frelkins

    If women complain porn hurts relationships by giving men unrealistic expectations, why don’t men complain romance novels hurt relationships by giving women unrealistic expectations?

    I’m with Ulrich: Men don’t complain due to information asymmetry, which results in a wacky kind of moral hazard, one in which men don’t have the “necessary information” about how they should be performing in the romantic relationship’s all-too-often unspoken expectations.

    Men have this vague understanding that they’re not doing something right, but they have no idea what it is. They don’t know to read romance novels to find out, so they just feel frustrated, unappreciated, inadequate, and often strangely guilty. Frankly, most women suck at talking about this in a way men can hear.

    On the flip side, it’s actually easier for women to learn porn behaviors, thanks to useful tools like Lou Paget’s illustrated How to be a Great Lover, which women lend around to each other all the time – containing invaluable advice like how to put a condom on him with your mouth in a way that he will definitely enjoy – and pole dancing classes.

    Why so much more effort to regulate porn than romance novels?
    Romance Novels Aren’t About Romance.

    As Felix notes, certain subgenres of romance novels feature much sex, especially nowadays, so it’s hard sometimes to distinguish large chunks of romance from porn without the book cover.

    I think it’s due to a societal bias, where we construct elaborate architectures to hide what don’t want to see in plain sight, as Zizek would say with a lot of unnecessary post-modern terminology. On the whole, society still doesn’t want to believe that women really have strong sex drives, strong taboo fantasies, and are just as fascinated by sex as men, even after Sex & the City.

    So we create this category – a giant, best-selling, multi-mega-dollar category – of not-so-soft-core porn and promptly pretend to ignore it. To regulate romance novels would force us all to admit what women’s fantasies really are.

  • http://j0yr1de.livejournal.com/ John Salisbury

    I’ve always felt that soap operas on television were more equivalent to porn than romance novels.

  • http://occludedsun.wordpress.com Caledonian

    The explanation I’ve always favored is that the withholding of consent isn’t insincere at all; it’s just that the characters regret that the standards they’d internalized do not permit them to say ‘yes’, but they really do refuse. The novel-style “seductions” permit women to both maintain those standards AND enjoy themselves, because the women cannot possibly be held responsible for what happened, and thus they both eat their cake and have it too, in a manner of speaking. They get what they want while being freed from the responsibility of choosing to get it.

  • Roga

    random inquiry into posters Identities…

    Karo- Any relation to Aaron?

    Felix- as in Felix Salmon?

    just wondering

    perhaps we should try combining the two genres into romantic porn

  • frelkins

    @roga

    perhaps we should try combining the two genres into romantic porn

    But this is the point – they are often now the same hard-core erotica. The one aimed at men we rate X to protect teenagers from; the other we sell to teenagers in the mall. Robin’s question is why the paternalism in one but not the other? Does anyone really buy the “enduring emotional connection” excuse?

  • Doug S.

    Because banning books is evil!

  • Robert

    In all these comments we have had several instances of talk on the “harm of pornography” but no one has generalized to the point that it usually gets to.

    There is generally discussion of the harm it (ostensibly) does to men and some hardly forceful arguments that it harms women (in specific), but in short order the talk turns to damage done to society. “All those men walking around with their profoundly damaged psyches surely does subsequent damage to all of society.”

    I feel that those arguments are specious but my sense of fairness more offended by the lack of such arguments about romance novels. If we must hear of the damage done by porn, I would hope to hear of the damage done to society (men, women and families) due to the damaged perspectives of all those women who secretly feel that the men around them should be more like their heroes of romance novels. How many men have suffered at the hands by a woman who could not understand that her boyfriend is not Shank Steel? Women are effective regulators of peace, happiness and comfort – none of which Joe the boyfriend deserves for acting *merely* like a regular guy.

    I mean where could the damage from pornography really reside but in the heads of men for having viewed it? What damage could occur but skewed perspective? Women are just as susceptible to having their perspective skewed and I would argue that romance novels are just as effective an instrument in this regard as pornography.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/arundelo/ Aaron Brown

    maybe some men can find romance novels enjoyable. Any suggestions?

    I haven’t read any romance unless you count Jane Austen, but she’s great. I have heard a big-name contemporary romance author describe Pride and Prejudice as the best romance novel ever.

    I’ve been told by several people that the series starting with Dragonfly in Amber is good for “people who don’t think they like romance novels”, so that might be a good introduction.

    some women enjoy porn

    That warms my heart.

  • frelkins

    @Aaron

    Dirty little secret: most women enjoy erotica, of various varieties, be it steamy romance novels, fanfic, shunga, anime, 9-1/2 Weeks, French films, gay-male oriented works, Anais Nin. It’s because we’re all monkeys, and frankly, monkeys like to watch.

  • Richard Sharpe


    It’s because we’re all monkeys, and frankly, monkeys like to watch.

    I don’t know about you, but I don’t have a tail.

  • Lake

    Condolences.

  • Felix

    @Roga: Felix- as in Felix Salmon?

    Nope.

    @Pablo: maybe some men can find romance novels enjoyable. Any suggestions?

    Susan Elizabeth Phillips. Dialog can be very funny. She explicitly writes over-the-top female fantasy. Read hers and feel like the reverse of a woman reading Tom Clancy.

    Madeline Hunter. Wife found ’em and liked them because the story-lines were more than boy-meets-girl fluff. Easy to flip through to find the good parts.

    Nora Roberts. Crime/action stuff. Jillions of them. Either she farms out a lot of stuff while keeping good quality control, or she’s a regular Louis L’Amour.

    Want to experience something odd? Check out one of the above in CD from your local library. Then listen to an explicit sex scene while you’re in the drive-thru at a fast food joint. Is this great country, or what?

  • Doug S.

    Does Mercedes Lackey count as a writer of romance novels?

  • http://meneame.net/story/pornografia-vs-novelas-romanticas meneame.net

    Pornografía vs novelas románticas

    Si las mujeres se quejan que el porno daña las relaciones por ser fuente de falsas expectativas, ¿por qué no se quejan los hombres de que las novelas románticas dañan las relaciones proporcionando a la mujeres falsas expectativas?. ¿Por qué tanto…

  • ThomasR

    Men, get in touch with your feminine side and choose a woman who prefers detective novels to romance novels.

    Women, get in touch with your masculine side and choose a man who prefers Jane Austen to spy thrillers.

    Gay, celibate people: I’ve no idea — have a nice day!

  • http://www.readforpleasure.com RfP

    @Robin: “why don’t men complain romance novels hurt relationships by giving women unrealistic expectations?”

    That type of complaint is made by non-romance-reading men and women (mostly women; f’rex; my take here). It often originates with conservative religious organizations (f’rex). Some of the complaints are about sex in the novels; some are about modern romance’s portrayal of female characters as independent, and yes, even downright demanding (oh no!). OTOH there’s an old guard of feminists who despise romance novels as reinforcing traditional female roles. I can argue for and against any of these criticisms, but what all the complaints have in common is the belief that reading romance is harmful to women’s minds, and that seems a dicey proposition.

    @ferridder: “Objection: Assumes facts (“romance novels hurt relationships”) not in evidence.”

    Yes, and what a common chestnut it is. First off, porn and romance are quite different stylistically; in general someone looking for one-handed reading wouldn’t turn to romance, as there’s not enough, shall we say, bang for buck. Second, why is romance singled out as the harmful genre? Why isn’t reading about serial killers more likely to harm women? (Or men?) Or watching soaps? (@ John Salisbury: I agree, soaps are the more porntastic form.)

    The fear that romantic fiction corrupts the mind is an old idea. In Sesame and Lilies (1865), Ruskin wrote that “the best romance becomes dangerous, if, by its excitement, it renders the ordinary course of life uninteresting.” Jane Austen’s Sanditon (unfinished) pokes fun at the idea with a male character who is addicted to Gothic novels and has lost touch with reality. The Victorians especially focused on detrimental effects to women–the more impressionable sex, natch.

    @Silas: “romance novels glorify what in the real world would be called rape”

    That certainly used to be the case, in the era of the old “bodice ripper”. (Its heyday was the historical romances of the 1970s.) I agree with Caledonian on the explanation. Back in the day, the female character couldn’t be a “good” woman if she was too willing; you can see that expressed in ’50s pulp. By the ’70s, women were expected to be sexual beings but the lessons of earlier times still held; the resist-then-acquiesce story permitted the heroine to be sexual but absolved her of blame, particularly since the acquiescence was part of finding true love.

    Nowadays, any hint of rape in a romance creates controversy. There are plenty of unlikable male characters in the genre, but in general there’s a line they don’t cross. On the female side, however, there’s still a distinct conflict over female virtue. Romance heroines are no longer expected to fall in love with their rapists, but there’s a startling number of virgin female characters in the genre, and the heroine’s sexual past can be a touchy issue.

    @Roga: “perhaps we should try combining the two genres into romantic porn”

    Are you aware of erotic romance (also called romantica)? It’s a booming subgenre with high sales. In the best examples, both the sex and the romance are essential and blended in the story.

    @Felix: “Want to experience something odd? Check out one of the above in CD from your local library. Then listen to an explicit sex scene”

    Romance audiobooks really are fascinating that way. I listened to a Jennifer Crusie recently, and the sex scene somehow seemed more startling to the ear than when I’d read the book.

    @Pablo Stafforini: Not knowing your taste, it’s difficult to make recommendations. Crusie’s Agnes and the Hitman, written with Bob Mayer, is a fast-paced crime-caper romantic comedy. Felix recommended Nora Roberts; I prefer her futuristic police procedural romances written as JD Robb (especially the early works). If you prefer something more historical, Pam Rosenthal’s The Slightest Provocation portrays a couple warring over love and politics; or there’s Georgette Heyer’s An Infamous Army: A Novel of Wellington, Waterloo, Love and War. There’s also a vast amount of romantic suspense and urban fantasy romance; both of those subgenres can get gory, if that’s your taste. Then there’s literary romance such as Mary Gordon’s Spending.

    @Doug S: “Does Mercedes Lackey count as a writer of romance novels?”

    She’s one of the cross-genre authors who’s a favorite of many romance readers. Her writing partner Roberta Gellis is a renowned author of well-researched historical romance.

    @Thomas R: “Men, get in touch with your feminine side and choose a woman who prefers detective novels to romance novels. Women, get in touch with your masculine side and choose a man who prefers Jane Austen to spy thrillers.”

    The RWA’s surveys find that most romance readers are voracious readers in a number of genres. Studies also find that whereas men rarely read books by or about women, women read books by and about both sexes. That’s another reason men are unlikely to have read romance novels (or be aware of their content). Perhaps it also indicates that women are likely to share their male partners’ reading tastes, while men are unlikely to read romance.

    (Though apparently some 20% of romance reader are men, while as Pablo points out, a growing number of women admit to enjoying porn; perhaps this entire question is becoming moot.)

  • http://none Artashes Ashkharhakal

    Hey, have you people read Erin McCarthy’s Romance novel, “Hard and Fast” it reeks of hardcore porn writing and is in the Public Library system, and any very young to 18 year old girl can check this out, what with the computer check out system; the Librarian doesn’t even have to be present there….

    duh

    Now women say we don’t look we are creative, we fantasize scenarios where girl meets handsome prince (er…Cinderella) and is whisked off, but nowadays its all about out and out sex.

    Well, now the movie “The Full Monty” from Australia put a new twist to Women’s Porn….it’s called CFNM (Clothed Female Naked Males) and now it’s come home to roost with the granddaddy of cfnm sites, its here in the USA, and it’s these buffed long appendaged “Dancing Bears” guys!

    Here in America, this http://www.DancingBear.com depicts blatant sex, fellatio, intercourse, exhibitionism, all initiated by young attractive American women (all races) and very in your face

    Now this puts to rest the assertion that women don’t look, guys only do! That is horse crap and a big lie. This phenomenon, CFNM proves that women get just a horny as men, and perhaps even more so!!!!, maybe, and this to me is very liberating as we men don’t have to (or at least all this will morph into) us men being the macho psychotic and can act natural instead; and maybe these women will “pick us up” these “modern horny women” will take the initiative with us guys, ask us out, pay for the date, especially if she makes more money! So she undoes the first button, and caresses the first private part….drops us home and calls us the next day to ask if it was good for us!!! Hah hah hah…”Woman, walk a mile in our shoes” and we can say “What do you want me for my body and not for my mind?” or “I don’t give my number out to strange women” hah hah hah again…

    Duh…the key word is FIRST….now we know for sure they get just as concupiscent and animalistic. If a man ever did this in a female strip joint he would be immediately deep sixed…..these women get away with bloody murder.

    Now if they wear high heels, paint their toes, lip gloss, mascara, eyebrow pencil and make-up (some have called it “man-repellant”) then they have to accept they will be looked at as PREY and we will be the heavies, the PREDATORS, and thinking out loud, why don’t these dolled up women sashay in that tantalizing hip shaking suave way, walk up to us and initiate sex big time….

    Am I pissing in the air, or am I pissing in the air???

    other cfnm sites:
    from the Czech Republic http://www.PartyHardcore.com
    from England http://www.LoverBoysUSA.com
    and the Mother of all cfnm sites http://www.SpamFreeCFNM.com

  • Krista Vanderpants

    The female complaint of unrealistic expectations is actually a misrepresentation of the true problem with pornography for women. Pornography often represents a violent and subordinative place for women whereas romance novels are purely damaging to pride.

  • Jerry

    Boy and girl meet.
    Boy and girl have sex.
    Boy and girl get married.
    Boy and girl have less sex.
    Boy wants more sex.
    Boy begs girl for sex.
    Girl gets annoyed.
    Boy buys expensive gifts, kisses girl’s ass, acts like a good boy.
    Girl gives some sex.
    Boy fails to live up to girl’s expectations.
    Girl doesn’t give sex.
    Boy discovers porn.
    Boy watches porn instead of begging for sex.
    Girl wonders why boy doesn’t kiss her ass anymore.
    Girl discovers boy’s porn.
    Girl complains that boy is addicted to porn.
    The end.

  • Peter

    The thing of it is.. men just don’t KNOW. Most men (myself included) assume that romance novels are just these sweet, cute little books that women read to fill their need for sweet cute things.
    I thought this was the case my whole life until I had a girlfriend who was an avid romance novel reader. She encouraged me to read one of her favorites, Fantasy Lover, by Sherilyn Kenyon, the first in the Dark+Hunter series, and I actually read a few more in the series. It’s really not bad at all, but OH JESUS CHRIST! It’s woman-porn! I certainly don’t have a problem with it, or find it offensive, or believe that it causes any problems other than addiction, but it is most definitely woman-porn.
    The tall, ripped, man with long flowing dark hair comes away from his womanizing and violent past to sweep the plain, but still special, heroine (if you can really call her that.. more of a non-character who, if you choose, you can pretend to be) off of her feet, and, after -drama drama drama- carries her straight to the bedroom, where he passionately fulfills the needs of every nerve ending on (and in) her body.

  • Grace

    Thats silly. romance novels HELP my relationship with my boyfriend. I don’t have much of a sex drive… but reading romance novels never fails to put me in the mood. I’ve never had any complaint from him =P

    • JoeSomebody

      Grace, then by your own admission reading romance novels appeals to your prurient interests. Which is exactly what many women complain about with men watching porn.

      Which is why men get rightfully frustrated with the double standard.

      After all, I could just as easily say that watching porn has helped in my relationship with my wife.

      Seriously, some of the techniques I have learned that drive her nuts that she begs for regularly did not come from the side of a Cheerios box or today’s Oprah.

      …and she sure wouldn’t have wanted me to learn the techniques from other women first hand now would she have?

  • Jon

    There is many thoughtful replies here. Some people are just way too intelligent for me to relate to, but I think I got the jist. It’s such a complicated issue. However I thought Jerry summed it up best.

    Boy and girl meet.
    Boy and girl have sex.
    Boy and girl get married.
    Boy and girl have less sex.
    Boy wants more sex.
    Boy begs girl for sex.
    Girl gets annoyed.
    Boy buys expensive gifts, kisses girl’s ass, acts like a good boy.
    Girl gives some sex.
    Boy fails to live up to girl’s expectations.
    Girl doesn’t give sex.
    Boy discovers porn.
    Boy watches porn instead of begging for sex.
    Girl wonders why boy doesn’t kiss her ass anymore.
    Girl discovers boy’s porn.
    Girl complains that boy is addicted to porn.
    The end.

    There are many reasons to like or dislike porn or romance novels. It’s a grey issue. However the girl in this story, I have no respect from her point of view. Because she is using porn as a scapegoat for all of the relationships problems.

    The fundamental truth is that men and women are different in their needs. Men are very sexual and visual, women are very emotional and crave nurturing. The lack of being able to accept that fact causes sooooooo many problems. And is probably the number one reason for sexes being unable to relate to each other.

    When a couple can understand this fact, trully care about each others needs, I don’t think porn OR romance novels are a problem. Because they are fantasy. However if one or both parties can’t recognise these things, they are doomed because they will never be able to feel fulfilled or happy. Their instinctual urges will not be met.

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  • Feminist Can Suck It!

    Women once again complaining that a Romance novel isn’t porn when it is. Look up the definition and yes that form of Erotica is always in a Playboy mag as well. So, quit making up excuses you feminist! You are all about porn in magazines like Cosmo as well but you Femi-Nazis justify it because you are women. Get a damn life! Facts are cold hard facts!

    • Paula

      you don’t even know the definition of feminism. Educate yourself.

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  • Jessie Gertsch

    If women complain porn hurts relationships by giving men unrealistic expectations, why don’t men complain romance novels hurt relationships by giving women unrealistic expectations?

    I agree with the asymmetry of information point, but what abut the likelihood of each gender acting on their newfound unrealistic expectations? Men who receive them from porn can go to strip clubs or worse, and immediately act on these expectations. Women who read romance novels and get unrealistic expectations don’t really have a place they can go to find a tall dark and handsome firefighter with perfect abs. Of course there’s the firehouse… but my point is that I think men don’t realistically imagine women who read romance novels can quickly and easily find what they’re looking for, whereas men are more able to.

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  • schmoe

    men get turned on by visual images.(hence the porn)
    women get turned on by cognitive images (hence the sexual fantasy in a book).

    simple as that + societal standards=men looked down upon.

  • mik

    what do you think is the answer?

    porn degrades women while romance novels upgrade men. fair? 🙂 think.

  • Cando

    When this subject is presented, All variables are not considered, humans are wired for sex by design. We have to be or our race would not survive. Many readers of romance novels strike against consideration that romance novels could in some situations by toxic to the human mind. Some reader of nude magazines believe the same. Many will never develop a problem with either.
    On the flip side many will. When the romance novel dispute arises it doesn’t take into account the difference between the many types of romance novel
    Hardcore erotic novels (the most extreme in some cases more graficly than porn video) are labeled erotic romance. So you have they old school romance, lots of dialogue and story line not based on sex (not just intercourse). I guess look at it in the rating system of. G, PG, PG-13, R, X, XXX. Which any can be ok but people can’t control themselves when it comes to sex. It can be for some not all like opening pandora’s box going through the rating system. Starting at G rated romance novels and graduating to the R that are sold on the Walmart bookshelf. To the X that you would be ashamed to be seen buying. If you look at erotic romance Seller
    http://www.sirenpublishing.com/ . It might give a better outlook on romance novel vs porn. See the top 50 sellers.
    Very similar to a young man looking at a women’s underwear ad then playboy, then more grafic nude mag, softcore porn video, hardcore video, extreme fetish websites. NOT THE CASE FOR EVERYONE.
    That is. escalation of content. We are hard wired for sex. Now look at obsession not everyone will become obsessed with these things but so many do. If you think it is foolish or want to make the argument that it isn’t like drugs someone can’t get to the point of not being able to think of anything else. Do some research on porn addition. Men do this…. Women should be able to……
    We need to back up and get some balance.
    Romance novel huge industry.
    Porn huge industry. Sex sells.

  • Cando

    Also the argument of anyone can watch porn but it takes alittle more sophistication for novels.
    http://www.sirenbookstrand.com/ their slogan is “quality erotic romance for the sophisticated reader”. Wow just take a look at how sophisticated these novels are. A justification for porn.

  • http://weknowtoomuch.com rolfen

    According to this:
    http://www.backlash.com/book/porn.html

    Porn is just another way for women to have more control over their men, by controlling his access to sexual satisfaction. It can make sense. To be fair men exhibit similar patterns, trying to limit the contact of their women with other men. I guess ideally everyone should be free to do whatever they want, and in the end they’ll only stay with the person they love.

  • Cando

    Yeah, it’s called marriage. Once your married you not only limit your sexual/romantic contact with other men/women you do not engage in it.
    “To be fair men exhibit similar patterns, trying to limit the contact of their women with other men.” yeah no one wants their partner with someone else.
    I’m sorry maybe I misinterpreted that comment.

    • http://theviewfromhell.blogspot.com Sister Y

      Well, not “no one.” I read recently that cuckold porn is the second-most-popular heterosexual interest on 
English-language search engines.

  • Cando

    What’s the first?

    • http://theviewfromhell.blogspot.com Sister Y

      Youth (teen, etc.)

  • Cando

    Ok, found that article(5 Things That Internet Porn Reveals About Our Brains).
    . It seems like the numbers were kind of misrepresented.
    I didn’t get which search engine was used. second-most-popular heterosexual interest on 
English-language search engines” sounds very specific but doesn’t really give you anything. I also wonder how many men are fantisizing about being the alpha and not the husband to off set lesson 4. Different stokes for different folks. (Pun intended)
    Although it wasnt shocking to see the #1 search was youth. Super creepy.

  • rexx

    Robot prostitutes will solve this problem once and for all.

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  • Kareena

    Some very valid points here when comparing romance novels to porn. However, in the novels there is more imagination involved and most women, including myself, imagine our significant others. The sexual scenes are more realistic. Porn scenes on the other hand warp reality and the woman is right there for you. There is no room for imagination when the image is given to you.