Romance Novels Seduce Women Into Unsafe Sex, Says British Journal

Nora Roberts gives $100,000 to McDaniel College where romance lit will be queen.

ByABC News
July 15, 2011, 8:07 AM

July 15, 2011— -- "Damn me to hell or take me to heaven, but for God's sake, do it now," writes romance author Nora Roberts with breathless sexual overtones in her 2008 novel, "Taming Natasha and Luring a Lady."

In the book, heroine Sydney Hayward inherits a family business and falls in love with a dark-haired stranger who arrives on her doorstep, but first she must confront a "disaster in her past."

Roberts, who has written 209 books and was the first author to be inducted into the Romance Writers Hall of Fame, is a master of the genre, one that racks up about $1.36 billion in annual sales, according to industry statistics.

Romance novels have long been the object of derision, but Roberts has recently given the genre academic gravitas. She donated $100,000 to McDaniel College in Maryland, located near her hometown in Keedysville, to offer a minor in romance literature and a creative writing course.

But now Roberts and other writers who offer sensuous characters and steamy dialogue are under fire by health professionals who say these novels can influence women to make bad relationship choices and seduce them into risky sex and infidelity.

An essay in Britain's Journal of Family Planning and Reproductive Health Care says that romance novels portray an idealized vision of love and sex -- and some women may not be able to distinguish fact from fantasy.

Susan Quilliam, a British sexologist and advice columnist, writes in her July 6 essay that women who read romance novels tend to "suspend reality" in their real relationships.

Although romance readers say they know the difference, "when it comes to making life decisions, are they not more tempted to let the heart dictate simply because they are romance fans?" she told

"Women and men need to be less driven by emotion and making sensible life choices," said Quilliam, a respected health professional who updated the classic guide, "Joy of Sex."

"Romance novels are great fun -- I used to read them myself -- but society's value of romantic novels needs to be taken into account when we, as health professionals, look at our patients and the decisions they make about their sex and love lives," she said.

Quilliam cites research at Indiana University that found romance novels rarely talk about condom use: "And within these scenarios, the heroine typically rejects the idea of a barrier between her and the hero."

"To be blunt, we like condoms -- for protection and for contraception -- and they don't," writes Quilliam, who cites a recent survey that shows only 11.5 percent of romantic novels studied mention condom use.

The essay generated press in Britain and here in the United States, stirring strong emotion online. One website devoted to the romance genre -- Smart Bitches Trashy Books -- called the article "bollocks, rubbish horsecrap, all of it."

"We have some pretty outspoken fans of romance novels in our community," said Sarah Wendell, a Montclair, N.J., romance writer and co-founder of the website. "Devoted women read them and write them and have taken a lot of crap for a long time for their love of the genre. Nothing is more insulting than to be told we are sexually unsatisfied and less intelligent just because we prefer that kind of fiction."

Wendell said readers were particularly irritated because the survey of romance novels that Quilliam referenced was 11 years old and sampled only 78 books in the Cleveland area. Those novels were written in the 1980s and 1990s before public education about sexually transmitted diseases.