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{A&E} Romance Novels: Another Form of Porn?

Ashley Bardsley - March 22, 2012

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As a librarian, I have the unique opportunity to help people find books to entertain and inspire. But one too many times I have seen women get caught up in the world of romance novels and lose sight of what is virtuous and lovely.

“…If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy we seek after these things.” 

The whole 13th Article of Faith is, in my opinion, a great motto for how to live a happy life. I am a librarian. I have the unique opportunity to help people find books that in some way entertain and inspire. I hear a lot of feedback about authors, writing styles, story plots, and characters. I also see a lot of trends in the world of reading. It is regarding one of these trends that I would like to focus today’s post.  

Romance novels. 

Not Jane Austen romance novels; they're just fine. We're talking the mass-market produced novels with someone who looks like Fabio on the cover and explicit sex scenes as the primary content. Those ones.

Yes, we are going there.

I see women check out romance novel after romance novel like there is no tomorrow. I believe these books are a much more serious form of pornography than people realize. 

Before you think, “Who is this blogger, and who gave her the right to say something so presumptuous?” Hear me out. I have heard women talk about these novels as their escape. That they love reading about the characters and questionable sections of the novels because it is so far from the life they themselves live. It is their guilty pleasure. I have seen these fictional fantasies take over existing relationships. Mothers, fathers, wives, husbands, brothers, sisters, friends, grandmothers, you name it, individuals who are wasting time in a trashy nowhere land rather than living their own lives. This librarian has seen it all. 

Now, all reading is escapism to some extent, and I am in no way advocating against reading. However, a book that creates a world or relationships that make you want to escape so strongly that your current world and relationships are no longer satisfactory is not safe, and the feelings of lust that are produced by such material are not safe either.

Just today, a 17-year-old girl told me about the romance novel she was currently reading. She was genuinely surprised at how racy the book was. If a teenage, nonmember girl can see where to draw the line with these books, I think we can too.  

I know that romance novels are not the only form of entertainment that is questionable; however, I think it is important to always ask ourselves, “Is this ‘virtuous, lovely, of good report, or praiseworthy’?” Then to seek after those things. 

Your turn: How do you decide what is and isn’t appropriate to read? Where is the line between an enjoyable story (or movie) that has romance in it and one that is pornographic?

Side note: Deseret Book just released a new brand of book called “A Proper Romance.”  This brand new genre promises romance “at its very best—and at its cleanest” that still provides all the feel-good thrills and butterflies of your favorite chick flicks. The first book, Edenbrooke, is a Heyeresque Regency that should please all Jane Austen fans, comes out this Tuesday.

For more information about Edenbrooke and to watch the book trailer, click here.

© LDS Living, 2012.
Comments 21 comments

yulebean said...

07:08 AM
on Mar 22, 2012

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I don't believe a romance novel has to have sexual content to be unhealthy. I think many of them also make women unsatisfied with the men in their lives, or give them unrealistic expectations...much the same way porn gives men unrealistic expectations of how women are, or causes them dissatisfaction with their wives. This can be a more veiled danger for women, as if there is no sexual content they can justify it as ok. But there is danger there nonetheless. Great article, thanks!

baxdrum said...

08:26 AM
on Mar 22, 2012

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My wife recently made the mistake of getting a book on CD that turned out to be a romance novel. In her innocence she asked me, "does this sound like pornography to you?" Yes, it was porn. She returned the CD to the library. Series like Twilight, written by an LDS woman lure people in.

firebird said...

08:45 AM
on Mar 22, 2012

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Yes, they can be another form of porn. I remember as a girl in high school. I had a English teacher who had a library full of books in her classroom. The concept of this was to get us to read. Which is a great idea for students and all. She also had some romance novels in their. I picked up one that had some Native American/American West motifs in it and began to read it. Well about mid-way in the text it started to describe some very sexually explicit stuff. As a young teen I started feeling extremely uncomfortable about it. I wasn't really sure what to do about it and so at the time I talked to my mother who basically stated, well if you don't feel comfortable about reading it, then stop. So I basically went back to my English teacher and returned the book.

mama_al said...

09:16 AM
on Mar 22, 2012

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This topic was covered in the Ensign almost 9 years ago: http://www.lds.org/ensign/2003/07/addicted-to-romance-novels?lang=eng If it was covered here, then it's pretty clear what our Church leaders and our Savior would have us do.

nameredacted said...

11:09 AM
on Mar 22, 2012

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Having been deeply and completely immersed in the full spectrum of this addiction, I can tell you with certainty that the romance novels you're referencing are not porn. They may or may not be appropriate - that's between the reader and the Lord, and depends on the book. They can absolutely be a "gateway drug", so to speak. But the average member of the church has no idea of the depravity that really is out there, or what truly constitutes pornography. And you don't want to know. Trust me. There is so much I wish I had never seen or read. Incidentally, I am a woman.

londoner said...

11:24 AM
on Mar 22, 2012

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How do I decide? It's pretty straight forward. If I get an uncomfortable feeling reading it (if it helps, picture Heavenly Father in the same room as you whilst you read it), then I don't continue reading it on my Kindle. It gets a big fat delete. This applies to not only racy things but also graphically violent and lots of swearing type books. Use the Holy Ghost to help guide you, He is a gift given to us. :-)

bgtaylor4 said...

11:39 AM
on Mar 22, 2012

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Glad someone is commenting about Twilight. Yes, there is certainly a plethora of material out there that is far worse. But, admitting to both my wife and I slogging through Sister Meyer's series to "find out what happens," not only did we endure poorly written literature, but this was certainly inappropriate to read. What amazes us as well is that she openly admits to reading this genre, which as the author of this article explains, is largely a canon of that which is not praiseworthy. Good article. And the Ensign link provided above by mama_al another great article.

rupert said...

11:52 AM
on Mar 22, 2012

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Some parts of the old testament could certainly qualify as pornography. Are they "exempt" because they are "Scriptures"? I don't think so but we all have them in our homes. It just shows you that pornography is not a new thing. Next we will be getting a list of scriptures not to read because of sexual content.

nat88888888 said...

12:30 PM
on Mar 22, 2012

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Definitely porno, and those beauty magazines in the grocery store check out aisle total porno. But I do think there is a spectrum. Some are worse than others, and this is why we have the spirit to guide us.

tussockgal said...

01:07 PM
on Mar 22, 2012

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As someone has mentioned, there's a spectrum which starts with tittilation through full-on porn. The former can in no wise be classified as porn, neither something that is tastefully sensual. I'm not into reading romance novels - biographies and things historical being more my scene - but my concern is that we as LDS women can fed a diet of guilt to the point that it impacts our precious intimate relationships with our husbands. The Spirit should be our guide.

tussockgal said...

01:46 PM
on Mar 22, 2012

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To clarify my statement above, my concern stems from the fact that nudity in beauty magazines - inappropriate as it is - can absolutely not be described as pornography, and makes me wonder about our general attitude towards sex.

mom5 said...

02:07 PM
on Mar 22, 2012

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Ummm, yes. Nudity in any magazine is pornography. Doesn't have to have a certain title to be classified as such. Some may even call it art...I call it pronography!

realisticmormon said...

03:11 PM
on Mar 22, 2012

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Ohh crap. I think I should see the bishop then. When I'm about to hop into the shower, I look at myself in the mirror to see my fitness progress since I'm getting more toned and want to make sure I'm not gaining weight. Forgot we're supposed to be ashamed of our bodies. I agree with the statement that besides the genre itself, pornography is what you make of it. There is such a thing as tastefully nude in art and magazines, but when it's needless, explicit, or someone has a weak constitution and it arouses them in any way, it's pornography.

lynn5 said...

03:26 PM
on Mar 22, 2012

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Many books that are totally acceptable mention sex. Someone mentioned that Jack Wayland wrote several books that had a main character that had been abused, raped or had sex before marriage and had to deal with all the fallout from those things. It is ok to talk about, and it should definitely be a topic that we can be open about with our children. The difference is intent, and it is incredibly obvious! There can be no doubt for anyone that has actually read the Twilight books, that the intent was to arouse passionate or erotic feelings. I hate to think of young girls having the first hint of personal arousal because of someone erroneously recommending those books to someone far to young. I think it is disturbing how many moms have said that they think it is ok for their daughters to read because Edward and Bella ultimately wait for marriage to have intercourse. (Which is then described in a passionate, erotic and slightly violent way.) Personally, I don't want my early teen to be initiated into those feelings because of writing that had the intent to arouse. Of course it could be much worse. Who cares. It's bad enough.

altorock13 said...

05:42 PM
on Mar 22, 2012

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@lynn5: That was me, in a different article, the one asking if Twilight was appropriate. As someone who is not a member of the LDS faith, I find it extremely interesting that you can say that books that talk about abuse, rape and sex before marriage are okay because they should be a topic to be open with your children as long as they are not written to arouse passionate or erotic feelings. In my previous post, I also mentioned Anita Stansfield, who is hailed in LDS Fiction as writing masterful romance. Her books are full of scenes intended to arouse passionate feelings. They too are full of premarital sex, etc. Yet, her books are found on the shelves of Mormon bookstores and are not being boycotted or called pornography (that I know of, but I could be mistaken.) I just don't get how the justification process here works.

grannieannie said...

06:15 PM
on Mar 22, 2012

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I used to love romance novels, then they started getting too racy. I dropped the genre to read others. I have found some that are called "Love Inspired", and are based on Christian values. So far, they have been 'safe'. I love mysteries, too, but am afraid to read some because I don't know if there will be too much violence and bad language. We need a site that vets the authors to let us know what is available and then we can choose to read "out of the best books".

aliveinto said...

06:55 PM
on Mar 22, 2012

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There is certainly a wide range of opinions here. I do not believe intent is the way we should judge if something is appropriate or not; I believe it is our reaction to it. Is it titillating? Does it make me fantasize about sex outside of marriage? Does it make me feel unhappy with my husband or my life? Is it offensive to me? I think these are the questions that really matter and they are personal decisions. I have read Georgette Heyer books and enjoy them but generally skip the romance topic altogether. As for a 'safe list' talk to a librarian about books you like and ask them to suggest others along the same lines, they can be very helpful if you give them enough information.

quiltlady said...

12:27 PM
on Mar 25, 2012

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I have too many female acquaintances who have become immersed in the Twilight books and now their marriages have been threatened,they've become less interested in their children, etc. Romances have never, ever been good and never will be.

noel said...

04:26 PM
on Mar 25, 2012

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I'm not a romance novel reader, and while I have many female friends who read 'Twilight', I've NEVER got the sense that their relationships have suffered as a result. The author said: "I have seen these fictional fantasies take over existing relationships. Mothers, fathers, wives, husbands, brothers, sisters, friends, grandmothers, you name it, individuals who are wasting time in a trashy nowhere land rather than living their own lives. This librarian has seen it all. " That's a pretty generalized statement without substantiation, in my opinion. How can a librarian "see it all" in people's intimate relationships??? Anyway, my concern really lies with the assumption that certain books or genres are the root of dissatisfaction in a relationship. I would propose that there are much deeper, underlying causes of rifts in a relationship (lack of communication, for example), and that escape in books is a symptom, not the cause. Also, for the record, I personally know some strong LDS couples whose love lives have been greatly enhanced by introducing a little saucy-ness into their intimate lives. (TMI) :)

teachtruth said...

12:24 PM
on Mar 27, 2012

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I don't read romance novels, because years ago I happened to read one that left me feeling too aroused. I think they do more harm than good and can be time wasters, but I will say that as far as them being pornography, I wouldn't go that far. Pornography tends to involve visual stimulation, and unless the novel has explicit pictures, it's only left to the imagination. We could imagine things with a variety of suggestions, not just romance novels. Pornography has a much more powerful grip because it appeals to more of the senses. With that said, I still wouldn't recommend romance novels, and think our "escape" is best spent with books that edify, uplift and inspire us.

serena said...

10:20 PM
on Mar 29, 2012

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Let's first get the definition of pornography, from Merriam Webster: 1: the depiction of erotic behavior (as in pictures or writing) intended to cause sexual excitement 2: material (as books or a photograph) that depicts erotic behavior and is intended to cause sexual excitement 3: the depiction of acts in a sensational manner so as to arouse a quick intense emotional reaction <the pornography of violence> So technically, the romance novels in question with the sexual content can definitiely be considered pornography. Something to point out, most agree that men are aroused with their eyes, women, their mind. Just because these novels that appeal to women aren't interesting to men, generally, doesn't mean they aren't pornographic. I think a god test would be this: transfer the images written, as well as those in your mind when you read them, to film. What rating would the movie get? I was one who used to read them all the time. I was very loyal to a few very prolific authors who were very good at capturing my mind in their stories. While I don't think that the romance part hurt my relationships, I would say the sexual scenes definitely affected me and my ability to remain chaste. I think there should be ratings on these books, the same as movies, so we can know which books we can safely read. Those who insinuate that we are being prudish by not wanting to read such things or that we are ashamed by nudity need to step out of "the big and spacious building" and cease mocking people who desire to follow the counsel of the prophets and general authorities that we should keep our bodies and minds a place where the Spirit wishes to reside. You have free agency to read and view anything you wish, don't belittle those who wish to NOT view these things.
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