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7.12.2011

Romance Novels Give You Gonorrhea

...or so says a study in the Journal of Family Planning and Reproductive Health Care written by Susan Qulliam, who concludes: "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."

According to the study, reading romance novels is linked to negative attitudes towards safe sex, unattainable expectations of sex, and an overall disconnect with reality:

"If readers start to believe the story that romantic fiction offers, then they store up trouble for themselves – and then they bring that trouble into our consulting rooms...When it comes to romantic fiction, the clue's in the name; the genre is fiction not fact, and while romance may be the wonderful foundation for a novel, it's not in itself a sufficiently strong foundation for running a lifelong relationship. But I do wonder how many of our clients truly realise that. Yes, they say that they can distinguish fact from fantasy, but when it comes to making life decisions, are they not much more tempted to let heart dictate simply because they are romance fans?"

I find the question of correlation between fiction and reality quite fascinating. For example, if I were to continue in sociology, I would have done a study along the lines of condom usage in MSM and the popularity of bareback porn. But unlike a carefully consider study, the information and assumptions here are flawed.

For one are the credentials of the psychologist in question: she's no scientist but rather "a broadcaster and agony aunt." And while she apparently advocates for positive sexuality, she is attacking books that depicts positive sexual health (argubly), and perhaps this goes as far as attacking women writers given that a majority of these are written by women. (Thus, is this Qulliam lady misogynist?)

Additionally, as Linda Holmes at NPR points out, the study is dated:

"I tracked down the "recent survey" myself, and I can confirm what's been going around Twitter, which is that it covers a total of 78 novels published between 1981 and 1996, selected by plucking books off the shelf at three Cleveland bookstores. None of the books are less than 15 years old, and some were published 30 years ago, before condoms and AIDS were receiving anywhere near the public attention they receive now. Presenting this as the current state of the romance genre as concerns condoms in light of current information about sexual health is more than a little problematic."

This along with poor sampling and a overgeneralized conclusions (condom usage depends on many things), makes this a bad study on the effects of literature.

If Qulliam is concerned about romance novels and sex, why not be concern with the rise of witchcraft and wizardry or straight girls falling for Robert Pattinson. One of these is very scary...

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