It’s all innocent stuff: square-jawed boy meets doe-eyed girl, they fall in love, encounter a few rocky moments but ultimately seal their union with a kiss or a vague hint of sex. Wholesome yarns like this form the heartbeat of romantic fiction, a genre that has been in existence since the 18th century and today sells by the bucket load. However, according to a medical journal in Britain, romantic novels pose a threat to women’s sexual and emotional health. “If readers start to believe these stories, then they store up trouble for themselves,” says British author and relationship counsellor Susan Quilliam.
Quilliam, writing in the Journal of Family Planning and Reproductive Health Care, says that according to a survey, only 11.5 % of romantic novels mention condom use. “And within these, the heroine typically rejected the idea because she wanted ‘no barrier’ between her and the hero,” she notes. Romantic fiction may have supplanted apple-cheeked maiden with single mums, and sensitive men, who cope with addictions, disabilities and even domestic violence. but, these books fail miserably when it comes to sexual pleasure and dealing with reality, she says. “We aim to reassure women that their first time may not be utterly joyful and they may not gain reliable orgasms through penetration, but affection and good humour can improve things immensely,” says Quilliam.