Q&A: Romance Novels

One of our readers wrote us asking if it was OK to read romantic novels. There are several variables to consider in this discussion.

One is that it is my opinion that reading detailed descriptions of the sexual encounters of others is inappropriate so if we are talking about the sort of romance novels where the author is painting very vivid images of how the couple is having sex (essentially erotica), then I believe it is unhealthy to choose that as reading material. We work hard here at Christian Nymphos to provide honest and straightforward information about sex without attempting to titillate our readers so it isn’t that I see a book about romance or even sex as inappropriate, but how does the author go about writing the story? Is it overt and exceedingly descriptive or subtle and just enough to tell the story?

One example of healthy romantic literature is the work of Francine Rivers. Some of her books contain sexual encounters, but they are only giving the reader enough information to know what is important to the story. She doesn’t even confine her work to godly, Christian sex because some of her characters endure great sexual hardships, but in any description of a sexual encounter she isn’t tantalizing the reader with blatant illustrations of how the characters were actually having sex. I am something of a fan of her work so I have no trouble recommending her books. Her characters struggle with real issues in their relationships and though they are not perfect, she shows how the power of God can breathe life on the relationships we have that feel like they have no life on them anymore.

Then there are other romantic novels which are not based in reality at all. The characters experience trite conflicts and find themselves overcoming them with little effort on their part. Their man comes in and all their problems are resolved quickly and easily. Their love lives are filled mostly with roses and champagne, and really show a very unrealistic and unhealthy way to approach relationships.

So, having said this, the other variable to consider is that some women read either what I would deem as perfectly healthy romantic novels or these fantasy-based romantic novels and it causes them to become discontent in their own relationship. “Why isn’t my man that romantic?” “I wish I had a relationship like she does…” If the fruit of reading romantic novels is discontentment, then I would caution you to select your reading material more carefully. If on the other hand you can read these books and not find yourself drawn into unhealthy expectations or discontentment, then there is probably nothing wrong with it.

It is kind of like watching a typical “chick flick” to me. The storylines are usually the same. Boy meets girl. Boy deceives girl. Girl and boy get emotionally and sexually involved. Girl finds out about deception. Girl gets angry at boy. Boy delivers heartfelt appology. Girl forgives boy. They live happily ever after. I love it when a chick flick departs from this plot and does something unique, but I still watch these typical chick flicks sometimes. I can watch them without allowing myself to long for being swept away like that.

A final point to consider is that most of the time you are reading stories where the characters are engaging in sex outside of God’s design, most commonly premarital and extramarital sex. Just be cautious about this. Perhaps a good guide would be to consider whether you would watch it if it was in a movie. I do watch movies that have sexual content, but avoid movies where it is the predominant theme. You might consider applying the same principle to romance literature.

So in deciding if romance novels are healthy or not for you, consider how well you do at separating yourself from a fanciful story and how much detailed and overt sexual content is in the story.

5 Comments

  1. I love Francine Rivers! Whenever I see a book with her name on it, I know it will be good. Another great author is Bodie Thoene. (A good series of hers is the Shiloh Legacy.) If you like historical fiction with some romance mixed in, she is a great one.

    There is another note I would like to make in reference to romance novels. Remember that it is fiction! The characters are not real. A couple of years ago I read a book by a Christian romance author in which the women were all obviously seriously flawed characters and the men’s only flaws were that they struggled with something goofy like consistent devotions. Needless to say, the men were practically flawless. As I read the book, I enjoyed the story, but felt like I was constantly rolling my eyes at how “perfect” the men were. By the end of the book I ended up irritated with the author because of the way the men all seemed to be the unrealistically ideal Christian man.

    It is always good when reading any book, but especially a romance, to keep your eyes on reality. It is okay to enjoy a good story, but keep it in perspective.

    Also, if you are not secure in your relationship first with the Lord and secondly with your husband, don’t read romance novels! If your and your husband are really struggling, don’t tempt yourself at all. If you are totally in love with your husband and enjoy a good story, go for it!

    From an avid reader. =)

  2. I appreciate this article. I am still trying to figure out what is okay and what isn’t when it comes to romance novels. My main concern is that almost all of the sexual relationships in these books occur outside of marriage. Also, most of the sexual “tension” takes place because the relationships are new and exciting, and that kind of tension doesn’t translate very well to long-term marriages. On the plus side, they have helped me get in touch with my “sexual side” and have given me ideas I never would have thought of on my own! They also help me get my mind thinking about sex, rather than always focusing on the mundane aspects of daily life. I avoid the books that are totally about sex and stick with those that have an interesting plot and fewer sexual details, but still am not sure if they are okay.

  3. Some of my favorites are Terri Blackstock, Karen Kingsbury, and Kristen Heitzmann. All 3 are Christian authors, and in my opinion, they portray characters and scenarios that could very well take place in the real world. Romance isn’t the central theme of their stories, but when it comes into play, it doesn’t appear fake :).

  4. What an extreamly well written article, thankyou. I appreciate some of Francine Rivers books but I must say I do need to stay on guard as they can tend to trigger my emotions very easily on occasion.
    I prefer Terri Blackstocks books, I can safely read them with little issue.
    I did read one novel by a christian writer when I was single, oh my goodness, the almost “Dominance” scene almost had me and my hormones running for the hills, I can lauugh about it now but looking back on it I really allowed it to set me up for fantasy land.

    For me personally, I feel many of the past christian novels set me up for failure. My precious DH is re training his brain/thought processes from past porn images while i’m working at re training mine by replacing him into my thoughts, some of these novels can hold very powerful emotional scenarios that give some women a way of escaping their reality.
    I enjoy the amish novels, some of them can be beautiful to read, in fact God has used many of them to challenge me about a wrong heart attitude or the way I act sometimes. Most of all I enjoy the novels that have a moral, uplifting focus on restoration of relationship with God and relationships.

  5. Another problem with the romance novel that I have thought about for a long time is the one that puts the reader in a position where she is looking at the completely unrealistic male protagonist and comparing him to her own man and finding that he comes up short because he isn’t Noah in The Notebook.

    I think these books are damaging to some marriages in that they have uber romantic men going to the ends of the earth to demonstrate their love while the guy most of us have at home says “I love you” by filling the gas tank and clearing up his and your dishes. Women read these books and become dissatisfied with the somewhat less grand efforts of the real men they married.


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