Family Planning and Romance

Barbara Vey -- July 8th, 2011

Thanks to Maya Rodale, I’ve just read an article by Susan Quilliam from The Journal of Family Planning & Reproductive Health Care and I couldn’t believe what I was reading.  The author actually blames romance for “womens formal exposure to sex and relationship education.” (In a bad way.)  She says, “What we see in our consulting rooms is more likely to be informed by Mills and Boon than by the Family Planning Association.”  Really? And have you asked your clients if that’s the case or are you just making an assumption?

Ms. Quilliam goes on to say, “In one recent survey, only 11.5% of romantic novels studied mentioned condom use, and within these scenarios the heroine typically rejected the idea because she wanted ‘no barrier’ between her and the hero. Even more worryingly, while the romance readers interviewed said that they knew that such episodes were fiction, and that spontaneous sexual encounters are never risk-free, nevertheless there was a clear correlation between the frequency of romance reading and the level of negative attitude towards condoms and the intention to use them in the future.”

There’s several things at play here.  How many books were read, from what year (books written before the 1970s should be looked at differently than those written today), what genre (obviously sci-fi and paranormal romances should be considered differently because of their world building can cause different rules) and who the audience is.  If it is an adult book, they should know about condoms.  Just like an X or R rated movie.  And I find it much more likely that young people are getting their sex information from movies, television, videos games and much more importantly from their friends who probably know less about it than they do.  And while we’re add it, let’s blame animals.  They obviously do it without condoms in front of kids.  Where will it all end?

To blame romance, an industry that touts monogamous, loving relationships, absolutely amazes me.

Maya Roldale wrote a terrific blog about this subject and quotes RWA statics, “The heart of the U.S. romance novel readership is women aged 31–49 who are currently in a romantic relationship.” And Maya goes on to say, “If that woman doesn’t know the basics of sex by that age, then we have other problems.”

Well said Maya.  You can read Maya’s complete blog here.

Bottom Line: Susan Quilliam, please contact me and I’ll send you some current romance novels.

55 thoughts on “Family Planning and Romance

  1. Felicia Sparks

    That is just plain crazy. I have been reading romance since I was 13 and stayed a “v” until 25. I don’t think it has anything at all to do with what you read unless reading is the only way you are ever taught anything. Mostly, it is your parents and environment that teach you more about things and how to respond. Thanks for sharing that article!

  2. kimberlee Shortland

    Talk about ignorance! But then, we should be used to that where romance novels are concerned. People are usually happy to jump on any bandwagon when it comes to bashing the romance industry, most having never read a romance in their lives. I do admit that yesterday’s erotica is today’s romance, but still.
    And the Quilliamm article seems to be based on either incorrect information, or she’s just going by one source, probably Harlequin/M&B. She also goes on to say “books should keep within the boundaries of ‘normal’ physical affection – that is, activities accepted as normal by Western society”. Which part of Western society? Religious zealot society or the after dark society?
    Everyone has their own set of values which were given to them by their parents and peers. What’s acceptable in one community might not be in another. And there are millions of communities around America alone. They’re not all going to agree on what ‘Western values’ really are. AND if you compare them to European values, you’ll see a stark difference because most Europeans are much more lax about the human body and sexuality than Americans are. Comparatively, American’s are prudes.
    If young women are presenting themselves at clinics with pregnancies and STDs it’s because their personal upbringing has been poor, they’re ill-educated, and/or think ‘this will never happen to me.’ Which goes back to the previous two items…poor upbringing and lack of education, which includes schools. People are so afraid to talk about s-e-x, which is astounding because it seems to be OK that children watch untold amounts of violence every day on tv, or see it on the streets.
    The murder/mystery/thriller/ho​rror genres are neck and neck with romance in annual sales, yet no one questions little Johnny about the murders and rapes in his thrillers or detective stories (even Harry Potter has killed), but zealots have a problem with a monogamous couple which may include some loving and consensual sex? While I started reading romance early, I was still aware they were adult stories, and aware of what unprotected sex could lead to. Education people!
    Thanks for sharing this article Barbara. (sorry for the to soapbox, this topic irks me senseless, especially as it’s come on the foot of an Irish news piece about a woman who died after having sex with a dog!)

  3. Kendra Elliot-Boucher

    I read the original article and luckily my head didn’t explode. NPR had a good rebuttle on their website yesterday that brought my blood pressure down.

  4. Simone Eden

    This is a wild surmise on the part of Ms. Q. I wish she’d talk to some of the intelligent women I know who read and write romance starting with Barb and the commenters here.

  5. Erin O'Riordan

    No fair blaming romances read mainly by women unless you’re also going to blame the magazines men read and the movies they watch. I’m sure more young males are getting their sexual education from Maxim than from clinical lectures.

    Besides, young people shouldn’t be responsible for their own sexual health education – it’s the responsibility of their parents and guardians to make sure they have high-quality information before they get to the age of sexual activity.

    Whether or not to write contraceptive methods into a scene is a writer’s artistic license. If the writer chooses not to, the reader is free to imagine that the couple uses natural family planning. :)

  6. joysann

    Some great comments here, far better than I can articulate. With no statistics to back me up, I expect that adult fiction readers are intelligent enough to be responsible. It’s not necessary for the author to tell me that the food my heroine sits down to eat has been prepared in a healthy manner; it’s something I assume. The information on family planning and STDs is out there, and doesn’t need to be in the books I read for entertainment.

  7. Bertrice Small

    Oh lord! Where has this women been for the last 39 years? In stasis? Did I spell that right? I thought we had gotten rid of these old grumps. When at RWA in
    NYC at the end of June I had the pleasure of doing a Question&Answer for the
    International Association for the Study of Popular Fiction, a group of academics who teach at the high school and college level. Their members love Romance, are up-to-date with their reading, and asked intelligent non-hostile questions. I very much enjoyed my time with them. In my genre, Historical, condoms were the not the norm, and no gentleman swashbuckler would have said, “Excuse me, my dear, while I sheath my weapon,” before having sex with the heroine. If this numnutz read my historicals she would fall into a permanent swoon.

    Modern woman know how to take care of themselves, and don’t like to being told how dumb and foolish they are because they read romance, and also have children.
    You, madam, are a first class sourpuss!

  8. terri patrick

    Wonderful words! While it does surprise me as these articles like Ms. Quilliam’s continue to appear, I totally adore and appreciate the articulate and objective responses that they generate. This benefits all of us in how we approach these attacks, each time. Past advice regarding attacks against the genre was to smile silently all the way to the bank. Not so anymore. :D

    As Bertrice has shared, there is a growing number of professional organizations that see the value of romance fiction, for many reasons. I admit with pride that I write/read/adore romance novels.

  9. Anne Parent

    Great rebuttal of this so called article based on research. If Susan Quilliam bothers to respond, please send her my email address and I’ll recommend some journalism and research books before she attempts to write another “research article.” I could also refer her to a friend who is a multi-published doctor who could show her the correct way to gather and use research before writing a true research based article.

    Sorry to get on my bandwagon, but yellow journalism is a pet peeve of mine. And, I’m furious that The Huffington Post would print such gibberish, but not at all surprised.

    Thanks for setting the record straight because you have a large following readers.

  10. Rachael Sudul

    While I agree that the romance novel isn’t to blame for the negative image the condom may have, we have an epidemic of STD’s HIV that the romance novel world could have a very positive impact on. I don’t believe her “study” is valid in any way but I’m glad it has sparked a conversation about women and condom use. I believe women have taken a back seat in their own protection for many generations because the man was supposed to always carry the condoms… women just don’t have the luxury of ignorance anymore. Ignorance can have very serious consequences these days if not kill you. My mom and I went into business to create a way for women to carry their own condoms discreetly and beautifully Just In Case compacts – so that when she meets that hero who sweeps her off her feet sex can be a bit safer… Funny enough we were featured in the Daytime Emmy gift bags… basically the award show for televised romance novels and we were almost kicked out of the bag because the “powers that be” didn’t want condoms associated with the Emmy’s… We have a long way to go in bridging a bit of reality in our fantasy… daytime TV hasn’t had the guts to do it yet… Maybe Romance Novels can lead the charge!! xo

  11. Sandra Elzie

    I know this is a serious article…and the subject is serious, but I must admit that I laughed when I first read it. Who …or what….is Ms Quilliam under the influence of?

    I have a 13 year old granddaughter and she definitely knows the difference between fiction and non-fiction (even though she doesn’t read books about unprotected sex) but I can’t imagine her allowing a fiction book to influence her to make a stupid decision that’s in total contrast to what she knows is right.

    Kids today are much more informed than my generation, partially because they’re bombarded from all sides with good and bad information…especially the Internet and TV. For someone to blame a romance book for a child making a wrong choice goes beyond being silly, but fits with the current day’s tendency for the younger generation to blame someone….or ANYONE else for their wrong choices instead of taking responsibility for their own stupid choice.

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  13. Dianna Love

    Barbara and Maya – kudos on intelligent posts about an article that was written with what appears to be very little – if any – research. It appears that authors spend far more time researching details for their books than this person did on what is supposed to be an informative article, and the authors write fiction. How sad is that? The good news is that romance readers are intelligent women, and men.

  14. Mac Perry

    “And while we’re add it, let’s blame animals. They obviously do it without condoms in front of kids. Where will it all end?”

    Best line of your whole post, Barbara.
    I almost fell out of my seat. ;)

  15. Melinda Leigh

    And here I thought women were intelligent enough to recognize the difference between fiction and nonfiction.

    Note: sex is normal, healthy and, get this, it can be really FUN. Lighten up.

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  17. Jen

    Regarding condom use, and women being responsible for themselves, I believe Nora Roberts (one of those “irresponsible” romance writers) put it best in one of her trilogies. In Key of Light, the first time Malory has sex with Flynn, the dialogue goes something like this. Flynn says “Oh hell, condom. Pants. Floor.” Malory says “Condom. Drawer. Nightstand.” Flynn says “I love a prepared woman.” LOL.

    For the most part, condoms aren’t mentioned, but as so many people have said, women today know how to take care of themselves. We realize that condoms are essential to sex with somebody we aren’t married to or have just started dating. Again, I’ll pull out Nora. Her comment about all of this hullabaloo was something to the effect of “People aren’t that dumb.” Exactly. Count on Nora to sum it up with a pithy comment. ;)

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