Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Wise Choices, Romantic Reads (and Shaunti Feldhahn)

Popular Christian author Shaunti Feldhahn weighs in today on our recent discussion on reading romance novels. Shaunti is the author of numerous books on sexuality and gender. Here's her views:

"I enjoy an escapist beach read like anyone else. I’ve got no literary pretensions. That said, however, I was concerned to learn that many romance novels are not as harmless as they look. In fact, some marriage therapists caution that women can become as dangerously unbalanced by these books’ entrancing but distorted messages as men can by distorted messages of pornography.

In fact, many of today’s romance novels actually have a huge soft porn influence, as nearly all major publishers are rushing to put out mainstream “erotica” titles to meet exploding demand. At what point should we admit that there is little difference between graphic images to men and seductive, graphic words and feelings to women? Erotica romances provide the porn-laced story with no worry about a spouse catching you online.

Erotica aside, even traditional romance novels promote - almost by definition - an unattainable romantic ideal. The male heroes are all strong, rugged and breathtakingly handsome, yet sensitive, patient listeners and utterly unselfish. Is it any wonder that if we read two or three of those romances in a row, we’d start to be irritated by our real-life husbands with all their wonderful yet exasperating idiosyncrasies?

Dr. Julianna Slattery, psychologist and author of the excellent book Finding the Hero in Your Husband, explained in an interview that “For many women, these novels really do promote dissatisfaction with their relationships. There is a neurochemical element with men and porn, but an emotional element with women and these novels. I have met women that are addicted to these novels.”

Although I wish “erotica” would disappear, I’m not suggesting women ditch other books that also happen to be romance stories. But this summer, those of us who like a good beach read would do well to remember, as we fold up our towel and head home, that it’s our choice to find the hero in our husband and not in the pages of a fiction book."

I think Shaunti draws an important distinction between romance literature (love-driven stories) and erotica literature (lust or sex-driven stories). I'm pretty sure, in our God-dwelling spirits, we can tell the difference between the two. Especially if we pray to be able to discern that difference.

Christian publishers make this distinction for you and do not publish erotica or anything near it.

I also think Shaunti hits upon something key when she mentions the frequency with which we read romantic stories. Particularly the ones where the leading men seem perfect. Most the writers I know and read create well-rounded characters, not fantasy characters.  And most have additional plot lines in the book besides the will-they-fall-in-love one.

But, like so many things in life, where a little bit can be fine or even beneficial, a steady diet of it can bring unwanted results. If reading certain novels - or a lot of them - makes you unhappy with your spouse, choose different reading material. Don't lust after a fictional character, or make your husband live up to one.

If reading them makes you uncomfortable or distracted from life in Christ, avoid them. And if you feel any God-given conviction, put down the book and pick up something else - such as the Bible or It's No Secret. :)

My bottom line: I'll continue to read some romantic novels but I'll do so cognizant of the fact that there is a line I don't want to cross here. And I suspect, the placement of that line could vary somewhat among us or even within myself at different times in my life, marriage or walk with God.

What's your bottom line on reading romantic novels?


  1. AnonymousJune 14, 2011

    I try to live by Phil. 4:8

    Whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely etc.............think about these things....

    If I can read the novel and continue to follow the guidelines above, great! If I cannot....I stop reading it.

  2. AnonymousJune 14, 2011

    It is interesting to think that something (like romance novels) might be ok at one point in your life but not at another. You got me thinking!

    Good topic.


  3. This has been an excellent topic, thank you!!! I have to say I never really cared for romance novels as they all were the same story line basically....attracted to each other, girl gets furious, boy goes after her, they sleep together, girl leaves, then the get together in the end....that never did a thing for me.

    However, I would read one occassionally as you called it a "beach read" when I was on vacation and didn't want to think too much about what I was reading or keep up with a difficult plot. I found I became increasingly upset with my husband. In the Book LOVE DARE, one of the things the author talks about is for women not to compare their husbands to the men in romance novels b/c they can NEVER live up to a character that is created from an author (who usually is a woman!) I found that very interesting.

    I will maybe give Christian romance novels a try but it really isn't my genre of choice at all (romance novels, not Christian just to clarify) I think right now I will stick to my Medieval Historical Fiction. When I compare my husband to a lot of those medieval husbands (kings included) my hubby comes out looking like a superhero :)

  4. This discussion over your past several posts has been very interesting. And I'm really still thinking about it to determine my final stance. So these thoughts below might just be me babbling.

    I don't read "erotica" or anything like it. I don't know that I even really read romance novels. (I think that category of romance novels is tricky. Would Marybeth's The Mailbox be considered romance? If so, then I do read novels like that.) Most (all? except some children's books) of the fiction I read is from Christian publishers. I think, like you said, that distinction between the two types of literature is an important one. And many of us love a sweet love story - be it hearing about how two of our real life friends met or a sweet story in a novel.

    I think your comments (in the comments on the devotion) about watching the overflow of our hearts is really essential. Even those sweet emotional stories that do not even focus on physical attraction may still cause people to covet that relationship rather than their own. Do you think this is possible?

    Perhaps a key is to remember to praise God. Praise for our husbands, praise for purity, praise for the Spirit dwelling in us. This perspective of praise, gratitude, and love keeps our hearts intentionally and gracefully filled rather than empty and wanting.

  5. I'm with Caroline, if inspirational fiction with it's stories of love found are considered romance then, yes, I do read them. But I only read those from Christian publishers. The stories contained in Karen Kingsbury's novels or Marybeth's The Mailbox have NEVER left me wanting more out of my husband than he was capable. In fact, they have always helped me to see the good and appreciate the man God placed in my life. And that I would say is the mark of a book well-chosen (romance or not).

    Speaking of reading, I'm off to find a good one! Happy Reading everyone!

  6. I know when I wasn't in a relationship where love was present I could write romance - never with sexual tone- it just cheapened it up, I wrote the type of romance I wanted to read but when I found romance and was in a loving relationship I couldn't write it anymore. I could never catch just the right emotion and feeling to put on paper. It could be I was having to much fun living it instead of writing it. But there is one online Christian writer I do follow. And each chapter includes a bible verse for that chapter. I love it

  7. Several of you mentioned Marybeth's The Mailbox - good read. Technically it would be categorized as a contemporary romance. But it was more than just girl meets guy. And it was "clean."

    Veronica - I love that your favorite fiction makes you happy to have your husband.

    Caroline - yes, I think the sweet love stories with no sexual scenes can also become a source of trouble for some. They can create a longing their own husband cannot or will not fill, and that can bring or add to frustration.

    The good news is, however, is Jesus is the lover of our souls and the future husband of each of us. So there's that. :)

    Connecting - give us the link to the online writer you like.

  8. here it is,,,,,


    I love these


  9. I absolutely agree that The Mailbox is much more than just the sweet love story. Thanks for mentioning that! I like what Pam said about it, too.

    I love what you said about Jesus being our future husband. The truth!

    I'm also so thankful that I know God chose my husband here in this life to be with me. (Just as He chose us to parent our son.) Why He chose me for my husband, I don't know (I want my husband to have perfection in his wife, which I am not). But, I know God put us together, and I'm beyond blessed for that. That truth adds to the solid base God provides in our marriage.

  10. My favorite for medieval historical fiction:

    Several favorite Christian authors - Catherine Palmer, Francine Rivers, Karen Kingsbury.

  11. Thanks for mentioning Mailbox you guys! I try to create characters who are true to life. They are heroes-- but they have flaws too. Just like our husbands. :) Several people have surmised that David in my new novel, She Makes It Look Easy, is based on my husband Curt. They would be right. Even Curt saw it when he read the book. He said, "David is me, right?"


Chime in.