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?