Last night I wrote up some thoughts about romance novels and porn that were generally outside the scope of this blog. You can find them here.
Relevant to this blog is this:
One of the objections that people have to porn is that if someone watches enough of it, he (or she) may become disinterested in regular, vanilla, average sex between real people. Porn stars don't look like regular joes, aren't carrying around 5 or 50 extra pounds, and the plots don't begin with people raising their eyebrows at each other after the kids are in bed. You watch enough of this and what you do in the privacy of your own bedroom will begin to seem...mundane. (Confession: this is someone else's argument; I've never actually rented or downloaded a porn movie. Truth. I'm incurious that way.)
If the above is true, why would that not hold for romance novels, at least in some small way? Romance novel heroes are not like regular guys. They don't work construction or do other people's tax returns. They are not average looking or a bit overweight. They have tragic pasts and witty rejoinders. Most of them have lots of money and all their hair. They don't age. They don't lose their pensions in a market crash. They are idealized men.
If you only read a romance novel now and then or are a person of education or common sense, you can walk away from the fantasy and back into real life without too much dissonance. But romance novels are kind of addictive. Many readers consume them like popcorn. Some read only romance. And if that is your steady diet, your real relationship may begin to feel...mundane. If you don't have a relationship, you may reject perfectly normal men because they are not as attractive as the ones you've been reading about. Even though the ones you are reading about are representative of no one.
I do think that reading romance contains a built-in risk of becoming dissatisfied in some ways, perhaps only small ways, with your life and how romantic it is or isn't. For young women who have grown up in single parent families and haven't really witnessed a normal male/female relationship dynamic, reading lots and lots of romance may be setting them up for disappointment in their love (and sex) lives because that's not how men and women realistically interact with each other. And real life just can't measure up to fiction.