Is reading sexually explicit romance novels good for your marriage?

Imagine that you see your husband sitting on the couch, looking raptly at his computer screen. You ask him what he is watching, and he casually says—as if it’s no big deal—that he’s watching porn. He tries to explain why it’s a good thing: “It’s good for our marriage. Porn turns me on and then I want to have sex with you. I know these are just actors, so it’s not like I think it’s real. Besides, I deserve a little escape from all the stuff going on at work.”

You probably don’t sit back and think, Oh, well, I’ll just watch Dancing with the Stars while he sits there and watches his porn.

Let’s turn the scene around a bit now. Imagine that your husband is watching his favorite show and sees you sitting on the couch, looking raptly at the book in your hand. He asks you what you are reading, and you casually say—as if it’s no big deal—that you’re reading a sexually explicit romance novel. You explain why it’s a good thing: “It’s good for our marriage. It gets me turned on and then I want to have sex with you. I know it’s fiction, so it isn’t like I think it’s real. Besides, I deserve a little escape from everything going on in my life.”

Many wives would be horrified at the first scene of finding her husband viewing pornography and being so casual and matter-of-fact about it. Yet some of these same women would think nothing about being the woman in the second scene.

I know women in my real life who are deeply distressed at a husband’s porn viewing yet believe that reading sexually explicit romance novels is good for their marriage. This is simply not true.

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I have nothing against romance novels. Some of them can be uplifting and encouraging to us in our marriages. We can watch a character work through a struggle we have and then apply it in our lives.

Some of us have to be careful about reading romance novels (including me, which I’ve written about here), but I don’t think romance novels are wrong. I have some amazing friends who write them.

However . . .

. . . when romance novels are sexually explicit, they are no better than porn.

Sexually explicit romance novels hurt marital intimacy in ways similar to the way porn does.

  • They present artificial situations with idealized characters.
  • They cater to your desires. In romance novels, we often see a man who knows the heroine better than she knows herself, who loves her despite her flaws, and who is willing to sacrifice for her. In short, they present an image of intimacy that many of us crave yet isn’t realistic.
  • They emotionally connect you to someone else’s imagination.
  • They invite comparison. How does any actual husband—a regular, flawed human being—have a chance against one of those guys in a book?
  • They arouse us physically.
  • If there is a cover image (can anyone say “bodice ripper”?), your arousal becomes associated with a physical appearance that is likely very different from your husband.
  • You become accustomed to experiencing arousal outside the presence of your husband.
  • And let’s be very frank for a moment here: many women masturbate to sexually explicit romance novels. This is no accident. I have read articles by and interviews with some best-selling writers, and they write this way intentionally. Their goal is to write a really long sex scene that taps into women’s emotional desires to give readers the time they will need to get warmed up, get caught up in the story line and their arousal, and then have an orgasm if they want. Reading these books isn’t just an escape; sometimes it’s a release.

Question: How is that any better than if your husband were watching porn?

Answer: It isn’t.

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Plain and simple, sexually explicit fiction—whether it comes in the form of a romance novel or is labeled as erotica—is not better than porn.

Maybe it is emotional porn. Maybe is it not-quite-soft-core porn. But make no mistake about it: although they aren’t porn, sexually explicit romance novels are porn-ish. (They call it “mommy porn” for a reason.) And they can have just as negative an effect on your marriage as porn can.

The enemy is sneaky. Let’s look back at that scenario in the beginning:

You explain why it’s a good thing: “It’s good for our marriage. It gets me turned on and then I want to have sex with you. I know it’s fiction, so it isn’t like I think it’s real. Besides, I deserve a little escape from everything going on in my life.”

All these things contain a truth—and that’s where the enemy get us. Because there is some truth in these statements, we are conned into thinking that what we’re doing is good.

Consider, instead, the bigger truth about God’s design for sex: it creates intimacy between a wife and her husband, and it mirrors the intimacy we have with God.

Something that shows us an artificial and idealized relationship, caters to our emotional desires, arouses us (perhaps to orgasm) apart from thoughts of our husbands, and invites comparison that pits your husband and marriage against a fictional unreality does not promote intimacy, nor does it mirror the intimacy we have with God.

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I implore you to be prayerful and careful about your reading of romance novels that depict sex (and even more so when those books are made into films).

You deserve a marriage that has not been influenced by unrealistic expectations and arousal that has been brought to you–through you or your husband–courtesy of a fiction.

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If you want to learn more about the appeal of sexually explicit romance novels and how to break free, please check out these books (affiliate links):

Previous Forgiven Wife posts about romance novels:

And be sure to check out these articles about steamy romance novels:

Do you have any resources to add to this list?

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There are some exceptions to what I’ve said here. At times, explicit sexuality is essential to a story. Sexually explicit literature may not be intended to provoke arousal as much as to provoke thought.

Most sexually explicit romance novels, however, are steamy for the purpose of providing escape and getting the readers worked up. i know I’m generalizing some here, but if you read the kind of novels I’m talking about, I’m pretty sure you know what I mean.

Image courtesy of nenetus at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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5 Thoughts on “As Bad as Porn?

  1. Thank you for this thoughtful post. I’ve started avoiding novels that are sexually explicit because you’re right, it starts that comparison trap. You look at the covers and titles of those books…”Alpha Billionaire,” lol.

    My husband works hard, long hours…and will never be a billionaire. He doesn’t have those huge muscles and his hairline is receding, (though he’s quite an adorable 44-year old guy!) When I’m reading those books where she’s ‘running her hands through the hero’s thick hair,’ etc. it’s not my husband I’m picturing in my imagination! It honestly made it harder for me to enjoy ‘the real thing’ (sex with hubby) compared to my overactive imagination and idealized fantasies of fictional men. It’s adultery in the mind, and taking the God-given gift of my loving husband for granted. We’ve been married 20 years.

    He’s never watched porn, and I wouldn’t want myself compared to porn actresses if he did! So why is it okay for me to read those steamy books? It’s been about 5 months now I’ve changed my reading habits to avoid erotica and choose clean romance, mysteries and suspense. I’ve also avoided certain TV shows that provoke the same.

    Great post! 🙂

    • I’m so glad you came to this realization on your own and that you are making reading choices that are better for your marriage now. I rarely paid attention to the titles of the books, but I realized at one point that I had about twenty books with one particular model on the cover. I cringe to think about what must’ve gone through my husband’s and kids’ minds when they saw those books lying around.

  2. I am not into romance novels. I knew from the get-go that reading sexually explicit material is wrong and akin to porn. And even if they aren’t sexually explicit, they are eye-rollingly unrealistic and convoluted. Gag! Despite my cynicism, even if I did roll my eyes at it, it still fueled a big sigh of disappointment in my own marriage, which isn’t romantic at all. Sexual, yes, romantic, no.

    Heck, my sons are more romantic towards me than hubby. They bring me flowers, draw me pictures, bring me gifts, tell me they love me, tell me how beautiful I am.

  3. Charlie O on September 27, 2016 at 8:17 am said:

    It’s not a question of being “as bad as porn.” It is porn!–female porn. Porn is not just pictures, it can be words or sounds. If a wife found her husband listening to the recordings of women having orgasms, she would consider it porn. Or if he called a number and had a woman talk dirty to him, she would consider it porn. Sexually explicit romance stories are porn for the feminine gender. Women are being disingenuous and hypocritical and deceiving themselves to think otherwise. To say that the effect upon women is the same as the effect of porn upon men is probably not totally accurate, but it is definitely not good. Just as the average woman could never look as good as the air-brushed images in visual porn, so no man can provide the same thrill as a imaginary character in a novel. Call it what it is–SIN, and deal with it.

    • I agree with you–and I do call it porn in the post. Although some of the effects of visual porn vs. word porn might be different, there are also many similarities. I suspect many of the causes that make us vulnerable to these things are probably pretty similar, too. Regardless of the specifics, these are things that widen the gap between husband and wife and that cause a breach in the relationship between the user/reader and God. We owe better than that to ourselves, our spouses, and our God.

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