2 minute read

Romance Novels: Porn or Not?

Last Updated: September 10, 2019

Bobby Angel

Bobby Angel is a campus minister and theology teacher at an all-boys' Catholic high school in California. He enjoys writing, surfing, and drinking too much coffee. He and his wife, Jackie, travel often and speak to youth and young adult audiences, sharing the Gospel and the call to a life of chastity. They have two beautiful daughters who won’t let them sleep. Connect with Bobby at jackieandbobby.com.

I remember walking through an airport terminal and seeing a giant poster for the film 50 Shades of Grey. Now, this was an airport terminal where you have people of all ages (including children) and all walks of life seeing this marketing try to normalize acts of sexual violence between partners. As a man, I was more than a bit shocked by the brazenness of this massive advertisement and how telling it was of how far we’ve come undone as a culture.

But, taking a step back from the extreme end of 50 Shades, what about your standard romantic novel? Could a book really be as morally bad as a pornographic film? Are those collections of novels at the supermarket—with all the beefy, long-haired men clasping a scantily clad lady—as morally problematic as the porn sites that rake in billions of dollars each year?

Well, what is the real purpose behind a “romantic novel”? Chiefly, it’s escape.

But escape into what?

Romantic novels are about escaping the humdrum and conjuring up some excitement—particularly sexual excitement. What we have is “textual porn,” words and usually a thin plot meant to arouse and conjure lustful images, if not actions. While the medium is different, the end of the action is the same as your standard visual porn.

Again, at the unfortunate end of the spectrum, you have texts such as 50 Shades that glorify sexual violence, brokenness, and victimhood instead of integrity and any kind of selfless, disciplined love. Just like the “fantasy” women of visual porn, the men in these novels are often caricatures of real masculinity and use their strength to dominate instead of serving the woman before them.

As a Catholic Christian man, I know I am called to a higher standard than the faux-masculinity these novels present. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, “Pornography consists in removing real or simulated sexual acts from the intimacy of the partners, in order to display them deliberately to third parties. It offends against chastity because it perverts the conjugal act, the intimate giving of spouses to each other. It does grave injury to the dignity of its participants (actors, vendors, the public), since each one becomes an object of base pleasure and illicit profit for others. ”

Whether textual, photographic, or cinematic, porn takes what should be an intimate gift between spouses and offers this union up for disordered self-gratification. We can hide behind excuses and rationalizations, but whatever the format the goal is the same—to stir up sexual excitement that doesn’t lead to any total or life-giving union outside of myself.

Great books feed our souls and have something to tell us about the human condition, raising our eyes and hearts upward to the greatness to which we are called. We are made in God’s image and likeness, meant for authentic love and to have this love reflected in our art and literature. We shouldn’t settle for less.

  • Comments on: Romance Novels: Porn or Not?
    1. Stevie on

      I agree 100% with everything in your article! Single or Married, people in our Christian Community need to wake up to this reality, and wake up fast. As Jesus stated in Matthew, that Lust is adultery/fornication by looking at another without basically viewing him/her as your brother or sister in Christ, God’s son or daughter and your own son or daughter even (with most parents) then you commit sexual sin/s within your heart and mind. The heart is a very real and soulful place within yourself. If your relationship with Christ/God/Holy Spirit is not completely centered on Him, with nothing else being of any comparable value and His heart, strength, love, etc., is not enough for you or your focus or value is found with a combination of Him and other things or in other things placed in value before Him, say cell phone games or FB feed when you could be spending your time watering your own garden and helping others to grow in Christ…..where you hold value and or treasure at is an important place to start when beginning to assess your relationship with God and killing sin. Besides looking at the heart, look as well toward the mind. Our minds are the source of all of our five senses. The gateway to every and anything imaginable and real. I find the brain along with our central nervous system (mainly our brain and spinal cord) to be absolutely fascinating. How God created us with our minds is just incredible. Scripture supports so much on how your mind is so much more than just your own way thinking. We are continuously told to be renewing our minds, renewing it daily for a start by prayer and reading His word. When He speaks warning to us to keep away from the world and all of its worldly things (culture, ideas, tech, people at times, attitude, riches and money, work, se x, activities, tv, Internet etc) God warns us, He warns us why? Because what you put in, is what you are inside and out. Maybe it is something so subtle like a tv show that is rated PG even, but you hear one crude joke that is really not crude by your own opinion….but on that ? with why you personally might think it not to be sin or that it was no big deal, where did that opinion/thought come from or develop from? You might not even be aware on a conscious level at all or have any intentions on ever using or thinking that comment or along that line of joking in your own speech or left in your mind to ponder with, but it would of never been there to start with from a subconscious level of being unaware of its growth you think it must be normal thought or speech and nothing is wrong with it. When in Gods eyes there is much wrong with it but you have already placed a worldly seed inside your mind and it grew. Instead of a tv show, place something godly in view or thought. Warnings are there for grave reasons, for great reasons…..to protect you from the subtle to not so subtle traps and lies of the Devil. To keep you growing in Christ and to one day present to God, blameless. If your heart is growing for God then your mind will be there following. The world and your sin should be falling off and you should be appearing to the outside, looking more and more like Christ everyday. Fantasy whether it is read, seen and imagined, thought of on your own and viewed from sources to plant a seed of sinful desire is destructive, it will lead to death. There is nothing innocent or no big deal about it. Keep watch, keep of sober mind everyone. Sober mindedness needs to be a topic of an article. What would we define as a person this? Compare it to how God would define it!

      Reply
    2. Kimberly Johnson on

      Thanks for your article. I am a counselor,and have seen women come to me who said their gateway into internet porn was romance novels.

      Reply
    3. Steve on

      Good stuff for men and women! Thank you. Anything that draws my prurient interest will hurt me. When Jesus admonished the Apostles for falling asleep when he said, “Watch and pray that you don’t fall into temptation.”–I was reminded again. I can easily be drawn away by pictures, internet, television, movies, reading something that moves toward the erotic or sensual. I was porn free for many, many years. Yet during a time when my mom’s health was failing and she was near death I fell big time. I saw myself gradually allowing myself indulgences but I thought I could handle the fire without getting burned. I was wrong. By God’s grace and power I am porn free again for nine years but it was a real battle for several years before that. The promise offered by lust is a lie. It looks so good but it is deadly for me. Cold turkey is my only hope. Keep the faith brothers and sisters. Steve “He who began a good work in you will complete it until the Day of Jesus Christ.

      Reply
      • Greg on

        We’re not the only guys it can affect. Thankfully, I’ve always struggled with reading for long periods of time; but it can still be an issue that needs guarding.

    4. Elizabeth on

      I personally have never liked romance novels. I have always considered them porn even before I became Catholic. I had nothing against them per se but they were not for me. My thought was if you are using for that purpose then a video was faster and frankly less ridiculous. Sure plenty of porn videos are that way but from what i have read about romance novels they seem to be worse. I also have always disliked the unrealistic aspect to them. No man or woman is like that, and it seems to be unfair expectations of our husbands. We dont want them to think things like that of us so why should we?

      That being said i dont believe all books that have sex should be considered porn. Just like we dont consider all movies that have a sex scene porn. As a woman I like stories with strong female characters and there is nothing wrong with that but it can be difficult to find stories with these that don’t have sex scenes, some hint at sex but dont give details and do nice scene breaks but some give a few pages of detail, luckily these details are not on the same level as most romance novels. My line is this if the story would be fine and still make sense without the sex scene i personally dont consider it written porn but when it becomes the main focus as I see in the bit of romance novels i have read over the years then i wont finish reading. Simplied if sex is the main focus then i consider it porn, if not then it isn’t. I did this before I became Catholic because I simply didnt want to read poorly written books (strong female lead or not) and frankly the books were just boring. Now after become Catholic there is that added measure of this being wrong and I would rather err on the side of caution. I dont mind the scenes if they are their for a mood to convey but attempts to arose the reader is too far in my opinion. And worse case scenario if i feel it is a bit much i will skip to the end of the scene and continue the story without any hinderance.

      Anyways that is a new Catholics opinion but as we all should be if the church has other opinions I dont want to do wrong. It has not come up before but now since reading this I am curious.

      Reply
    5. Dr. Harry W. Schaumburg on

      One of the real threats of 50 Shades of Grey is its popularity; the best selling nonfiction book of all time. It out sold Harry Potter. It sells best in the Bible Belt! But it is a myth. Meaning that it mispresents the common practices of BDSM. Alternative Sex (BDSM) is Bondage, Dominance, Sado-Masochism between consensual partners. The person receiving the pain controls the level of pain for sexual pleasure. So in that sense it is not abusive, nor is it forced. However, it is a gross misuse of the body sexually for pleasure. Therefore, I believe it is sinful. An excellent Christian book on the subject is Pulling Back the Shades.

      Reply
    6. Anna on

      You know, there is this clean romance series called Love Inspired by Harlequin. It is a good moral substitute and the romance is clean! No sex, talk about marriage and the characters are realistic. The also have a suspense theme too! That is one clean request!

      Reply
    7. Healing Husband on

      Thank you for this article. The truth about romance novels needs to have this honest light shined on it as it lurked in the dark corners of society. Textual porn nearly ended my marriage as my wife was addicted to romance novels. She displayed the exact same symptoms as a man would if he were viewing pornographic videos for 6 hours a day. Thank the Lord for change and repentance. I can’t go into every detail, but viewing porn or reading these pornographic novels people lamely call “romace novels” caused extreme divides. She would rather read than be intimate. As she was getting her sexual buttons pushed elsewhere during the day, by the time I got home, there was no interest. She would rather read than spend quality time with me. She would read for 5-6 hours a day neglecting our little family while I worked everyday. There are different levels of infidelity, but any dishonesty or secret of an intimate nature, keeping intimate secrets is a form of infidelity, albeit more benign. But the symptoms can be the same.

      Reply

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *