Some recent posts on the romance novel reminded me of a study by Amanda Diekman, Mary McDonald, and Wendi Gardner (2000). These researchers found that frequent readers of romance fiction were likely to have more negative attitudes toward condom use, report less frequent condom use in the past, and less intention to use condoms in the future. These risky sex behaviors were all interpreted as consistent with the “swept away by passion” script embedded in most romance fiction, in which condom-use is rarely mentioned. In a fascinating follow-up study, these experimenters randomly assigned readers to read different texts, including an excerpt of romance fiction that was altered to include mention of condom use. Reading took place once a week over three weeks and at the end of this period those who read these altered pieces of romance fiction reported more positive attitudes toward condom use than those who read the more traditional excerpts of romance fiction. This pair of studies illustrates how romance fiction might not only provide an unrealistic model for love, but also a risky model for sex.
Diekman, A. B., McDonald, M., & Gardner, W. L. (2000). Love means never having to be careful: The relationship between reading romance novels and safe sex behavior. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 24, 179–188.
(Readers interested in a copy of this article may contact me for a copy. E-mail in profile.)