What Exactly is a Romance Novel Addiction? We'll Tell You.

Emma Stone, the help, reading, books, poetry, quiz, literary
via Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Can you actually become addicted to reading romance novels?

Um, what?

Readers of romance, I have some bad news: you need start reading a different genre ASAP or you're bound to become an unbalanced human being. At least that's what life coach Kimberly Sayer-Giles would have you believe in the piece she wrote, "Romance novels can become addictive," back in 2011. Strangely enough, Good Morning America once named Sayer-Giles among the top 20 Advice Gurus.

In her article, Sayer-Giles quotes Dr. Juli Slattery, a clinical psychologist associated with the hate organization Focus on the Family, stating, "For many women, these novels really do promote dissatisfaction with their real relationships." Slattery also says that, in her practice, she's seeing more women "clinically addicted" to romance novels, comparing it to pornography addiction in men.

A few other "highlights" from the article include:

• Author Shaunti Feldhahn says, "Some marriage therapists caution that women can become as dangerously unbalanced by these books' entrancing but distorted messages as men can be by the distorted messages of pornography."

• Slattery says, "For many women, these novels really do promote dissatisfaction with their real relationships" because apparently readers of romance are unable to tell the difference between fact and fiction.

• Vickie Burress, a pornography addiction counselor believes that women who read romance are more likely to have an affair because they "have a hard time keeping their family together."

Whew, that is a lot to process.

Just The Facts, Please

While Sayer-Giles' article is a judgey mess, is there a nugget of truth to addiction to romance novels? After all, statistics show that 75 percent of romance fans are read a romance book a week with 25 percent of romance fans reading more than one book a week. Just how many books that is is unknown and likely varies by the individual.

Apparently, there is some evidence that romance readers can become influence by the books they read as reported in The American Journal of Family Therapy in 1991 by Joan Shapiro and Lee Kroeger. "High levels of romance reading" may cause dissatisfaction with current relationships. A study published in Psychology of Women's Quarterly in 2000 also found some evidence that reading romance carried "negative attitudes" toward using condoms. However, when romance novels demonstrated safe sex, it increased positive attitudes about condoms.

While both studies have found that reading romance could potentially have a downside for some people - something that can be said about all consumable media - there is no evidence that romance novels are "clinically addictive" the way Sayer-Giles suggests. Dr. Amy Muise and Dr. Bjarne Holmes state that "just because something is pleasurable (and releases pleasure chemicals in the brain) does not necessarily mean it is addictive - despite what any "Guru" might claim." You can't become addicted by simply reading romance novels.

In fact, carelessly calling something an addiction or using the word as a scare tactic has a serious downside. Ramsen Kasha, the executive director of the Chicago Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, an addiction treatment and advocacy organization, says thoughtlessly "can really influence how people see a real addiction...If we're not careful about how we use this terminology, we can add to that stigma."

Especially in the midst of a huge opioid epidemic, not causing more stigma and using the correct terminology is more important than every.

Let Women Enjoy Things

Just about everyone that has ever had a "traditionally feminine" hobby of some sort knows what it's like to have their hobby dismissed and belittled no matter what their gender is. Hobbies seen as feminine, including reading romance, have a history of not being taken as seriously as hobbies seen as masculine to the point that licensed professionals and other prominent advice-givers are calling them addictions. That sounds like just another way to control women and their sexuality to me.

The founder of the romance website Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, Sarah Wendall, said it best:

"There are terribly few places wherein women's emotional experiences, personal troubles and intimate sexuality are portrayed favorably. Romances are not bad for you. There is nothing wrong with you for liking them. There is nothing wrong with you for exploring different worlds, different relationships, different emotions, different personal experiences through fiction, and if romances are your preferred way to be entertained, more power to you."

I have to agree with Wendall. You aren't wrong or dirty or addicted for liking to read romance novels. You have a hobby you enjoy. Other people may not understand it, but it's no different than enjoying other book genres. You're perfectly fine.

Let's Keep the Conversation Going...

What do you think of the article?

Tweet us @womendotcom or follow us on Facebook and Instagram!