Reading Romance Novels and Female Sexuality among American Heterosexual and Lesbian College Students

By Huei-Hsia Wu.

Published by The Diversity Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

This analysis examines whether reading romance novels associates with female sexuality by sexual orientation. Respondents were 7778 female American college students, including 4967 heterosexuals and 218 lesbians, age 17–49. Key indices of sexuality include femininity, degree of sex drive, sex addiction, promiscuity, number of orgasms required for sexual satisfaction, age of first sex thought and first sexual intercourse, and number of sexual partners. Most romance novels endorse consumerism rooted in patriarchal and heterosexual values, reading romance novels molds the sexual attitudes of readers pertaining to this patriarchy. However, these attitudes are not coherent with readers’ sexual behavior. The results indicated that heterosexual readers of romance novels reported greater femininity, sex drive, sexual satisfaction and lower promiscuity than lesbian readers, and non-readers. Nonetheless, heterosexual readers had fewer sexual partners, and were older when they first thought about sex and had their first sexual intercourse than lesbian readers and non-readers. This attitude-behavior inconsistency pattern matches the Harlequin romance representation of female sexuality. That is, female readers imaging an enjoyable sexual life in the setting of unrealistic monogamous devotion, while simultaneously vividly fulfilling such a sexual fantasy through fictitious characters.

Keywords: Romance Novels, Feminist, Plastic Sexuality, Sexual Fantasy, Heterosexual, Lesbian, Patriarchal Values

International Journal of Diversity in Organizations, Communities and Nations, Volume 6, Issue 6, pp.31-38. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 882.480KB).

Dr. Huei-Hsia Wu

Sociology Department, Boise State University, Boise, Idaho, USA

Professor Wu has worked as a journalist, political analyst, and professor specializing in the sociology of gender, immigration, and labor. Born and raised in Taipei, Taiwan, she studied journalism and worked in the family restaurant. In 1990 she won the ministry of education’s “national merit” scholarship and competitively tested into the National Taiwan University. As a journalist she covered politics for People’s Daily News. She also worked as a legislative analyst for the Kuomintang (KMT) party and helped manage a mayoral campaign. In 1995 she won a scholarship to study political science at the University of Texas at Austin. Working with the UT Population Research Center, she earned a second masters and the doctorate in sociology. At Boise State University she has developed popular new classes in demography and Asian studies. Twice recognized for teaching excellence by the Boise State Associated Student Body, Professor Wu emphasizes hands-on applied undergraduate research. Her own research is increasingly international and interdisciplinary. Peer-reviewed research has appeared in Demography, International Journal of Women Studies, Michigan Sociological Review, Free Inquiry in Creative Sociology, and Idaho Issues Online as well as anthologies and conference proceedings. She is also a regular contributor of teaching supplements under contract with W.W. Norton of New York and Sage Publishers of Los Angeles. Her teaching supplements for Anthony Giddens, et al., annually reach more than 30,000 undergraduates in 17 countries.


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