Is reading sexually explicit romance novels wrong?




I really have a great deal of respect for your opinion just based on what I have read on your web site. I would like to get your opinion on how to handle a situation with a couple where I preach, if you have time.

The husband tells me that his wife spends a lot of time reading romance novels. Not the mild kind either, but the kind that are very sexually graphic. He has expressed to his wife that he considers it to be pornography, but she thinks he is being silly and it is just "an escape" for her. She did at one point agree to just read the milder books (evidently the Harlequin books are tame), but she has not done that. He told me that he has found where she has torn the covers off books so that he won't know what it is she is reading.

This really drives him crazy that she reads these books, but doesn't know whether to back off or press the issue.

I know what I think about it. I was wondering what kind of advice or teaching you would offer in this situation.

This line of reasoning shown by the wife could give the casual marijuana user a boast: "Don't be silly, it is just an escape." The person who only occasionally gets drunk at home could make the same claim. Examples like these are extreme, but they serve to point out that the attitude of the person toward what they are doing doesn't make a matter right or wrong. It doesn't matter that she sees the books as a harmless escape; we have to examine whether reading fantasies of sexual escapades is fitting for a Christian woman.

Pursuing Passion

"For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God" (I Thessalonians 4:3-5). The phrase "lustful passion" comes from two Greek words describing things which arouses unlawful sexual desire. Pornography is wrong for the simple reason that God condemns such material. It is not a form of recreation. It is not a personal right. It is a sin.

In order to justify a sinful action, many people turn to the old trick of narrowing the definition. Thus, someone will say oral sex isn't really sex, so you can't claim they are committing adultery. In this case, illicit sexual acts are being described, but because it is being described in words and not visually, "Why, that isn't pornography!" Ask a simple series of questions: 1) Are acts of sex being described? 2) Are those involved in the acts of sex married to each other? 3) Why do you read these particular types of books and not others? i.e. What is the appeal? And here I would not allow the person to get by with lame excuses.

There is the old joke of the man caught with Playboy Magazines in his home and he said, "I only read it for the articles." Like many people caught up in the web of sin, I suspect this woman is in denial regarding what is truly appealing to her. While men tend to be visually oriented, women tend to be verbally oriented. Where many men are trapped by the visual sexual stimulation of pornography, women are often trapped by verbal pornography whether found in books or described in dialog on soap operas.

Let It Not Even Be Named Among You

"But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not be partakers with them" (Ephesians 5:3-7).

It is easy to decide that so long as I am not doing a sin, then I'm not sinning. Paul, though, takes it a step further to say that sins, such as fornication, should not be even associated with Christians. To illustrate his point he urges Christians not to join with non-Christian in making crude remarks, sexual innuendos, or sexually charged jokes. Even if a Christian doesn't commit fornication, the participation in sexual jokes leaves a person with the impression that they approve of fornication.

Therefore, what impression is given when a non-Christian happens to find one of these sexually charged romance novels in your home? Will they leave thinking that you oppose these things or that you spend your day wishing that such things happened to you?

This particular passage is interesting because Paul refers to sexual themed talk as "empty words." In other words, such talk often has no content that benefits the hearer. Many romance novels are referred to as "trash" for this very reason. Outside the titillating sexual escapades, there often is little to no content in these books. Many are not even well written. They have basically one purpose and that is to stimulate sexual fantasies in the reader's mind.

As He Thinks, So Is He

"Do not eat the bread of a miser, nor desire his delicacies; for as he thinks in his heart, so is he. "Eat and drink!" he says to you, but his heart is not with you" (Proverbs 23:6-7).

The point of the passage cited is that actions and thoughts don't always coincide. The accurate portrayal of a person is found in their thoughts. If a person is a miser, just because he invites you over and tells you to eat, it doesn't make him any less of a miser.

Now when a person fills his mind with sinful trash, does it matter what they actually do? If a person finds escape in reading about other people committing fornication, where is their heart? "And He said, "What comes out of a man, that defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a man."" (Mark 7:20-23). Fornication and adultery doesn't start with the act; they start with thoughts about committing the act. The problem is that this poor woman is filling her mind with trash and then pretending that it makes no impact on her life. She is being dishonest with herself.

What to Do?

Obviously, she is willing to defy her husband's wish to protect her from harm. So, unless she is willing to admit she has a problem, it will be nearly impossible to get her to stop.

1) Have her husband go over this and other information about pornography, such as the article "A Look at Pornography," to understand the flawed reasoning behind users of pornography. See if he can sit down with his wife in a loving way to talk her out of her desire to fill her fantasies with trash.

2) If the first fails, try sitting down with her husband and you to discuss these matters. If you have a strong stomach, ask to see what she is currently reading, skim the pages for examples (it won't be hard to find some) and ask if these are appropriate thoughts for a Christian. Ask if these help fulfill Philippians 4:8. Even a woman, unable to admit harm to herself, will react differently if you ask if she would like her daughter to read these things. If she is willing to admit that these concepts are wrong, the start delving into why she is attracted to them.

3) If the second fails, bring in several of the older, sound women to talk with her. Hopefully they will be able to tell her in a way that she can't dismiss the warning.

4) If she persists, then the husband needs to be blunt. Tell her he doesn't approve and that it is harming her soul. Let her know that he can't stop her, but he doesn't have to see the trash in his home. As he finds them, simply destroy them without a word. Reversing the words of I Peter 3:1, "even if some do not obey the word, they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their" husbands. When an impasse comes the best thing is simply do what is right -- not argue about it or whine. The message will come across far stronger and clearer than all the coaxing in the world.

See also:

Questions and Answers regarding Sexual Relations
Questions and Answers regarding Sin