Damning romantic fiction for failing to educate its readers is both patronising and nonsensical
Leave aside, for now, the fact that the solitary study in which Quilliam encountered this correlation proves nothing about romantic fiction and safe sex – keen readers will find it hard to quarrel with her central point, that these novels supply fewer pointers on reproductive matters than do manuals written by sexual health professionals. Equally, unless there have been great changes recently, the latter contain little by way of plot, character, narrative and suspense, but as Quilliam points out, it is the very escapism of romantic fiction that fosters psychosexual problems.
"While," she allows, "there is much more real-life awareness nowadays – female characters have jobs, male characters are sensitive and sensible, both face challenges such as addiction, disability, single parenting or domestic violence – still a deep strand of escapism, perfectionism and idealisation runs through the genre."
And not just through that genre – much more damaging, concerned parents might think, is the complete disregard for reproductive health awareness in literature for younger readers. Perhaps we can forgive this carelessness in a story such as The Hobbit, though its publication coincided with a good deal of unsafe sex; or The Secret Garden, despite the charged relationship between Mary and Dickon.
But considering her obvious affection and respect for young adults and the importance of early intervention, it is unfortunate that JK Rowling neglected to squeeze even one lesson about sexual health into Harry Potter's Hogwarts timetable. Unsurprisingly, in the later books, we find the 17-year-old alumni, often roaming the world in small, unaccompanied gangs, placing themselves at considerable risk. Recall the scene in a tent, more fully explored in the last film, where Hermione dances with Harry? Only memories of Ron Weasley appears to stand between Hermione and the strong possibility of a teen wizard pregnancy. With luck, Rowling will read Quilliam and take the opportunity, in her new website, Pottermore, to address this oversight, even if it is only with a new spell – condomiamus, say, or a delayed papilloma vaccination for Hermione, although parents would probably prefer a dedicated new teacher, tasked with sexual health education throughout the academy.
Full story at The Observer.