Thursday, January 12, 2017

[Let's Talk]: Romance Survey Results (Part 4)

If you recall, in September I mentioned my senior project and the survey I posted for it. I've since turned in that project, and now that I have a bit more time, I'm going to be discussing the results here on the blog as promised. I'm not sure yet how many parts this discussion will be -- 4 or 5 6, at least? -- but I'll link to all the previous posts each time I post a new one.

These posts will be a combination of the data results from the survey itself, some of the quotes from the survey answers, and my own thoughts and observations. Parts of it will be taken directly from the giant ethnography I turned in, but I'll also be adding more to it in these posts, often in a much more casual way than what's in the paper. :)

I hope that these posts will start some great discussions within our community. But at the very least, I hope you find this series interesting rather than boring.

Catch up:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Today I'll be discussing how being part of the romance community, as well as the romance novels themselves, help to (positively) influence and affect readers.

Truly, each of the following questions could have been better phrased or expanded upon. But, like with everything from this survey/paper, it's a start at least.

Do you feel that READING romance novels has changed the way you view things? If so, can you please briefly explain/give examples?

Percentage of Participants
Number of Participants
Maybe/It’s complicated

Nearly half of the participants (110) said yes, reading romance novels has changed, or helped to change, the way they view things. Many went on to briefly explain how. Those explanations include, but are not limited to: being more open about the world, being more open about sex or their own sexuality, and being more aware of social/political issues.

Almost a third of the answers (73) said something along the lines of “maybe”, “I’m not sure”, or “It’s complicated”. The remaining 20% (or 46 participants) said that no, reading romance has not changed their views. Some clarified this by saying that they’re not going to judge those whose views are different from theirs, but they’re also not going to change their own ways, no matter what they read.

Do you feel that being part of the romance COMMUNITY has changed the way you view things? If so, can you please briefly explain/give examples?

No data. Upon looking through the survey responses, I found that I did not have enough information to use. Many of the participants did not answer this question at all, for whatever reason, and those few who did said that their response was "the same" as what was given in the previous question.

I originally split this larger question in two—Question 10 about romance novels and this one, Question 11, about the community—because I was sure that there might be different responses to each question. My theory was that some might not have changed their views because of the books but might have because of the people in the community itself. However, the small number of answers (compared to the overall number of surveys taken) and the fact that those who did answer did not see a difference between the influence of the books versus the community suggests that perhaps I should have approached this particular question a different way.

The genre and the community are two different things and I thought that this would show in these questions. Either participants do not see them as two different things (for the purpose of this question, at least) or perhaps I didn't clarify enough on these two questions for them to consider answering both. Oh well. Live and learn; there's always something that can be improved, even if you spend a lot of time revising it before publishing.

Do you consider yourself more sex positive after reading romance/joining the community? Could you briefly explain your answer? (Sex positive: The view that sex, as long as it's consensual, is a healthy and positive thing, and there's no shame in it.)

Percentage of Participants
Number of Participants
Maybe/It’s Complicated
Don’t understand the question

Note: When I first posted the survey, I did not clarify what I meant by “sex positive”. This was my fault. It was not until about a week in that a few people contacted me to ask for clarifications on this question; at that point, I updated the survey to include the parenthetical note on what sex positive is (as listed above). However, I still had some that felt this question was too vague, or the idea of sex positivity itself was too vague for them to analyze in their own life, while others thought this was worded in a leading way. This is one of the questions that I would reword and approach differently if I could go back and do this all over again.

The “yes” category of responses were straight up yeses. Whether they expanded on their answer beyond that or not, these were people who do not at all question the idea that reading romance novels (or being part of the romance community – or both!) helped them to be more sex positive. This group comprised of over half the participants (120). Some went on to explain how romance novels have influenced their sex positive views. The most common comment here mentioned that they grew up in a more conservative family—Christian or otherwise—where sex was either frowned upon or simply not even talked about (in terms of “the talk”). By reading romance novels, which tend to be very pro-sex especially for the women in the novels, and/or engaging with the romance community, which also tends to be very much pro-sex, they’ve learned to embrace sex as something that is normal and healthy and most importantly not something to be ashamed of.

A third of the responses (76) said either “Maybe”, “It’s complicated” or “Yes, but…”. Here’s what I mean by that last answer in particular: some readers said that they were already pretty sex positive before they started reading romance novels, but also said that the novels/community definitely continued to influence them (positively) in that regard. More than a few also brought up that because they started reading romance novels so young (say 8-16), long before they were sexually active, they’re not completely sure how much influence romance novels had on their current sex positivity. This brings up a good point, which I’ll touch on in a later post.

The remaining answers were either a variation on “I don’t understand the question” (14) or “No” (17). As previously mentioned, it is my fault for the lack of clarity and precise wording in the question, which more than likely caused many of those participants’ confusion. As to the “No” responses, they were either listed as just that—with no further explanation—or they mentioned something along the lines of “No, because my own values/beliefs on sex are not going to change”. One mentioned that they wouldn’t consider themselves sex positive because they firmly believe sex should only be between a man and a woman, while another mentioned that she’s from a generation that did not view sex in a very open or positive way and she’s still very much stuck in her ways about that.

There was one reader who explained how romancelandia actually negatively impacted her views on sex. To quickly sum up, after being told by romancelandia (in reference to sex scenes) that "it shouldn't be creamy down there" (something we all joke about), she worried that there was something wrong with her body. After visiting her doctor, who assured her that the "creaminess" was, in fact, perfectly normal (discharge and fluids vary from body to body and from cycle to cycle, etc.), she still couldn't get past the fact that she's been told by the romance community it shouldn't be creamy (or similar terms). That message made her self-conscious about her body and as a result, she no longer enjoys oral sex, something that she had no issue with before this happened.

This story was fascinating to me because I had never thought about how romance/the community could negatively affect a person. It's not that I thought it was impossible -- I simply had not thought about how it could happen. I'm curious now: in what other ways have readers been negatively impacted by the genre/community?

Do you consider yourself more "open" after reading romance/joining the community? (You may define "open" any way you wish, whether that's sexually or if it's about general open mindedness about the world around you.)

Percentage of Participants
Number of Participants
No, not at all
No, because I already was (open)

Note: This question is similar and often overlaps with both the sex positive question and the question about romance novels changing one’s views. In hindsight, I should have either combined these questions or approached them each in a different way.

The majority of responses (158) said that yes, they consider themselves more “open” since they started reading the genre/joined the community. Some went on to elaborate on this answer, and the additional comments ranged from views on social issues or views on diversity/race/sexual orientation to being more open in their own sexuality. A few mentioned that they’ve become more aware of what they find sexually arousing, while others mentioned that due to romance novels and/or the community, they’ve realized their sexual orientation is not heterosexual.

24 said some variation of “Maybe”, but didn’t really elaborate beyond that, while 22 said no because they were already pretty open before romance novels/the community entered their lives. The remaining 20 participants said a straightforward no, nothing has changed for them because they hold to their own views.

Has reading romance novels/being part of the community helped you on a personal level? (Note: If so, I’d love if you could briefly share an example/explanation, but I understand if you’d rather leave it at "yes".)

Percentage of Participants
Number of Participants

183 of the participants—that’s just over 80%—said being part of the community and/or reading romance novels has helped them on a personal level. This number did not surprise me at all. This genre and community is very much an intimate thing—not in the sexual sense, but rather how it connects to emotions, relationships, and personal lives. Many who said yes went on to tell me a bit about their experiences and how the genre and community have helped them to cope, helped them to find friends, and generally helped them during the times when life has been tough. Quite a few gave a detailed look into their personal history, and I have to say I both loved being able to read that and see proof of how romance novels can be so powerful to a reader, and was also very humbled by the fact that they chose to share it with me for use in this paper. There was mention of both physical and mental illnesses, family and personal troubles, and feelings of being alone, and it’s truly worth taking a look at the full responses to see just how much romance has had an impact on many of the participants’ lives.

The remaining responses fit into two groups: “No” (without any additional explanation or wording) or “Both/Maybe/Somewhat”, where the response given was not a straight-forward yes or no, for whatever reason. These two groups were made up of, respectively, 24 and 19 participants.

My experience:

I’m thankful every day for being part of this community. Without the romance community, I’d be lost. Without romance novels, and the amazing people who read and write them, I’d be a very different person today. Let me try to explain that a bit.

As I mentioned, I live in a small town in rural Utah. To put it simply, my world view is—or rather, would be—very limited based on that fact alone. My area is predominantly white and straight (and cis, for that matter) and is also mostly from a LDS faith background. It’s easy to see how the viewpoints around here could be quite limiting. Even though my family is not active in the LDS church, a lot of those ideas have been a part of my upbringing simply because of the overall culture of my town.

For most of my life, I listened as family, friends, and community members spoke negatively about the LGBTQ+ community; at best they thought they were “wrong” or “unnatural”, at worst they thought they shouldn’t exist or weren’t worthy of equal rights, period. Because I was still young and not quite confident in my own voice and views yet, I didn’t speak up, even though I never felt this way about anyone, especially because of their sexuality or gender identity. I regret that every day because silence is as bad, if not worse, than outright hatred. I was part of the problem.

But here’s how romance novels and the community helped me. They showed me that I needed to speak up, that I need to support those who are being mistreated. They showed me that love is love and it doesn’t matter what others think. I started reading M/M (male/male, or gay) romances. (Quick note: M/M is by no means the entirety of the LGTBQ+ romance subgenre; however, it is the part of the genre that I’m most familiar with right now.) Because of romance novels and the smart, open people in the community, I’m no longer the one sitting silently while those around me make jokes or say hateful things. I’m the one that now speaks up, even if it’s just to say something as simple as “No, that’s not right, stop saying that.”. Perhaps it may not seem like much in the grand scheme of things, and obviously society has a long way to go yet, but it’s a start. And I owe that all to romancelandia.

Romancelandia isn’t perfect though. There are some who are not as open-minded, some who have vastly different views than the bulk of the community. For all the things that I love about it, there are flaws within the industry and community. Perhaps the biggest is the lack of diversity, and the way that the call for diversity is treated (spoiler alert: it’s treated poorly). I try to do what I can to support and read diverse romances, to step forward when I can help, to step back and listen when it’s not my turn to speak. I’m not perfect in this regard, but I try my best, and will continue to do so.

Reading romances didn’t just help me to be more aware and open about social issues. It also very much helped me to be sex positive. Growing up, sex was not a topic we discussed in my house. At all. I never once had “the talk”. And if sex was mentioned, it was done in a negative way: it was something to be ashamed of, something dirty that shouldn’t be done, unless you were married. This was also how sex was handled within my community. Even worse, women who actively sought out consensual sex were labeled as “slutty” simply for taking charge of their own sexuality. Romance novels, along with the help of the (mostly) sex-positive romance community, taught me the exact opposite of that society message. I didn’t see sex as dirty or wrong. It wasn’t something to avoid, and it definitely wasn’t something to shame others for. And that change in thinking is due to romancelandia. 

I have been (positively) impacted in so many ways by the romance novel and community, and I'm always thankful for it.

Again, listing the percentages only does not do these responses justice. I'm thinking about stripping all personal information from the survey responses, mixing the answers up, and posting the file for those interested in looking through it. Thoughts?

How has reading romance and/or being part of the romance community helped you, influenced you, or changed you/your views? There's no right or wrong answer, and you don't have to go into detail if you do not wish to. The comments are open though to whatever you want to add to this discussion. :)


Until Next Time,
  *TBQ's Book Palace is a member of both the Amazon and Barnes and Nobles affiliates program. By using the links provided to buy products from either website, I receive a very small percentage of the order. To read my full disclosure on the matter, please see this post!

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