In a study of undergraduates Wu (2006) compares women who read romance to other women and to men. The basic conclusion is: "Most romance novels promote deeply constraining patriarchal values, reading romance novels plays a role in shaping the meaning of self, sexual identity and attitudes and behavior relative to this patriarchy." So, totally a neutral examination of the data then?
Here are some more out-takes of interest. Anyone who indicated that at 1% or more of their reading was romance was put into the 'romance reader group'. The results are described as: "...readers [of romance] self-reported greater sex addiction, greater sex drive and greater number of orgasms required for sexual satisfaction ... Readers of romance novels had fewer sex partners, a lower level of self-assessed femininity than non-readers, and were older when they had their first thoughts of sex and had their first sexual intercourse."
Apparently this is "inconsistency between attitudes and behavior". I really don't see it. Romance readers have more sex addiction and high sex drives, they also have more orgasms. What is inconsistent? That they have fewer partners? Makes sense to me, they get more sex by hooking up with someone regular and perhaps having some solo orgasms. Maybe it is because I am a 'reader' but that makes sense to me. Let's skip to the author's conclusions.
"This study argues that the content of romance novels is at least a modestly powerful molder of the sexuality of those who read them." When did it do that? What I see is some data suggesting that undergraduate women that read romance (or perhaps just read at all, volume of reading does not seem to be partialled out), start having sex a little older (still on average under 18, so not exactly spinsters), have more orgasms with relatively fewer men (still averaging 5 partners--not exactly life-long monogamy, actual number of sexual encounters was not recorded). Absolutely nothing in this data shows that the romance caused the rather modest difference in average behaviour, rather than people who are less promiscuous and more sexual being more inclined to read romance (go figure. I mean what would liking fidelity and sex have to do with enjoying romance fiction?).
In fact Wu writes later: "no cause-effect statements can be made" (so what was that "powerful modifier of sexuality" thing?). But goes on to say "the attitude-behavior inconsistencies (again where?) noted among romance novel readers the result of the socialization influences of the novels or do people with such inconsistencies gravitate to such novels?" So, does romance turn undergraduates into hypocrites, or is it just that hypocrites are drawn to romance? Hmmm, it's a conundrum.
So, if you follow this, romance readers bow down before the patriarchy by being less feminine, wanting more sex, having more orgasms and having fewer sexual partners. Honestly, if that's what the patriarchy wants me to do, I might just be cool with that. Anyway. Maybe you will be able to make more sense of this than I did. The full paper can be found here.