Are Rom Coms porn for women?

It’s a good question, one that turns up every eighteen months or so. Here’s the latest iteration, from Relevant MagazineRom-Coms are perverting the way we think about love.

The author, Melissa Collier Gepford, makes it clear that she thinks the habit of watching silly, trivial romantic comedies is not as bad as the habit of watching porn. But she teases out some excellent points about why it’s still bad for us, bad for our relationships, and bad for our understanding of love in general to spend too much time watching rom coms. She points out that

[w]atching a romantic comedy produces the same chemical cocktail that watching pornography does—dopamine, oxytocin, endorphins. It creates the same longing, the same high …

But these chemicals don’t just produce a type of feeling, they create a habit. These hormonal triggers forge neural pathways the same way a person walking through the woods creates a pathway.

She says:

romantic comedies also create unrealistic expectations for bodies, for relational performance, for immediacy of intimacy without real work.

Romantic comedies perpetuate unrealistic expectations for how men and women should interact, for timing, fate, conflict and connection on a basic level. We want the Pinterest-perfect wedding without committing to the hard work of a real relationship.

[E]xpecting that type of relationship really is a form of objectification. Pornography reduces women to their sexuality, diminishing their multi-dimensional being. In rom-coms, men are treated as a means to an end—a woman’s happily ever after. Women spend a lot of time dreaming about our wedding day—it typically starts when we’re little girls.

I created a Pinterest board for my wedding before I had ever met my husband.

To view someone as a means to an end, is to strip that person of his or her human dignity, the imprint of God’s own image.

Gepford makes some valid points about how something that seems morally neutral and culturally acceptable can actually cause true harm, even devastation, in a relationship.

But I still think she’s wrong, or at least careless.

Make no mistake: I don’t enjoy rom coms. I have no patience with them. The heroines are usually whiny and entitled, and guys are usually swishy and useless. The sound track usually stinks on ice, the story is usually full of holes, the setting is usually as persuasively realistic as a Lisa Frank coloring book. The dialogue usually makes me want to punch a kitten, and the plot twist at the end usually reveals itself with all the subtlety and cunning of a flasher in a subway bathroom. Lots of people know all this and still find these movies enjoyable, but I am not one of them. So I’m not defending rom coms.

But. They. Are. Not. Porn.

There are lots of things that change our brain chemistry and gradually leave us craving more if we overindulge. There are lots of things that can give us the wrong idea about what life should be like, if we spend too much time with them. There are lots of forms of art or entertainment that treat human beings like things, because they’re not intended to be realistic. There are lots of forms of amusement that are so different from the way life really is, that they can mold us into selfish, dysfunctional monsters if we even halfway believe them.

But let’s let porn be in a class by itself, because sex is in a class by itself.

Widespread pornography does so much damage that secular research and even pop culture have started to notice. Pornography use not only damages relationships and encourages an acceptance of deviancy, it makes users less interested in actual sex, and increases premature ejaculation and erectile disfunction.

But even if it didn’t have any of these effects, it would still be murderously, disastrously, shatteringly wrong, because it takes the most singular experience that a married couple can have and makes it the opposite of sacred. This is why deliberately watching porn, even one time, even for two minutes, is a mortal sin: because sex is that important. Sex is that much different from any other human activity.

Every other human activity has some potential spiritual component: eating, exercising, making art, working, playing, giving birth, and so on. We can misuse any of these behaviors and, by doing so, pervert God’s will for our lives. But none of these activities is so intrinsically meaningful that we automatically endanger our immortal souls by deliberately misusing them.

When we call other bad habits or potentially dangerous practices “porn,” we’re downgrading human sexuality to just another kind of optimal pastime that couples ought to be aiming for. And that’s nonsense, tragic nonsense.

I understand why Gepford wrote the article she did, and I understand that using pornography as an analogy is a good way to grab our attention and remind us that a healthy, holy relationship makes demands on both men and women, not just men. It’s entirely possible for a women to objectify a man so severely and profoundly that she is committing a mortal sin. When these behaviors run unchecked, they can destroy a relationship just as thoroughly as pornography use can.

But when we call every bad habit “porn,” we turn true pornography into just one more bad habit, and it is so much more than that. Sex is in a class by itself, and so is pornography.  The mystery and the glory of human sexuality will remain clouded and distant to us as long as we insist on behaving as if it’s nothing more than just one more healthy habit to strive for, rather than a sacred and unique expression of human love.

***

Image: Ben_Kerckx via Pixabay

Liked it? Take a second to support simchajfisher on Patreon!

6 thoughts on “Are Rom Coms porn for women?”

  1. I have no idea if this has come up in previous iterations of this issue, but I do think there *are* kinds of media that act as porn for women. I don’t think rom coms fit this category at all, but as an example, there are a preponderance of pretty explicit romance novels published today, and there are even streaming services specifically designed for erotic audio stories, all marketed as healthy, normal feel-good products for women. There is a sense in which the imaginative engagement with this smut can warp how people approach sexual relationships, especially since this is a key part of female arousal. At what point is this stuff just another slightly bad habit vs. porn? What’s doubly problematic is many women shamelessly consume this stuff claiming to feel empowered, while at the same time harassing men for their creepy porn addictions. It’s a bit of a double standard.

    1. Well, I agree, but I don’t think they act as porn; I think they are porn. You’re right that there’s a double standard, though, and that people who watch explicit sex scenes as part of a larger story frequently tell themselves that it’s not really porn because there are wigs and hoop skirt involved or something.

    2. I don’t think erotic novels consumed by women get a total pass, but I do think there’s a big difference between reading “these two fictional characters had hot/loving sex” and watching two (or more) real human beings, with real souls (…and plastic surgery that promotes unrealistic bodily expectations) have often-degrading sex on screen. There’s a slippery slope with nixing all erotica where we just decide to take scissors and cut Song of Songs out of the Bible altogether…

  2. Adding to your excellent comments: I also think that [BIG GENERALIZATION COMING] women, as the main audience and consumers of rom coms, don’t typically feel entitled to the “immediacy of intimacy without real work,” as Melissa Collier Gepford puts it. Sure, artificial birth control, hookup culture, and the Big Wedding Complex may all lead some women to leap-frog toward emotional intimacy too quickly. But most women have a tendency to do the work — to communicate, to compromise, to try and keep things together — all in the name of chasing intimacy and security with someone.

    I am biased, but as someone who did all those things in a relationship/marriage that turned emotionally and sexually abusive, I know the lengths that many women will go in pursuit of emotional intimacy. I think women are far less at risk of taking intimacy for granted than men are at risk of taking women for granted — through objectification, entitlement to sex and to women as sex objects, divorcing sex from emotional intimacy or spirituality. And that’s a Porn Problem (among other things), not a rom com problem. Even though The Notebook is just awful.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *