A tall, dark and handsome stranger is whispering dirty things in a woman's ear, but I'm the one getting goosebumps. The whole encounter happened in a romance novel, but that doesn't make it any less sexual.
Just reading about flirting with someone cute at a coffee shop can make me blush, and when the two main character finally kiss (or get in bed together), I often get turned on in real life. Sound familiar? I've had many friends tell me reading romance or erotica novels helps them get in the mood for sex with their partners. But how can words on a page translate to making people want to get it on in real life?
Unlike pornography, which relies on salacious visuals, romance novels are regular books complete with character development, major plots, moments of conflict and a feel-good, happily ever after—just a little bit raunchier. Even romance books that tend to nudge, nudge, wink, wink about sex rather than explicitly describe sexual encounters can turn me on. It turns out, there are a few reasons why this can happen.
Romance novels can influence our attitudes and actions
Reading has an impact on our brains. In fact, a 2013 study in Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts linked reading romance and suspense novels to higher interpersonal sensitivity levels: being more aware of and empathetic to other people's abilities, states and traits.
"Ideally, romantic fiction can function to both entertain and educate readers, by combining them with clear and comprehensive continuing public sexual education, via the promotion of realistic expectations and depictions of safer sexual practices," said the authors of the article.
Sexual imagination stimulated
When reading about sex, it's easy to imagine ourselves in the situation, therefore turning us on in real life.
"Reading romance requires the reader to use their sexual imagination," said Helen Birch, a U.K.-based sex therapist and clinical hypnotherapist of Helen Birch Hypnotherapy. "Unlike watching porn, the reader can imagine themselves in that certain place or situation. It allows the reader to imagine some sexual fantasies focused on desire and feeling rather than just watching actors on a screen."
This is especially great for people who are uncomfortable watching porn. "Romance novels are popular due to the emotional connection the reader has with the characters and the context," Birch explained. "The emotional element is not usually seen in porn but is explored and expressed in romance books."
Focus on emotions
Sex may be a physical connection, but it often stimulates a wide range of emotions. Reading romance books can do the same thing. "Romance novels allow the reader to explore intimacy and emotions," Birch said. "Through reading the books, issues such as anxiety, consent, communication, vulnerability and sexual dysfunctions are explored." It can be a vehicle for opening communication with a partner as well.
Birch mentioned that many romance novels "encourage healthy and equal relationships, where all parties have equal pleasure and enjoyment," which is an important message to read and internalize. "You also get to learn about the lives of the characters, and their flaws, insecurities, and how they feel before, during and after sex," said Birch. "Readers can then apply that to their own lives and experiences."
Is this a good way to get in the mood?
If romance novels turn you on (same!), then by all means, keep reading.
These books are "a brilliant way to get turned on," according to Birch, as they "get the reader thinking about sex, passion and having pleasure." She added, "For women, they are particularly useful, as, unlike men, women need more mental stimulation to become aroused." You might even want to use your spicy reads as foreplay.
Romance novels can also help you figure out what you want in the bedroom. "They are a great way to discover and experiment with what turns you on and what turns you off," Birch added. "You can imagine fantasies or even share a fantasy that you would be too embarrassed to watch as porn. Often, we don't actually know what turns us on until we read about it. With romance novels, you can explore a sexual fantasy in a safe way. There are so many genres that all sexual fantasies can be safely explored. They are a good educational resource—you could read them as a couple to create intrigue or borrow some sexy talk from the dialogue the characters use."
So, if you've been wanting to try BDSM, role-playing, dirty talk or some other form of sexual intimacy, read about it first to see if it turns you on. Then, use the book as an easy way to open up to your partner about your fantasies (and let them read it for tips, too).
Just make sure the books you're reading are sex-positive. "If it does not support healthy sexual adult development, then it is a red flag for me," Birch said.
If you have been struggling with a low sex drive or just want a little help getting in the mood, then pick up a few romance novels to read. They are entertaining and arousing—not to mention, filled with ideas to diversify your regular sexual routine. Going to the library has never been more exciting!