Safe-sex warnings sought on Mills & Boon romances

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The Independent Culture

Read about it, fantasise about it, get turned on by it - but be sensible when doing it. Romantic novels of the Mills & Boon variety which titillate with their idealised sex scenes, encourage women to have unsafe sex and increase the spread of sexually-transmitted diseases, such as Aids.

Read about it, fantasise about it, get turned on by it - but be sensible when doing it. Romantic novels of the Mills & Boon variety which titillate with their idealised sex scenes, encourage women to have unsafe sex and increase the spread of sexually-transmitted diseases, such as Aids.

Psychologists in the United States have found that descriptions such as "he undressed her slowly ... then took her gently over the crest," greatly reduce a woman's desire to practise safe sex. Now, publishers of romantic fiction are facing calls to print health warnings on book covers.

By omitting details such as the rustle of a condom packet, writers of romantic fiction, it is claimed, create negative attitudes towards the use of contraception and perpetuate the myth of being "swept away" by romantic love.

Last night, women's health and Aids awareness groups said publishers should show more responsibility about their portrayal of sex scenes.

The Aids charity The Terrence Higgins Trust Lighthouse said romantic fiction publishers should carry warnings about safe sex at the front of their books.

Psychologists at Northwestern and Ohio state universities carried out their research - published in Psychology of Women Quarterly - on 150 women whose ages ranged from 18 to 42. The women read excerpts where the couple used condoms and others where they did not.

Amanda Diekman, one of the authors of the study, said the impact of not portraying the use of contraception in the novels had "dangerous" consequences. "One of the most insidious aspects of romantic novels is that they perpetuate the myth that the heroine does not suffer any consequences from not using contraception.

"This sends a bad message. Romantic novels could be a good context to educate people in a subtle way."

Marie Stopes, which runs advice clinics for women, will next week launch a campaign to encourage parents to educate children about the realities of sex, including sexually transmitted diseases.

"We would not like to lay the blame with Mills & Boon but romantic fiction is part of popular culture to which younger people are vulnerable," said a spokesman. "It's rare to see a condom being taken out of the packet on screen or in books."

However, Harlequin Mills & Boon denied that any of the titles it published promoted unsafe sex.

"We do have our Silhouette range, which is racier than the Mills & Boon titles, and there's bound to be something in there somewhere about safe sex," said a spokesman. "Anyway, our books are more about romance rather than sex. Being too explicit is not something we encourage."

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