Let’s start with the obvious. Romances are well written books that are full of hope. They aren’t trash or fluff. Yes, the genre has two hard and fast rules: romantic love as the central plot and a happy ending. All other restrictions are off, making romance an extremely diverse genre. You can find anything from traditionally thought-of bodice rippers, also known as historical romance, to romantic suspense full of heists and spies, to sci-fi prison planets, to contemporary romances about your best friend’s little sister. While there are general tropes, romances are not formulaic. Each is unique, with no two (or more!) people reaching their happy ending in the same way. So every book has something different to offer the reader. I’m here to tell you why more men should read romance.
According to a survey conducted by Romance Writers of America, only 18% of romance readers are men, but this number should be higher for many reasons. For one, more men should read romance novels because they can serve as instruction manuals for relationships. Romances show how much communication, compromise, and work is necessary for a healthy relationship. Books have the unique ability of letting us live experiences we wouldn’t otherwise encounter. And since romance is so woman-centric, it can give male readers a chance to see the world through a female perspective. This builds empathy in readers. It’s the closest male readers will come to experiencing prejudices that might not affect them, allowing some men to develop a sensitivity they may not otherwise.
Undergoing this lesson in empathy queues them up for better grasp of the female gaze. Men who are interested in women romantically can have a hard time understanding what we find attractive. Romance can show them, for example, that the days and weeks of meaningful moments leading up to sex are just as important to building intimacy as the physical act itself. Many women find vulnerability sexy and attractive in a partner. This is antithetical to the strong and silent stereotype of men that society has taught men women want. Vulnerability is not a weakness, but desirable.
Romance novels are also good at showing how to to handle big emotions. When men can read about other men experiencing big, difficult emotions, they are given a guidebook on what a healthy, or unhealthy, expression of those emotions looks like. Likewise, they can see how the love interest in these novels acts and reacts, further helping them learn what they really want in a partner. It’s a safe place to think about qualities they are looking for without any judgment or society telling them what is and isn’t acceptable. It’s also a safe space to explore their masculinity by seeing many ways it can be expressed, some that they perhaps hadn’t thought of before. Seeing examples of toxic masculinity played out right next to examples of healthy masculinity will put those behaviors in stark contrast to each other.
Another way romance novels show healthy masculinity is by showing healthy male friendships. Usually in contemporary romance, the hero has a family or friend group that is supportive and caring. It shows men listening to each other about their feelings. There are examples of healthy confrontations when one does something the other disagrees with. Don’t misunderstand, they are also full of the teasing and the ribbing way that some men communicate, and show that talking about feelings doesn’t have to be a sit-down intervention style talk. It doesn’t have to go exceptionally deep, but the conversation does happen. This is yet another example of a roadmap that men can follow when confiding in their own friends in real life.
One great thing about romance novels is that they don’t shrink men’s emotions, and they show men how to love their partners without shrinking them as well. An important tenet of toxic masculinity is having to be the biggest, brightest thing in the room. In romance novels, if something else is loud and competing for the spotlight usually reserved for “the man in the house,” that is not a threat. Your partner’s success doesn’t highlight your shortcomings. Your partner’s success is something to be celebrated, something to encourage you to level up, too. When the heroine/hero in your life gets a raise, that doesn’t mean you’re making too little, it means your whole household wins because now there’s more money. A person who shows that they want to grow right alongside their partner after big wins instead of being jealous of them is someone who can be trusted with physical intimacy.
And the sex in romance novels can be hot. Spicy BookTok doesn’t have over 3 billion views for nothing. There’s good sex in these books. Everyone should want to learn how to make their sex lives better. Romance novels are a guide for this as well. It can be an alternative to porn. Since straight porn is primarily shot through a male gaze or a man’s ideal sexual encounter, it usually doesn’t consider women’s pleasure. But romances are told through a female gaze, letting men in on what many cis hetero women find sexy, and the ways women like to be touched. They show consent can be simple, sometimes just one word between two people. They expose men to different kinks and turn ons that they didn’t realize they liked until they read about them and can give them language to talk to their partners about them.
There’s a reason 25% of all books out are romance, and why half of mass market paperbacks are romance. Romance sells, and women read. Picking up a romance novel is like peeking inside a woman’s head. It’s the cheat code cis het men have been begging for for decades. So get to your local library, download an ereader app on your phone, pick up your partner’s current read. Your relationship, and your life, will improve as a result.
Want further reading on the subject? Read why romance novels don’t ruin relationships and take this quiz to find your next romance read based on your favorite romcom movies.