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Should We Encourage Catholic Teens to Read Romance?

Romance remains a popular subgenre in the Young Adult market, but is reading romance healthy for adolescents? Some parents may be uncomfortable with their daughters or, less frequently, sons seeking out stories in which the main plot revolves around a romantic relationship.


Should Catholic Christians eschew these stories? Well, as a romance writer, I’d say it depends on the story.


Stories that include explicit sexual scenes, promote deviant forms of sexuality, or unhealthy relationships should be avoided. Explicit content is nearly synonymous with pornography and the mental images created in the reader’s mind will remain long after the story itself is forgotten. Glorification of behaviors and relationships that run counter to our faith and morality can also be damaging.


But what about stories that reflect the natural goods of romantic attraction and show the consequences of poor moral choices and harmful relationships? Stories that hit these notes can be enjoyable for readers, support Catholic morality, and help foster conversations about healthy, God-honoring relationships.


It’s natural for teens to take an interest in romance as they near adulthood. They may crave romantic attention or wonder what’s God’s plan for them is in terms of love and marriage. Novels that reflect the sweetness of first love and the virtue required to maintain relationships that respect both individuals and honor God give readers a model for their own relationships, helping them to see that that love and attraction are good and the pursuit of virtue is both real and possible.

 

Novels give readers an intimate look at the feelings, actions, and decision-making of lifelike characters, allowing them to explore the emotions and consequences of choices in a fictional environment. For most of us, we only get an inside look at a handful of romantic relationships, mainly our  parents’ relationship. What are healthy boundaries? What does jealousy and possessiveness look like? How about self-sacrificial love? What happens when you behave as if you’re married without the benefit of a sacramental marriage? How can I express the deep feelings I have in a way that is both genuine and appropriate to my state in life? What conversations should I have with my boyfriend/girlfriend that ensure we share the same goals and parameters for our relationship? What are the natural consequences of possessiveness, abusive behaviors, or pressuring a girlfriend/boyfriend to do something they’re uncomfortable with?


Romantic love should also point us to the unfailing, unwavering, all-consuming love of God for each of us. What is it that attracts us to love stories? For me, it is both the weak-kneed, heart-pounding attraction and excitement of new love as well as the tender, self-sacrificial gift of self in true love.


There’s a will-they, won’t-they characteristic of romances that has us on the edge of our seats, waiting for that moment when the characters have overcome every obstacle--interior feelings and dispositions as well as external hurdles, allowing them to come together and profess their feelings for one another. The attraction is palpable and their separation seems a tragic impossibility. Does that kind of love remind us of the epic love God has for us? A love that drives His pursuit of us no matter how we may try to escape Him? A love so great that He would sacrifice His only Son so that we could be together forever?


A mature love points us to the love of God in many ways, including its faithful, lifegiving nature. It’s a relationship that is reliant on grace and the practice of virtue. It is sustained through a lifelong pursuit with natural ups and downs, including seeking and offering forgiveness. It is a determined pursuit of eternal union.


Reading the right kind of romance offers teens an inside look at the joys and challenges of romantic love in a safe environment, where they can explore the virtues and vices that affect our intimate relationships and ultimately point us to the love of God.


Catholic Teen Books offers a variety of books that illuminate the joys and challenges of romantic relationships either as a subplot or the main plot, often alongside a mystery, historical event, or challenging situation. You’ll find them listed as a subgroup here, but similar themes are also present in other novels.


Refer to content guides for details on the nature of romantic relationships as some novels include appropriate treatment of sexuality for more mature teens in terms of Catholic morality and St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body.


 

About the author: Carolyn Astfalk resides with her husband and four children in Hershey, Pennsylvania, where it smells like either chocolate or manure, depending on wind direction. She is the author of the contemporary Catholic romances Stay With Me, Come Back to Me, Ornamental Graces, and All in Good Time, and the coming-of-age story Rightfully Ours. Carolyn is a member of the Catholic Writers Guild, Catholic Teen Books, Pennwriters, and is a CatholicMom.com contributor. True to her Pittsburgh roots, she still says “pop” instead of “soda,” although her beverage of choice is tea.


Photo by Tirachard Kumtanom at Pexels.com

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