Can't wait for the search engines to pick this one up...
Anyhow...over at Russell Moore's site, which I know nothing about except that it appears to be somehow connected to the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and was linked to by First Thoughts, there is a discussion taking place about the relative impact or effect of porn for guys vs. romance novels (particularly of a Christian flavor) for the ladies.
Moore is attempting to argue that porn, which idealizes women, should be in the same category as (Christian or otherwise) "chick-lit" or "chick-flicks", which idealize men and/or marriage. In some sense, I get his point, and I've heard people refer to romance novels as "porn for women." As an on-again, off-again consumer of romance novels (Christian and secular, but always cheap from a garage sale or something!), I somewhat agree. But I don't think that I can manage to be as concerned about them as a whole as I am about porn, and I wonder if Moore pushes the issue just a little too far.
Certainly, Christian (or secular) romance novels can become a substitute for, or create illusions about, "real life," just like anything else. (E.g., video games that "teach" that there are no real consequences to violence, or Road Runner + Wile E. Coyote and their endless lives) But the difference between porn and (especially Christian) romance novels is that porn devalues the relationship and romance novels idealize it. All things considered, and knowing that no one's marriage is (or will be) perfect, wouldn't we rather have women "aiming for" the ideal? Wouldn't we rather have to tell our young girls, "This is an idealized version of a Christian marriage. Your husband will probably never be this perfect, and neither will you," than "Porn is unrealistic but it's what men want so get used to it, and with luck, you'll be able to move beyond that into some kind of meaningful relationship"?
Second, the filming of porn involves the actual debasement of actual human beings, which the writing of Christian (or even secular) romance novels does not. It can be argued that the consumption of porn-for-men and romance-novels-for-women have similar effects on the brain chemistry or emotional response or whatever for the consumer, but it is obvious that the production of the two are nowhere near equivalent. From that perspective, the two are virtually incomparable.
Finally, even as we acknowledge that anything can be taken to the extreme, I think there has to be room for Christian freedom. My mom, who is quite content in her 40-year-marriage, likes watching a "charming romantic comedy" just as much as the next person. As a general rule of thumb, women like "nice romance stories," the same way that guys like "action movies" or a football game. It doesn't mean that my mom is unhappy in her marriage or "wishes" that my dad was more like Hugh Grant - it just means it was a nice story.
If you're burying your head in books to escape your falling-apart marriage, if you're consistently condemning your husband for not being "the perfect Christian like in all these books", if you're turning down dates because the men you know aren't James Marsden or Dean Martin or Gerard Butler or Jude Law; then, yes, that's a problem. But if 27 Dresses or Guys and Dolls or P.S. I Love You or The Holiday simply warm the cockles of your heart on a cold evening, then I think it's no more harmful than the "princess stories" we tell our little girls: Cinderella, Snow White, Beauty and the Beast. Girls like those kind of stories. Thus it was, thus it ever shall be.
(And for what it's worth, as my sister and I watched romantic comedies with my mom while we were growing up (I didn't really get into romance novels until after college), it gave her an opportunity to point out "timeless truths about men and women," situations that were "just so you know, that never happens in real life," morally sticky situations and how to navigate them, etc..,, which I find to be a rather concrete benefit.)