You don't read them, and now that I know Barbara did not write this, I won't read it. My limit for romance novels is met by DH Lawrence's masterful "Women in Love" and "The Rainbow". If you consider Thomas Hardy's work "Romance fiction", then I'd say it is a cut above the rest.
Someone must be fueling the fire. Romance novels sell. My brother in law is a former librarian from California. In his tiny town [at the time] he told me old women would drive in, park their trucks, return a large handful of romance novels, select a few dozen more and head for home.
Now men and women have different ideas on this subject to be sure, but there have to be a lot of women who need fantasy escape as much as men. Reality never may equal fantasy, or do you [any of you] think otherwise.
Sticking to the topic, it must be good business. Harlequin keeps pumping them out like penny candy and I guess it turns a profit. There is even a Romance cable TV channel now. Soap Opera 24/7 anyone?