STEM Romance Books and why are they important

The word STEM is probably familiar to you, but what does it even mean? STEM stands for math, science, technology, and engineering. Collectively, they constitute a thriving and rapidly expanding sector.We have seen a sudden surge in the amount of STEM romance books being published in the last few years. Thanks to Booktok and Bookstagram, the popularity has become immense leading to more anticipation for sequels and other books in the same realm. Women have lived with the most cliche and stereotypical characters when it came to romance novels, most of which has almost always been the “rich boy poor girl” trope , fuelled by hot and spicy romance scenes.

It was with the release of books like The Love Hypothesis by Ali Hazelwood and The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang that started a trend that led to people discovering more powerful female characters in romance books.

Contrasting the ancient and the modern

Published in 1991, Outlander by Diana Gabaldon still continues to be one of the most loved STEM novels of all time. Claire, an Englishwoman finds herself surrounded by men with privilege while all she wanted to do was to save lives. Apart from the exceptionally well written characters , this book also got famous for its sexually explicit scenes centred in the 18th century Great Britain.

We have come a long way when it comes to ‘brainy’ female protagonists for our romance novels. From books like Outlander, The surgeons daughter by Audrey Blake or Lessons in chemistry by Bonnie Garmus ,where the woman had to work in STEM by hiding their real identity or even sacrifice more than just their “standing” in the society to be able to , well, just work, we now have multiple books that focus on a more developed world, a world where we live in, where women are allowed to work wherever they want to, even in fields like STEM which were considered way “too brainy” for a woman to dip her small ‘feminine’ feet into.

Impact of social media and the shift from STEAMY to STEM romance

So what brought about this gradual shift from people searching for “steamy” romance novels to “stem” romance novels?

Women in sciences have long gone unnoticed and rendered ‘unattractive’, ‘nerdy’ or a little too ‘masculine’ by the ancient media and art forms.

While some people continue to argue that reading culture—especially paperback culture—is extinct, a survey of American TikTok users found that exposure to BookTok increased users’ reading activities. (1): 48% of TikTok users read more books than before the use of BookTok


Social media and the shift in reader mindsets were key factors in the books’ viral success.

Booktok, bookstagram and Book Tube have been a crucial part in making books that were considered “unconventional” to finally be conceived as run-of-the-mill.

Authors and their inspiration


Why are authors finally deciding to write more about women and their brains? And is this market shift influencing the younger generation?

Surprisingly enough, one of the most common names in STEM romance novels is that of Ali Hazelwood, who is a neuroscientist herself and uses this pseudonym to write a series of books of women in STEM. When asked about the reasons why she chose to do this despite a full-time job in academia, she replied by saying “I don’t think I did it on purpose. I don’t think I set out to be someone who just wrote about women in STEM. It was more that the first things that I wrote were fan fiction, and I was writing a lot of that when I was in grad school and doing my postdoc. And so it was really fun to take these characters that I loved and kind of transpose them into this setting that was so stressful for me and look at how they would’ve reacted if they had to defend their thesis or take comps or publish a paper.” (2)

Cohabitation between Love and STEM

Some of the most top-rated books like The Love Hypothesis, The Soulmate Equation, or Love on the Brain have all proven to do justice to the fact that STEM and romance can co-exist and they don’t need to jeopardize each other. While still stating other facts like men can be misogynists and it is still not the easiest job for a woman to be in STEM. They have also made sure to highlight the importance of grey characters. No female protagonist is showcased as the epitome of perfection just because she is in STEM.


Mindset shift amongst young girls

These books have not only challenged the regular romance book market but also made sure that young girls reading it get the right message across. After being starved of these highly entertaining reads for almost a decade, women have finally come together and made fan bases by the name of ‘STEMinists’.

This phenomenon is not only bringing women of every nation, language, and occupation together but is also creating a market for women-centric movies and TV shows as adaptability becomes easier. Hence, even people who are not that fond of reading are able to consume content around the same area. Recently, Shows like Outlander and Lessons in Chemistry have gained the attention of men, young adults, and even the non-reader population.

The psychological impact of reading about strong, independent, and powerful female characters improves a young girl’s self-image and helps to navigate the changes being seen in traditional gender roles. It is making men, women, and other genders more aware of equality in competence and empowering the future generation.

What needs to change

Although there is still a gap between what is considered empowering and what is just utter ignorance to what women really want in their romance novels. But, authors have to write what sells, and as readers, we have full power over it. There are books in STEM which may not resonate with everyone, like ‘Atomic Love’ by Jennie Fields in which the main character, Rosalind is a nuclear scientist and is working on the construction of the atomic bomb. The storyline could have been so much better if only, she didn’t succumb to society’s expectations and decided to have the most absurd emotional and romantic choices. Overall, it’s hard to dispute that STEM romances are transforming the romance book market, but it’s crucial to pick the ones that speak to us personally because words have the power to change us and alter the entire course of our lives, so choose yours wisely.

Written by: Dr. Vatsala Kaushik.

By Dr. Vatsala Kaushik