Once up a time (as opposed to a dark and stormy night), romance novels were regarded as strictly catering to female readers.

It turns out, though, that guys have an appetite for a little bodice-ripping as well.

The Wall Street Journal reports that, as of 2017, men comprised 18% of romance readers — a percentage that apparently has grown since then.

U.S. sales of print romance novels nearly doubled between 2018 and 2022, according to Circana BookScan.

The Journal cited the example of Philadelphia Phillies slugger Bryce Harper, who told GQ magazine that he enjoyed relaxing at night with the works of romance novelist Elle Kennedy.

“It’s not every day that a professional athlete talks about his joy of reading romance,” she told the paper.

Then there’s Richard Morse, a Navy quartermaster, who said he’s been hooked on romances for years — even though some military colleagues mock his literary tastes.

“A lot of them made fun of me, but you like what you like, and you can’t let anybody knock you for it,” Morse said.

What’s the attraction for dudes? Well, aside from all the heavy breathing and sighs of longing, experts say men feel they learn a bit more about the opposite sex by perusing romance novels.

A worker at the Ripped Bodice, a Los Angeles romance bookstore, told the Journal that guys appreciate the happily-ever-after aspect of many romances. She estimated that nearly a third of her store’s customers are male.

That said, there’s still wisdom in the bit from “Sleepless in Seattle” where women favor romantic movies such as “An Affair to Remember” while guys lean into rough-and-tough fare such as “The Dirty Dozen.”

An Affair to Remember?

“That’s a chick’s movie,” says Tom Hanks.