Some time back, a reporter asked a number of romance writers this question-- "Can you give me the deep reason for the romance novel's appeal to women? I can't ask my mother -- that would be too weird."
Here's my answer--
There is no one deep reason, but I can offer you one of them.
I've never had the time to learn about football. To me, it's just a bunch of big guys chasing each other and a ball on the field. But I'm told that a football fan understands the subtle tactics, the skills, and the rules of the game.
In the same way, many women understand the subtle tactics, the skills, and the rules of the game of love. The romance novel offers them a front row seat at the most fascinating and important game of all -- love and marriage.
Many who don't read romance say all these books are the same, but they are no more the same than every football game is the same.
Romances offer a more important payback than football because they are teaching women more about the emotional dynamics of men and women so they can play the game and win for themselves and society by creating a monogamous, stable relationship for themselves and for the successful rearing of children which takes two committed parents.
And, yes, there is usually sex in these novels, but romances aren't about sex. If they were, they'd have more than the ten to twenty pages of love scenes in the average 400 page novel. The love scenes are there because they are another part of the emotional dynamics, and how the man acts afterward usually defines the problems and the possibilities of the relationship.