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Virgins in Romance, Feminist Nightmare or Woman’s Dream?
Sunday, August 12th, 2012

I get a lot of notes from readers about the topic of virgin heroines in my books. Because people don’t typically take the time to write the author about a book unless they have some pretty strong feelings about it, the notes I receive are typically of the ‘love’ or ‘hate” variety on the topic.

First, I’ll talk about the readers who are horrified and offended by the virgin heroine in a contemporary romance. Even though I do sometimes (but certainly not always) write the trope, I do understand where these readers are coming from. It’s the year 2012. How realistic is it in an adult romance that a grown woman is still a virgin?

What’s more, how appealing is it? the concept hearkens back to dark days for women–time periods where a female’s value was largely tied into concepts like purity, innocence and motherhood. Her body was not her own, to be experienced and enjoyed, but the property of a male dominated society, meant to be bartered, to provide pleasure and to procreate. If a woman broke the social code and had sex before marriage–don’t even think about if she liked it–she was ostracized and marginalized. Of course, many cultures still exist in the world with this patriarchal viewpoint, and I would say definite threads still exist in western society today. The romance novels of the past clearly reflected this restrictive moral expectation. As women have begun to make their way in society and find their power–including owning their sexuality– the idea of continuing with the trope of the romance heroine virgin seems not only old-fashioned and unappealing, but abhorrent to some.

But wait. Isn’t this way of looking at the ‘virgin’ all from the male-dominated point of view? The virgin in a romance novel is seen as sneer-worthy because the author is perpetuating those old, restrictive codes? But what if we, as women romance readers, could put on a new pair of glasses to take back the concept of the virgin? What if WE took ownership of the concept, just as we should take ownership of our bodies and our sexuality? The virgin can be ‘our’ thing. We were all virgins once, and the virgin-state-of-mind continues inside of us until our dying day. It’s a female archetype, just as are those of the mother and the crone (See, among others, The White Goddess, by Graves). Can’t we don the symbolic attributes of the virgin, if we so choose, for the short period of time allotted to us between juggling careers, partners, children and family politics? We get to be kick-ass heroines through our reading, we get to be witches and redeemed outcasts and crime-solvers and savvy, accomplished businesswomen.

But not a virgin?

Is the old-guard, restrictive, male-dominated frame of mind really going to tell us it’s not okay to also choose to be a sexual innocent, a virgin? Have we internalized the idea and turned it against ourselves? Yes, I think so, to some extent. We really shouldn’t let anyone decide what the virgin means to us. We should decide for ourselves.

We should claim it.

Here are some of the things I love about writing and reading a virgin–yes, even in an erotic romance.

It’s such a paradox of life that we can’t see or sense our youthful power when we have it. It’s only until later in life when we observe youth that we begin to realize how wonderful it all was–seeing the world through fresh eyes, possessing health and beauty, the world lying before us like a vaguely anxiety provoking, totally exciting adventure ride. When we see the through the virgin’s eyes, we not only get to experience that newness again, we have the added benefit. Now we can appreciate all these things for a standpoint of a bit (or a lot) more maturity. Maybe the virginal heroine doesn’t recognize her power and vibrancy, but we as the reader do.

The virgin potentially has a gift to give, even if she isn’t aware of it. Her powerful innocence triggers something in other characters…something that will allow them to transform. She isn’t the blank slate, waiting to be written on. Instead, she’s a catalyst for other character’s healing and growth. I love to see how the experienced alpha male interacts with her virgin energy, how he re-thinks himself and his motivations, how he re-positions himself in order to earn her love.

Lastly, for the most part, most of us weren’t first made love to by a virile, handsome and masterful alpha male. What woman wouldn’t want to fantasize about it being the most memorable, sexually fulfilling experience for that first time? In a book, those lucky ones who had the experience can re-live it. And for those of us who didn’t, we can live the experience through the virginal heroine.

What are your thoughts about the virgin-heroine in contemporary romance?

10 comments to “Virgins in Romance, Feminist Nightmare or Woman’s Dream?”

  1. Maddie
    Comment
    1
      · August 12th, 2012 at 2:45 pm · Link

    When younger I thought virgins in books were a given, I grew up reading HP’s and all of the heroine’s where virgins if they were not married.

    Then as I grew up and the world changed I hated the fact the the heroines were still virgins and if the hero thought otherwise she was a whore, by that time my favorite HP author was Miranda Lee because some of her women were not only “gasps ” not virgins but the sex they had they liked.

    I then started reading the Blaze line and yep again the females were active in the sex department, but then I also noticed something that I didn’t like the women that were virgins acted like they were freaks and had to get rid of their virginity and of course they always picked the hero to deflower her.

    Which to sent a very scary messagae to woman that if you weren’t sexually active by a certain age you were a freak and not normal, that’s when I stopped reading Blaze books.

    I think in this time age women are still judged in the way we were back in the day but in some ways not.

    Just think 30 years ago having a sex tape would be a career ender, now you can be a star.



    • Beth Kery
      Comment
      1.1
        · August 13th, 2012 at 1:05 pm · Link

      Maddie,

      I agree. There’s still lots of room for growth in defining our own sexuality.

      Thanks for stopping by!



  2. blodeuedd
    Comment
    2
      · August 12th, 2012 at 3:28 pm · Link

    I do not mind either way. But I do not get why someone would be dead set against it, or think it’s ridiculous. Cos I was one. I wanted it to be special, and honestly I wish I had waited even longer (and I waited long anyway). So why not wait? I feel there is enough of a pressure do get it over with anyway. And when a heroine is a virgin she is weird, hey! So not cool. So either we are weird or have been around too much



  3. Diane
    Comment
    3
      · August 12th, 2012 at 4:54 pm · Link

    I’ve been reading for a long long time and like everything around us, writing has changed; there is not much that is considered wrong now. Look at the success of the Shades books for example!!! So no it doesn’t bother me either way though when it involves a virgin heroine I have to wonder if it’s true.



  4. Ameliad
    Comment
    4
      · August 12th, 2012 at 6:36 pm · Link

    While in college I had an ultra-feminist lesbian Puerto Rican professor for a class titled Latin American Women. We read a lot of essays, short stories and had class discussions about the fact that ALL men see women as virgins or whores. There was not in between for the professor.

    The virgin trope doesn’t bother me, but I like to see it clearly addressed between the book characters. If she is a virgin it is a over the top for her to be punished via spanking during her first sexual encounter with the hero because she did something he considered stupid.



  5. Booklover1335
    Comment
    5
      · August 12th, 2012 at 9:52 pm · Link

    I like a mix, because reality is, there are women out there who are the same age as your heroine in Because You Are Mine who are also still virgins. It is hard to believe with the media which makes it seem abnormal to be one past your teens.

    I recently caught a TV show late one night on TLC or something like that which showcased the lives of adult virgins, both men and women. Yes, some of them were socially challenged, but not all of them were. They had their reasons. For many of them it was a choice, and I think that is what is important to the romances.

    That there is a reason behind their sexual experiences or lack there of. It makes each story interesting. Keep writing them, no matter if it is a contemporary romance, or one from any period in time. And if it fits the story better to have a heroine not be a virgin then that is ok too. Choice and variety is a good thing.

    One thing that bothers me more is that virgins in historical romance are becoming a thing of the past because of our current beliefs. I’m not sure how I think about that.



  6. Louisa Edwards
    Comment
    6
      · August 13th, 2012 at 10:06 am · Link

    This part:

    She isn’t the blank slate, waiting to be written on. Instead, she’s a catalyst for other character’s healing and growth. I love to see how the experienced alpha male interacts with her virgin energy, how he re-thinks himself and his motivations, how he re-positions himself in order to earn her love.

    had me cheering! This is exactly the appeal to me, as a reader and as a writer, of the virgin character. Heroine OR hero! Very elegantly put. But I agree with a previous commenter who prefers for the issue to be fully addressed; there’s more than one way to handle a virgin character, and not all of them are good. Personally, I dislike it when it feels like she’s a virgin just to make her extra-susceptible and overwhelmed by him, and so that he has the powerful satisfaction of being first to claim her.

    But in the hands of a talented, insightful author (like you!) I think it can be a wonderful, transformative character choice.

    Great post!



  7. Tracy
    Comment
    7
      · August 13th, 2012 at 6:53 pm · Link

    I love reading about franchesca…virgin character. Having two teenage daughters 15 and 19 I delight in the fact that they are both waiting for true love. Guys these days aren’t as ready to stand up and face the music as they once were. They are much more irresponsible and it’s the cool thing for them to see how many girls they can bed. Don’t want my girls in that round up of names. So no.. I love reading about girls that are still virgins. Wish I had lost myself to someone who had something to offer like Ian. Lol. Let society ridicule all they want. Theres nothing special about being loose and easy.lol not as a teen girl anyways



  8. Marc
    Comment
    8
      · August 13th, 2012 at 10:19 pm · Link

    I think the focus on virginity really should be a non issue. As a reader of romance and a mother of a teen who also reads romance I think the focus should not be on the sexual experience or inexperience of the characters but on the feelings and actions of and between the characters. Being a virgin is a descriptor and should not define the character.



  9. Maria
    Comment
    9
      · August 16th, 2013 at 7:05 am · Link

    I hate virgin heroine and man whore combo. I like the scales to be balances with equal levels of experience.



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