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The Issue of Virginity in Modern Romance
Tuesday, February 1st, 2011

I was joking around with some members of my Total Exposure yahoo group recently and started thinking once again about a topic that occasionally arises in ‘romance circles’—namely, what people think of the virgin trope in the modern age.

I recall being at a table at dinner at a Lori Foster Reader Event several years ago with a group of smart, well-read women and how we differed on this very topic of virginity in romance. It seemed to hedge on the issue of Side A—It’s so unrealistic in this day and age to be an eye-roll worthy anachronism, to Side B—Still love it, even if it is a rarity, it’s a worthy fantasy.

I can see both sides, but I tend to fall on the liking the trope, despite everything. Here’s my reasoning on both sides.

A virgin heroine is not only unrealistic, for me, it has at least a potential hint of a misogynistic quality to it. After all, a woman’s virginity was a bartering tool, culturally-speaking, for ages. It was the signal of not just a female’s virtue, but her self-worth. If she was not a virgin, it meant she was next to worthless as a human being in some classes of society.

As modern women, we are disgusted by this prohibition. A virgin, in many women’s eyes, is equivalent to a shrinking violet—too meek and boring to give into her natural sexual desires.

But herein, for me, lies the problem. It’s all about a woman’s right to express whatever she’s got going on inside her at any given time. We are all the virgin, the mother, and the wise crone. We are free to choose which archetype best represents us at a given time.

Personally, I adore stories that are well done about a woman who has never had a meaningful lover before. At my age, it’s not only about memories; it’s about the fantasy of being awakened by a knowing touch at such a fresh, powerful stage of femininity. Really, every romance novel involves a virgin in the symbolic sense, meaning that each lover, male or female, experiences something new and amazing when they encounter each other and begin to fall in love.

And really…how many of us have had the de-virgination experience with someone who knows what they are doing? I know for me, it was lovely, but we were of a similar age, and it was hardly swoon-worthy.

Let’s face it, romance love scenes can give a lot of women something they never had. Not that they might not get it later, as an adult woman. It’s not that. But the first time with a knowing, amazing guy? Yeah. I’m sure it happens. Some of us are lucky enough to find a teenage Romeo who was born with the instinct.

But for most of us…probably not.

As a woman, I tend to like stories about the female being initiated into the glories of sex by a man who is connected to her and also knows what the heck he’s doing around a woman’s body. BUT, I’m not prejudiced about the opposite possibility. I loved the virgin archetype being used in Dianna Gabaldon’s Outlander series. Jamie was so alpha, and he was a virgin, and it was brilliant.

Virginity may be becoming more and more obsolete, but I think it’s still an important human element. Not just for romance, but for any story. Why? Because we all were virgins once. All of us know what it means to be a virgin—to be a novice, an outsider, still yearning to learn, everything fresh and exciting. I’m not saying I want to read the trope in every novel, but like I said…when it’s done right, it can be awesome. Just because we are independent, smart women doesn’t mean we can’t get a little misty-eyed thinking of being initiated into the wonders of sex by the perfect alpha male.

I mean, we are talking about romance here, right?

And that’s awesome.

15 comments to “The Issue of Virginity in Modern Romance”

  1. Lea
      · February 1st, 2011 at 5:42 pm · Link

    Great post Beth!

    I don’t mind the virgin trope in modern romance stories either, when it is penned into a narrative by a competent author who doesn’t make it seem cliche. It is the fantasy after all and as you rightly indicate when shared with a man who knows what he is doing with a lover it makes it that much more special.

    My one niggle, is when said virgin has absolutely no pain whatsoever during the act. I mean, yes while we are talking fantasy, there does have to be some realism involved and lets face it, a little pain is part of the deal…

    Your example of Jamie Fraser in Outlander is an excellent example, however Gabaldon also turned the table in it was either “Dragonfly In Amber” or “Voyager” where Jamie sexually initiates a woman during the time he was separated by time from Claire and feels less then competent. lol But of course his heart belonged to Claire. 😉

    I also liked J.R.Ward’s portrayal of the sexual initiation of Marissa by Butch O’Neal, in “Lover Revealed” it did not go at all well the first time. He does of course manage to redeem himself.. Marissa, interestingly enough was widely maligned by many readers as “weak”, but I always liked her and the way Ward strengthened her character over the course of the novel.

    IMHO writers have become more adept at using sexual initiation as a theme in modern romances to suite today’s more sophisticated readers.

    I know, I’m rambling but this is a good topic!

    • Beth Kery
        · February 2nd, 2011 at 10:20 am · Link

      Hi Lea! i totally agree that it’s the level of passion the character holds that’s key. As for pain and virginity, I think it varies widely from woman to woman, but I do hear what you’re saying.

  2. Amelia
      · February 1st, 2011 at 6:31 pm · Link

    I’m hearing of an echo of one of my college professors who taught the Latin American Womens’ Studies class in which I was enrolled. She lectured us every class period that men see women as either virgins or whores. There was nothing in between for her.

    I love Diana Gabaldon’s Jamie Frasier.

    I like reading about virgins in books, but I don’t like them to be too timid. I want them to take some initiative in their own pleasure.

    • Amelia
        · February 1st, 2011 at 6:38 pm · Link

      Beth, I just read Gateway to Heaven and I liked the attitude that Christian had of Megan’s virginity.

      • Lea
          · February 1st, 2011 at 6:55 pm · Link

        LOL Great minds, I just downloaded Gateway To Heaven to my iPad.. lol

      • Beth Kery
          · February 2nd, 2011 at 10:23 am · Link

        Amelia and Lea–Gateway to Heaven was sort of a special circumstance book for me, which is why it’s not an erotic romance, even if it is very sexy and sensual, or at least I think so. I think Megan is a perfect example of why there might be exceptions to the virginity rule in our society. She’s also the perfect example of how virginity can be a physical thing or an emotional thing.
        Amelia–thanks about Christian. My heart goes out to him–it was a lot of pressure for a guy to be under, a lot of responsibility. And of course, he felt it deeply.

  3. Lea
      · February 1st, 2011 at 6:37 pm · Link

    Wow Amelia!

    I think your college professor had some “issues” of her own with respect to men! lol 😯

    Regarding the timid virgin – agree wholeheartedly, I don’t like that portrayal at all either.

    • Amelia
        · February 1st, 2011 at 6:42 pm · Link

      Lea, she’s Puerto Rican lesbian ultra feminist who was always looking to file a discrimination lawsuit against anyone she thought discriminated against her. The university finally got rid of her and of course she sued. I don’t know the outcome of the lawsuit though.

      • Lea
          · February 1st, 2011 at 6:56 pm · Link

        Well, I hope you got your credit for the class!! 😉

  4. Amelia
      · February 1st, 2011 at 7:37 pm · Link

    I got the credit.

  5. Mary G
      · February 1st, 2011 at 8:17 pm · Link

    Great topic Beth!
    I don’t mind the virgin trope at all in contemps as long as there is a reasonable explanation for it. I certainly expect to see that more in historicals.

    You said, ” As a woman, I tend to like stories about the female being initiated into the glories of sex by a man who is connected to her and also knows what the heck he’s doing around a woman’s body.”

    Yes I like that very much. I agree that in the right hands it could make the story that more special.

    The niggle part for me is when she’s 25 & has never had an orgasm and her first is with her partner. If she’s in her teens I can see it but not in her 20’s.

    Lea – on the pain. In the olden days I would have been hung out to dry. I think I lost my virginity to my bike when I was about 12. I hurt myself on the seat & bled a little. There was no blood or pain the first time so I would have had a lot of explaining to do LOL.

    • Beth Kery
        · February 2nd, 2011 at 10:25 am · Link

      Mary–I really agree with the thing about never having an orgasm. Now that, I truly do believe, is eye-roll worthy, but that’s just my opinion. 😕

  6. booklover1335
      · February 1st, 2011 at 9:33 pm · Link

    I completely agree with you Beth! When done right it can be really good. I just got done reading Everyone Loves a Hero by Marie Force, and in it the heroine was a virgin and lost it to the hero. The way it was written and the circumstances of her life made it believable. And I think it added something to the story. I actually think it made it more romantic. I just loved that book!

    And I also agree about Jamie….sigh. He is my all time favorite hero! And usually I like my hero’s to be Alpha with a capital A, and to be the ultimate sex god in bed…after all it’s a fantasy, but Jamie, I don’t think there is a sexier hero than him. And again I think his virginity was an important element in the book. A very important element. But just because he was a virgin didn’t mean he wasn’t passionate, and I think that is what makes the difference be it in a hero or a heroine.

    • Beth Kery
        · February 2nd, 2011 at 10:27 am · Link

      The Marie Force book sounds great! Sometimes a virgin theme can strike just the right note for romance, and it sounds like Marie accomplished that.
      Thanks for stopping by!

  7. Dottie
      · February 2nd, 2011 at 12:44 pm · Link

    Okay, on the virginity issue.. most modern women lose their virginity in their teens. I know it, I own it, I believe it. But, I have an eighteen year old daughter here!!

    I don’t see a woman’s virginity as a commodity, but more like a gift given to someone. It’s old fashioned, archaic view, but it was the one I was raised with.

    I do love stories where virginity is given to the masterful hero who cherishes the gift. Reality probably not reflected here, but it’s fantasy, and I need and want the fantasy, lol.

    Niggle… about the use of condoms… that be a good use of reality.. 🙂

    Dottie 🙂

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