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.