Yes, we mean that first time. Unless we’re talking sweet, inspirational, traditional Regencies, or a sizeable portion of YA romance, the physical side of love can be an important bonding experience, not only for the two lovers, but for the reader and the book itself. There are as many sorts of first times as there are lovers, so we may not be able to count all the ways, but we can certainly try.
One of the most important first times belongs, as much as it does to the characters involved, to the reader. That’s the reader’s first time. Not in real life, but the first time that going between the covers of a book meant going between the covers with that book’s romantic leads. It’s a rite of passage, one small step into adult literature, as it were, one giant step for readerkind. Whether it’s a copy of a groundbreaking, vintage YA novel :coughcoughJudyBlumecoughcoughForevercoughcough: or the eye-opening experience of picking up a Regency (or other era) historical romance, instead of a traditional Regency, and nobody closed the bedroom door. Oh no, they flung it wide open, and, in some cases, took it straight off the hinges.
This may have had one of two effects. Either this was indeed the gateway to a whole new world of reading, with the reader scampering off to find more of the same, or it provided an opportunity for a strategic retreat, said reader politely closing the door and rejoining the couple when they were more fit for company. Note that a reader who has one reaction, initially, may, at any time, choose to exhibit the other. It is also possible to shift between the two, multiple times, and, possibly, depending on the author, setting, or general mood of the reader at the time of the actual reading. The first time, though, that does have an impact on the rest of one’s reading life. Those of us who have given a new reader friend their first “adult” romance know this well.
There’s a first time for authors, as well. Writing sex is an entirely different animal from reading sex, or even having sex. The first time a writer accompanies their characters to the ultimate intimacy, that’s also a bridge that can’t be uncrossed. The writer may decide that they rather like writing this sort of scene, they may decide that their strengths and the strengths of their sort of story, are best suited for other scenes, but one thing is for sure; there’s going to be some nervousness that, somehow, a parent, clergy member, first grade teacher, child, or other non-target-audience-member is going to magically appear over the writer’s shoulder, and see exactly what they are putting on that page. (The clergy member example actually did happen to a certain writer, while writing in a coffee house. Said writer is thankful that her screen-blocking reflexes are speedy.)
The first time we’re all here for, however, is the most important one; the first time the two lovers consummate their union. Sometimes, this is not the first time for either partner, but their first with each other. Maybe their prior experiences were good ones, and maybe they weren’t. Even so, this is an important moment. It may be tender, it may be hot, it may be awkward, and it may be all of those things, or something else entirely. If there’s one love scene, odds are there are going to be others after it, but the first time sets the tone. This doesn’t mean that things are always going to go smoothly, especially if this is the first time for one or both partners, but give them time, they’ll find their way.
When a love scene lets us in on a character’s first time ever, that’s an especially intimate moment. We know it’s not only about the physical act. Sure, that’s a big part of a first sexual experience, but, as any seasoned romance reader can attest, the most important body part involved in the first love scene, as well as those that follow, is the heart. The first time the two lovers come together physically, it’s an outward expression of an inner emotion. There’s the surrender of trust to the other person, the letting down of barriers both physical and psychological, perhaps spiritual, if one is of such a bent.
Take a look at the number of times the word, “virgin,” appears on book covers, across a plethora of subgenres. Mention the virgin widow trope, and be prepared for a lively debate between the lovers and the haters of this plot device. Virgin hero? :coughcoughJamieFrasercoughcoughOutlandercoughcough: There are impassioned opinions on the one, too. Anybody out there with a virgin widower? It could happen, and if it already has, titles, please.
When it comes to romance fiction, we never forget our first time, or that of our favorite characters. The best part? An endless number of times we can repeat the experience. Talk about living happily ever after.
So, dear readers, I turn it now over to you. Do you remember the first love scene you ever read? Do you still like that same sort of love scene today, or have your tastes changed? Is it important to you that characters have their first love scenes with each other, or can other, past, relationships figure into the story? Have a strong opinion, either way, on virgin widows or virgin heroes? Should somebody have some level of experience, or is it fun to watch the two lovers discover lovemaking together? Pull up a chair in our comments section and tell us all about it. If you prefer to politely close the bedroom door and wait in the next room, we want to hear about that, too. There’s room for everybody at this table.