There are a few words in romance fiction that can get a conversation buzzing, without any further elaboration. This month, we’re all about the heroines, so what words are better to kick off our discussion this week, than “virgin heroine?”
Virgin heroines are a hot topic in many subgenres of romance fiction. Some readers love them, some readers find them a stretch, and others take things on a case by case basis. One size very much does not fit all when it comes to the leads in romance novels, and a heroine’s sexual experience, or lack thereof is neither the whole point of romance, nor are all virgin heroines the same.
The reasons a woman (or man, but this is our heroine month) hasn’t had consensual sex are as individual as the woman herself. She may be waiting for marriage, for finding the right person, she may have religious or cultural reasons, she may have made a conscious decision to focus on other areas of her life than relationships (at least at the start of the story) or any other number of reasons, and all of them are valid.
The issue of virgin heroines in contemporary romance can be a sensitive talking point. For some readers, a contemporary heroine in her late twenties or early thirties, who hasn’t had sex yet, may feel like a bit of a stretch, On the other hand, the answer to “how many women are virgins in today’s society?” may well be “more than you think there are.” As any seasoned romance reader knows, sex is not the be-all and end all of romance, and it’s entirely possible to have a modern, virgin, heroine, who is over twenty-five (or thirty-five, or anything-five,) interested in sex, thinks about sex, would like to have sex, at the right time, with the right person, and is fully aware of all the mechanics, emotional ties, and responsibilities involved. With all the information only a keystroke away (not to mention education, from school and/or family and friends, etc) finding a modern heroine who is entirely unaware of how sex actually works would be more of a stretch. Then again, sheltered heroines also have a place in the romance canon, no matter the era in which they live.
In historical romances, virgin heroines can be more common, especially on the younger end of the spectrum, though it’s certainly not a requirement. Courtesan heroines, widowed or divorced heroines (there are a few divorcees in historical romance; not as many as in contemporaries, but they do exist) heroines who anticipate their vows (with the hero or otherwise) and even single mothers. As with their contemporary sisters, historical heroines may come to their first sexual encounter with a wide range of knowledge, or lack thereof. While some may have a sexual education that exists entirely of their mother (or father, or other relative) tell them, on their wedding night, that their husband will show them everything they need to know, others have a more concrete idea of what’s involved. The example of one particular old school romance comes to mind, where a secondary couple’s wedding night takes a turn when the bride informs her husband he’s “doing it wrong,” because her mother told her to watch the cats, and it was pretty much the same. Thankfully for this character and her husband, she soon figured out that Mom left out a few things, and events transpired satisfactorily for all involved.
No discussion of virgin heroines would be complete without bringing up the topic of the virgin hero. While some variation of The X’s Virgin Y appears frequently on cover of many subgenres, how often do we see examples where the heroine is X and the hero is Y? Would The Midwife’s Virgin Groom fly off the shelves as quickly as The Viking’s Virgin Bride? :coughcoughOutlandercoughcough: How about couples who are each other’s first, last and only lover? A couple discovering intimacy at the same time has a lot of appeal, as well as more than a few opportunities for humor, along with the heat.
There’s one more compulsory when we talk about virgin heroines, and that’s the much-maligned virgin widow. Maybe virgin widows happen more frequently in romance than they do in real life, but is it entirely out of the realm of possibility? Not always. Especially in historicals, where marriages are arranged when at least one party (and often both) are very, very young, it is entirely possible for one spouse to pass away before the marriage is actually consummated. This may also work in some paranormal stories, depending on the rules of the universe. Some readers have seen enough impotent or homosexual first husbands, so this may be an area where authors who employ the virgin widow trope to get more inventive with these late spouses.
As with many buzzwords in romance publishing, (take Duke or Highland or Cowboy – dibs on The Highland Cowboy Duke’s Virgin Bride for a future title.) “virgin” may mean more than its dictionary definition. Some readers may be looking for a heroine experiencing love and sex for the first time. Some may be looking for a younger or more innocent heroine. Some may be looking for a heroine whose love interest is her one and only partner. As for the rest? Well, that’s as varied as the number of readers who look for virgin heroines.
So, dear readers, I turn it now over to you. Do you like reading about virgin heroines? What, for you, is the greatest appeal? Do virgin heroines work better for you in certain types of books, for example, historicals or inapirationals? How do you feel about contemporary virgin heroines? Virgin widows, yea or nay? Pull up a chair in our comment section and tell us all about it. Not a fan of the virgin heroine, or don’t see how it matters if a heroine is a virgin or not? We want to hear about that, too. There’s room for everybody at this table.