Guest blogger: Alyssa J Montgomery
The contemporary romance novel virgin: still in vogue?
It’s almost forty years since I started reading my grandmother’s Barbara Cartland novels, and my sisters’ Mills & Boon. So, I grew up on romance novels where the heroine was most definitely a virgin. She wasn’t a virgin for any particular reason other than it was a given she would be. Even if she’d been married, there would always be some reason why she hadn’t consummated her marriage.
All these decades on and romance novels have evolved in many ways, including women exploring and enjoying their sexuality in a variety of situations or combinations. Yet, stories centred around the virgin heroine still fly off the shelves. Why?
Maybe it’s because for most people, first sex is a huge milestone. But, even if it isn’t seen as a major life event, it’s certainly something we can all relate to. We’re either virgins or we’ve been virgins, so when the heroine makes love with the hero for the first time, we can either relate to it or, if inexperienced, we may want to relate to it.
Perhaps the reason the virgin heroine is popular stems back to childhood fairy tales. We’ve lived through the happy-ever-after romances of Cinderella and Snow White. Don’t we automatically assume that Prince Charming is Cinderella’s first lover? And who, for a second, would think that Snow White had made the most of living in close quarters with seven males and suspect she’d been deflowered by one of the dwarfs? (Although I suppose in Snow White’s case, sex wouldn’t have been particularly satisfying with a partner who kept sneezing, fell asleep in the middle of it, was too shy to take his clothes off, had a hissy-fit and stormed off during the act, or one couldn’t indulge because he’d taken the Hippocratic oath and was her doctor. And … quite possibly … Happy was happy because he’d already looked after himself!!)
What of the hero’s reaction to our heroine’s virginity? Sometimes he sees it as a turn-off because he doesn’t want to become involved with an inexperienced woman who might romanticise sex. Typically, however, he’s feeling incredibly honoured and macho that he’s been ‘the first’, (even though he’s often believed up to the point of breaking through the hymen, that our heroine has been promiscuous). Most modern men don’t seem to care they’re not the woman’s first lover—or at least they don’t admit to it. So, how do you feel as a reader about the hero’s caveman like satisfaction in having deflowered the heroine?
A common gripe from readers is the well-worn scenario where the experienced hero ‘claims’ the heroine’s virginity, she suffers fleeting pain, then proceeds to have multiple orgasms until dawn breaks. Oops! I confess to having been guilty of writing said scene. Why have I fallen into the trap of writing it? Seriously … do I want to read that the heroine was unsatisfied by our hero? A resounding no. I’d rather live the fantasy than have such a pivotal scene end with disappointment. Imagine if the heroine looked into the hero’s eyes and asked, ‘Is that it?’ So, I suspend disbelief—ignore the fact that our hero obviously runs on Eveready batteries and our heroine must have a Teflon-coated vagina to have enjoyed a night of non-stop orgasms—and I read on.
Readers on other blog sites have basically said they don’t really care whether a heroine is a virgin or not, but that if she is a virgin (especially if she’s in her twenties) they want a compelling reason as to why she’s a virgin. Without a compelling reason, it just isn’t believable given the general lifestyle in modern society. (Historical romance is a different scenario as it was more important in regency society for a well-bred young heroine to be a virgin—however in historical novels a non-virgin heroine can be an unexpected plot twist.)
A much rarer creature in romantic fiction is the male virgin. Why is that? Is it that if our hero is inexperienced in the bedroom we doubt his virility or his ability to satisfy our heroine’s sexual needs? He definitely makes fewer appearances in romance novels than the virgin heroine, but I can think instantly of two virgin heroes who’ve been written extremely well. Our own Anna Campbell wrote the fabulous Lord Sheene in Untouched, and of course there’s Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander, Jamie. Neither of these heroes is lacking in virility and both novels have been supremely popular.
Is the virgin heroine outdated in today’s contemporary romance novels? What do you think? Feel free to share your pet peeves, or if you’re a fan of the virgin heroine, can you identify why those novels hold appeal?
Alyssa J Montgomery