Thursday, November 1, 2007

The Virgin Mystique

I’m working on two Erotica romances at the moment—a drastic departure from my comfort realm of historical romance. Although, my historicals are quite spicy themselves. Still, there’s a marked different between romance and erotic romance. I’m thoroughly enjoying my dip into this foray. What I like the most? My heroine is not, but most importantly, does not have to be a virgin.

Of course, one of my stories is a contemporary erotic romance and the heroine is over 30. The chances of a 30-something professional woman in NYC being a virgin nowadays are slim. My heroine is experienced (much more so than her 23-year-old lover.) A part of me cringed as I wrote each chapter. I kept thinking: Will my editor hate it? Will she think my heroine’s a slut?

Then I remembered this is an erotic romance, the traditional rules do not apply. Which got me thinking just what is the appeal of the ‘virgin heroine?’ Sometimes I’m annoyed by them. I recently read a contemporary romance by a NYT best-selling author (who shall remain nameless for obvious reasons). The heroine in this story was a 30-something attorney who was still a virgin. Of course, she meets said alpha-male hero and he teaches her all the joys of sex…blah, blah, blah. I hated the story because I hated the heroine. What I hated most was the absurd reason why this woman was still a virgin: she simply never had time for it. Apparently, all through college she did nothing but study, and afterward, well, she was consumed by her existing job. So no sex for her. No sexual thoughts, feelings, curiosity…nothing. Nada. Zilch. Until she meets the hero. Then her dormant libido suddenly goes into a crank-like frenzy.

Wouldn’t it have been easier (not to mention far more believable) to not make the heroine such a monolith of chastity and virtue? I wondered if perhaps this author was pressured by her editor to abide by the unwritten heroine-must-be-a-virgin credo. And this heroine wasn’t merely a virgin, she had absolutely no sexual experience whatsoever. She’d never pleasured herself or even gone to first base before in her life. She’d never even dated! Was this woman completely asexual? Frigid? It simply wasn’t believable.

This formulaic heroine, anachronistic as she is, continues to appear—assembly-line style—in many bestsellers. Of course, when writing historicals, you have to stick with the social norms of the times. In my historical westerns, my heroines are virgins. That’s expected and consistent with the time period, though. When writing contemporary romances, you are (or should be) at liberty to choose. To me it’s all about making the story and characters believable. So I’m wondering which you prefer and why. Virgin or not?


Kelley Nyrae said...

I have to admit most of the time I prefer the heroines to not be virgins because I think its more real. Thats not to say I haven't read some really great contemporary books where the heroine is a virgin. I think its up to the author to make the story believable.

Anne Rainey said...

I don't see anything wrong with the virgin heroine, considering I wrote a book where the heroine is in fact a virgin--Instructing Sarah. Which is tagged as erotic romance.

Here's the thing for me. I've read heroines who were and heroines who weren't. I do not (and never will) see the problem in either scenario. The reason? When I was in my mid twenties, I had a few girlfriends who had never had sex. Why? They were saving themselves...yes, that's an outdated notion, but there it is. A woman in her twenties who was willing to wait for the right man to come along...crazy idea, huh? But there you have it.

In Instructing Sarah, she gives that very reason. She is saving herself. She hadn't met a guy who made her long to rip off her clothes. Not until Greg. He makes her want to rip off her clothes. In fact, she realizes (at her age) she may never get to see what all the hype is about. She wanted a husband, kids, a white picket fence, but since that dream seems ever out of reach, she finally decides to go for it. Gregs both thrilled and slightly terrified that she's a virgin. It strokes his male ego to know she chose him. At the same time, talk about performance anxiety! LOL

So, I think in the world of romance, the heroines should be as unique as you and I. We don't all share the same beliefs. Why should our heroines?

Interesting topic!

Kaz Augustin said...

No virgins. You know my struggles with the issue and the fact that my first story contained a virgin. But not anymore, I don't think.

The concept of "saving yourself" that Anne mentions is an interesting one. To me, it's like saying, "I'm never going to learn to drive until I find the car of my dreams". Never mind that, once you think you've found it, you won't even know how to work the thing. As much as it is emotional, sex is also a set of skills. Quite simply, given a choice, would I prefer a skilled person or an unskilled person putting their hands on my body in an attempt to find mutual pleasure?

And, what does that say when someone is okay entering an intimate situation with another person with deliberate ignorance? To my mind, it shows a disrespect...I don't care for you enough to actually find out what pleases a partner (although the number of virgins who magically divine the trick of giving head-jobs on the first or second shag is mind-boggling, no pun intended), and I don't care for myself enough to discern whether I'm being respected or dissed. How many times, from all sorts of situations, have we heard, "I didn't know any better so I thought it was normal"? This is a good thing when it comes to sex???

Also, as Anne points out herself, her hero finds it an ego trip (i.e. power) to "deflower" a virgin. That's a dynamic I could go on about for hours, so I won't! :)

The heroine you read about is hilarious. If she really didn't have time for anything except study and work, then I think she must have been intellectually challenged. And not just run-of-the-mill intellectually challenged, but gloriously I'm-just-an-amoeba intellectually challenged. alien. (Are you sure it was contemporary and not sci-fi?)

And lastly, yes I do have children. A boy and girl. Yes, I will be discussing sex and contraceptives with both of them when the time comes. And it is my definite preference that they are NOT virgins when they marry. Knowledge is not a four-letter word...not even when it's associated with sex.

Anne Rainey said...

Hi Kaz,

No, I did not say he was on a power trip because he got to deflower a virgin. I said, it stroked his ego to know she chose him. He liked the idea that she wanted him enough, was in fact attracted to him enough to choose him. Only a jerk would be glad over 'deflowering' a virgin. Not what I said at all and not the way Greg acted in my book either.

I have two daughters myself. Both of them at the age to have boyfriends and start experimenting if they want. Yes, we've had the talk. Yes, I am a good listener and very open with them about sexual pleasures. I AM an erotic romance author after all. Would it not be slightly hypocritical of me to spout to them about 'saving themselves' then write about heroines who don't?

However--where my kids are concerned--I think I've managed to round out their knowledge of sex rather well. I will respect their choices in life and help them in any way I can. My tagline says it all. "Bring desire out of the dark". That's my goal in writing erotic romance. I want to make women aware that it's not a BAD thing to feel sexual desire.

Again, the point I attempted to make, is that *I* am NOT my heroines. Each heroine should be unique, with their own thoughts, their own background, etc.. And so, their choice in sexual partners or if they even chose to have sexual partners prior to the hero should as well be unique. Otherwise, they're all just the same...

again, interesting discussion. :)

Dara Edmondson said...

I'm with Karyna on the virgin thing. How unreal is that? How many women can relate to a woman who remained virginal past college, through her twenties - come on?
I suppose some readers enjoy that, but it's not foe me, although, like Kelley, I have read a book or two I enjoyed where that was the case. I had to suspend my doubts, though.

Anonymous said...

Hi Anne!

I have no preference if the heroine is a virgin or not. Like I stated in my blog, my heroines have all been virgins (mostly b/c I write historical romance) and that was typical of the time. What I have trouble with is this concept of almost forced virginity in the romance market. Even if you write contemporaries, editors prefer you not make your heroine too "experienced." Why not? Women are just as sexual as men. We have needs, we're curious,and despite what convention tells us, men do not hold the monopoly on masturbation.

I was a virgin until I was 21. I wasn't ashamed of it, despite the fact that none of my other friends were. It was a personal decision. I wasn't waiting for marriage, either. I was just waiting until I felt like doing so, until I was mentally and emotionally prepared for it. I didn't want to "do it" just because everyone else was (does that make any sense?) So your friends in their mid-twenties don't surprise me, at all.

However, in the book I mentioned, the heroine was a 35-yr old power attorney. The fact she was a virgin was a tough enough pill to swallow, but hey, I figured I'd give her the benefit of the doubt.

But as the story progressed and you realized she wasn't just a virgin, she was completely and totally ignorant of any sexually related matters. In 21st century NYC? Come on. I was a virgin, but I knew what people meant when they discussed "blow jobs" or "hand jobs." Don't insult my intelligence. Like Kelley said, I think the important part is to make the story believable.

Oh and Kaz, this heroine also somehow mastered the skill of fellatio (even though she'd never done or seen anything like it before)on her very first try, simply because she was so hot for said alpha-male hero. It was ridiculous. Suffice to say, I never finished the book.:-/

Desirée Lee said...

I flip-flop but usually my heroines are not virgins, especially when writing a heroine who's not some fresh-faced, barely legal up-and-comer (pun only slightly intended) in the world. I like my heroines to be realistic.

It's something I did have to sit down and give a bit of thought to while writing the BBW story I am working on. So much emphasis is placed on body type and it would be so easy to write my heroine as the ugly duckling who discovers Mr. Right and realizes she's developed in to the beautiful swan, loses her virginity to him and they toodle off to their HEA. I could do that... but I'm not. I'm trying to write the BBW heroine as someone who is both realistic and sexy at the same time. Just because some people might not see her as sexy because of her size doesn't mean she isn't! It's not her fault if they have a perception problem. There are also plenty of men who won't judge a book by its cover so to speak and would love to find a woman with brains and a heart like she has. So just because she hasn't yet found Mr. Right, doesn't mean she couldn't have found Mr. Right Now in her past.

I do however have one heroine in another WIP who is a virgin, but there is an explanation for her choice to remain a virgin that I think is credible.

I honestly don't know anyone personally who waited until they were in their 20s or older to lose their virginity. Whether that makes my friends and I a bunch of tramps, I don't know *LOL* and I don't care! *BG*

I try to write what I know. I'll say one thing though... when my virgin heroine does finally end up coming over to the dark side, er, losing her virginity, I won't be basing that on my RL experience. Hers will be much better! *LOL*

Now for historicals or regency romances I think virginity is more plausible. I don't think casual sex the way we see it today was the vogue thing in those times.


Anonymous said...

Des, you floozy!! j/k
I'm first-generation American so I was raised in a very traditional Old World environment. The concept of "dating" was (and still is) foreign to my parents. You don't "date" you just "get married." I often felt like the last remaining virgin on Earth at that time, but I was okay with it. In retrospect I'm glad I made the choices I did. Re:BBW heroines..I love reading these. I wish there were more, since the ugly duckling, who's a swan in everyone's eyes except her own, has been done to death.