November 23, 2015

Talking Shop: The State of Virginity in Erotic Romance

While it’s not a hard and fast rule with me, I don’t usually write stories with virgin leads.

There are a couple of reasons for this. First off, I tend to train my writer’s ear on who my character tells me they are, and I don’t have a lot of characters reveal themselves as virgins to me. Every now and then I have a character whose background makes it sensible—a member of a religious order, for example—and sometimes I have a character who, for whatever reasons, simply hasn’t engaged in sexual relations prior to the story I’m writing. As I work on Rhiannon’s third Blood and Fire title, it took me some time to determine the sexual background of Sascha, the Russian sorceress/thief, and it finally seemed to me that, for her own reasons, Sascha hasn’t had any relationships in her past.

But one of the bigger reasons I don’t write many virgin characters is, I don’t have much of an appreciation the traditional appeal of them in the romance genre. There’s a sacredness associated with a virgin character and a momentousness associated with that virgin character coming to her lover’s bed for the first time, especially in romance. So much of it relies on the theme of “First and Only”, that the romance is ever-so-much-more magical when the characters—at least the female characters—have saved themselves for their one true love.

When you write that down, it sounds incredibly sappy and outdated. As I discussed in last week’s post, female characters especially bear an exceptional burden if they come to their story with healthy sexual experience under their belts. It’s unrealistic and ingenuine, and does a disservice to female characters.
Here’s something I like about Kresley Cole: her ladies in the Immortals After Dark series tend to defy this trope. Most of them have exes they reference without any apologetic tone or regret; some of them with a more extensive sexual history get to speak out directly against their male counterparts who cast judgment on them. And, sometimes, the virgin coming into the relationship in Kresley’s stories is the male character.
So what are some reasons you might include a virgin character? Well, naturally, everybody has a story of their “first time”. I’ll admit I personally find these stories to generally be interesting (as long as they’re not embellished with hyperbolic religious significance or preaching). To me, the concept of how we approach our first sexual experience, what the circumstances are, how it affects us, and how we got there, really make for some good coming-of-age moments.
In a recent article discussing the loss of virginity, erotic author Malin James explores a viewpoint on the occasion of a person’s first time as not a religious/sacred event, nor a casual exchange without uniqueness. While I see a toxicity and misogynistic bent on the equating of virginity with purity, I find Ms. James’ point on virginity as still personally momentous very encouraging. Too often I believe the progressive view, while empowering to women on the whole, neglects to examine the state of virginity and the loss of it as still very noteworthy and weighty parts of becoming fully-realized sexual beings. The preservation of virginity in the interest of purity and sexual ‘value’ may do more harm than good, but as a stepping-stone in an individual’s personal journey it can still be a very significant state of being.
To bring this back to the subject of writing romance and erotica, in a manner which reflects healthy attitudes on sexuality, I don’t mean to say that stories with virgin mains can’t still be quality stories, or that virginity as a plot point can’t be explored. I would highly suggest writers ask themselves if the story of a character’s virginity is significant to what they are writing, and if so, why?
The idea of a virgin coming to her lover’s bed full of naiveté and innocence, for the sake of highlighting her lover’s importance, or to give an extra measure of intensity to the scene, is, in my mind, overplayed and stale. If employed in order to explore the thoughts and emotions of a person entering a new stage of their own adulthood and sexuality, I think it can be used in an engaging and dynamic way, but again, not by highlighting the lover as the most important aspect of that choice. Even if the love pair involved is indeed a fated pair, part of a prophecy, intended as “true loves”, or otherwise unique in their coming together, the focus on virginity—if you are focusing on it, because you don’t have to if you don’t feel it necessary—should come as a reflection of self, and growth, and change, and not as an element making the union more important than the character and their experience. 

Perhaps the easiest way to approach this is, as the author throw out any notion or mention of purity, sacredness, or importance to anyone other than the character themselves. Explore what it means to them and how you will express that aspect of it. Certainly the lover will have a part in this importance, but not as the lead. A character’s “first time” has the most significance to that character themselves; their lover will have a hand in that significance; no one and nothing else really is a part of that significance.
And if you are writing a “first time” scene, do it with the intention of writing the interesting circumstances that surround this personal milestone. This is what makes a sex scene—especially one involving a virgin—dynamic and interesting. How is it different from every other sex scene?
Of course, always remain true to your characters, and the experience they express to you. If a character feels like a virgin, follow that. If they don’t, explore what that aspect of their character has made of them, how it’s left its mark on them.
And naturally, don’t feel you must write about a subject at all, unless the plot itself calls for it, and intends to employ it to a purpose. Everything you write, write with a reason. 

1 comment:

What do you think?