Let’s Talk About Sex - and Hoes!

How many romances can you think of that feature working girls – the real kind of working girl, not the power-suit, business tycoon working girl – as the heroines?

Holly Golightly in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” comes to mind, though that isn’t really a romance. Tracy Quan’s Diary of a Manhattan Callgirl comes to mind, but that’s not a romance really, either. (For those of you who haven’t read it, it’s about a call girl who is engaged to a man who has absolutely no idea what she does for a living).

Can a romance author make a ho a heroine? Can a call girl, even a glamourous high-price one, fall in love and have a happily ever after in romantic fiction? Or is it one of the many taboos out there, begging to be broken in the world of romance, such as sports heros, military men, and historicals set in France, all of which were once “oh this will never sell” and are now hot property (well, the first two are, for sure).

Given that I’m new to romantica and erotica, is this a plot theme explored in newer publications? Does the ho get a happily ever after? And what does that say about sex and women – are we able to exchange it as a commodity and still reserve the ability to emotionally connect through sex with the Right Man? Perhaps this is an archaic sexual double standard that sexually-adventurous romances will be able to topple. Emma Holly’s heroines are certainly sexually spunky – but they aren’t paid for their pleasures.

So, are there any ho-heroines in romance? And can I call them “whoroines?”


Random Musings

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  1. 1
    Robin Bayne says:

    Believe it or not, one of my all-time favorite Christian romances has this type heroine, and it has become a classic. “Redeeming Love” by Francine Rivers.

  2. 2
    E.D'Trix says:

    Hmmm, well The Duke by Beth’s fave, Gaelen Foley, features a heroine who is a Courtesan (forced into it by fate, etc—but aren’t they all?) who is quite unrepentant about her actions. The hero is *NOT* her first and only protector, as I recall (memory foggy…must..reread…)—and must overcome his own prudish, starchy upbringing to realize he loves and wants her as his wife—despite what society says.

    Also, more recently, I saw a romantica release at Ellora’s Cave called Turning Tricks by Claire Thompson. Not really my cup o’ tea (I am not a big fan of lifestyle BDSM books) but it most definitely features a hooker—and not a lighthearted, Pretty Woman hooker either.

  3. 3
    Sarah says:

    “Turning Tricks?” Wow, now that’s an attractive title. Makes me think of 42nd street on the far west side – scaaary!

    While a “courtesan” is certainly a different concept than a straight-up ho, is it possible for a ho to be redeemable or even an attractive heroine in a contemporary novel? I’m beginning to think that ho-dom is only truly palatable in the historical and not the contemporary romance. We’ve all seen hookers. I’ve never met a courtesan, though, and am thus free to dress them nicely in my imagination.

  4. 4
    Robin says:

    Judith Ivory’s Sleeping Beauty is one example I can think of right now, and it’s obviously an historical.  What’s interesting to me about this book, though, is that I loved the heroine and actually felt she deserved better than what she got in the hero.  Yeah he loved her and everything, but he spent a little too much time, IMO, rudely accusing her of sleeping with other men.  She was retired, but in a refreshing change, she actually liked sex and what she did for a living!  She made the choice for financial reasons initially, but she was absolutely unapologetic about her lifestyle and her choices and her sexuality. 

    Also Mary Balogh’s book, A Precious Jewel, features a heroine who was a prostitute; in fact, the hero actually hires her out of the brothel to become his mistress.  And while she doesn’t embrace her life as a whore (she comes from a cultured background but due to her family’s death and greedy relatives, blah blah blah . . .), she doesn’t play victim, either.  And even more interesting to me is the fact that the hero in this book is very average, at least in his own eyes.

  5. 5
    Tara Marie says:

    I’m not a huge fan of Lori Foster so I may be wrong about the heroines background, but isn’t Cyn an ex-prostitute in “When Bruce Met Cyn…”?

  6. 6
    sherryfair says:

    If you’ll step aside the genre, please, ma’am, “The Crimson Petal and the White” has become my favorite historical novel about a prostitute. But that is one long-ass book, so be prepared to be reading it for a while.

  7. 7
    Wendy says:

    The one that pops into my mind is BAD MOON RISING by Katherine Sutcliffe.  Although the heroine is an ex-prostitute.  Still, I know readers who had a holy conniption about it.

    Personally, I loved that book.

  8. 8
    Sarah says:

    Do you think people have a conniption because they don’t think the ho deserves a happily ever after?

    I often wonder if audiences like romance featuring titled people and the wealthy (i.e. their ‘betters’, whatever that means) that reading about a person of lower – or lowest – status is a complete turn off.

  9. 9
    Ellen Fisher says:

    Interesting topic.  I’m especially interested because I’m writing an erotic futuristic where the hero is a ho.  I’m curious as to whether people think hos (male or female) are a taboo or not.

  10. 10
    Karen Scott says:

    I can’t say I’ve ever read a romance where the heroine was a prostitute without having been forced into it.

    I think it would be an interesting plot device to have a ho, who actually liked being a ho. 

    It would be fascinating to see how the writer would redeem her in the eyes of the reader.  Personally, I would love it whether she was redeemed or not.

  11. 11
    Wendy says:

    Do you think people have a conniption because they don’t think the ho deserves a happily ever after?

    That’s the vibe I got from various discussions.  Interestingly enough, these were readers who adored virgin heroines – because for them it’s the escape factor.  First love, first sexual experience etc.  Plus, people are so frickin’ hung up on sex, that any character with a *ahem* colorful sexual history is going to be seen as “unseemly” or “dirty.”

    Personally I want my characters flawed.  The more flawed the better.  I find that much more romantic.  Like it really is “OK” for the “little people” to fall in love.  If I’m to believe romance novels, the only people in England that ever fell in love were titled.

    I’m going to go out on a limb and say that somewhere in England, sometime throughout history, a chambermaid fell in love.

    Just a radical notion.

  12. 12

    Mary Balogh’s A PRECIOUS JEWEL is about a woman who chooses to become a prostitute, believing it the best option available.  And she’s good at it and takes pride in her work.  One of the things I liked best about that novel was the hero was sort of a nebbish, clearly not as bright as the heroine, and in a sense she was “rescuing” him as much as he was rescuing her. 

    I also liked Rivers REDEEMING LOVE, even though I think it’s the only Christian romance I’ve ever read.  A good retelling of the story of Hosea, and the motivations and actions of the characters all make sense, plus it’s a dynamite story.

  13. 13
    cw says:

    Not a romance, but wasn’t there a book about a woman who decides to become a courtesan, grabs an English king, and then is made a duchess (and her children are his illegitimate heirs)? St. James, maybe?

    I might be conflating several books or making one up entirely, though.

    As for love…you’d think with all the marriages of convenience going on in the nobility, only peasants would marry for love. :D

  14. 14
    Candy says:

    Courtesans/prostitutes are a lot more common in historicals. I mean, man, every other Mary Balogh book I’ve picked up featured a former prostitute or courtesan.

    On one hand, I suppose it’s easier to pretty up whatever psychological and physical issues a career prostitute may have when it’s a historical. But on the other hand, since prophylactics weren’t exactly common usage in Ye Olden Tymes, the thought of STDs rears its ugly head when I read about heroines who used to be prostitutes (not the courtesans, though, who didn’t have to service quite as many men).

    In contemporaries, I think I’d find it easier to buy into a heroine who’s a callgirl vs. a streetwalker, if only because I associate streetwalkers with substantial drug abuse and pasts featuring a physical or sexual abuse. That’s just a bit more baggage than I want to deal with in a romance novel. I have no idea if that’s an accurate prejudice, but I admit it’s one I have.

    A woman who used to work in my department was the live-in girlfriend for Heidi Fleiss’s younger brother. Man, she had some stories to tell about the family, and about Heidi, and let me tell you, she is NOT a happy, well-adjusted woman.

    I’d definitely be interested in reading about a modern-day prostitute who gets her own HEA in a romance. If nothing else, I’d like to know why she chose that particular career path, how she felt about it, how the hero deals with it, etc.

    Now, how ‘bout a romance novel featuring a porn star?

  15. 15
    HelenKay says:

    The redeemed whore thing feels too much like Pretty Woman to me – not interesting at all. 

    This one seems to be missing the “she must repent in order to be happy” angle many of the prostitute-to-virtuous-mother books tend to require.  Have to say, whether or not it qualifies as a romance (whatever the hell that means) it’s certainly not the same old thing. 

    Really, the book can suck but I’ll still be happy because it forced Sarah to make up the word whoroine, which is now a favorite.

  16. 16

    Candy—there’s a nonfiction book I just finished called CALLGIRL.  The author has a Ph.D in anthropology and was doing this as a sideline while teaching college (only in Boston does this seem like a likely scenario).  Anyway, parts of the memoir are laugh out loud funny, but at the end


    she has what appears to be a HEA conclusion to her tale.

  17. 17
    Sarah says:

    I personally have always been fascinated by the lifestyle and daily routine of a high-price call girl, especially in NYC, LA, and other points expensive, where women live incredibly lavish lifestyles servicing select groups of clients at thousands of dollars per visit.

    But then, I like the fantasy of just knowing what to do with all that personal grooming and pampering efforts that I’ve read about in the high-price call girl accounts I’ve seen.

    “Somewhere, …a chambermaid fell in love.”


  18. 18
    Rinda says:

    I remember a great one!  Rebecca Paisley’s Rainbows and Raptures.  She was a soiled dove and he was a Texas Gunslinger.  Funny, funny book—plus, it had one of the sexiest “man bathing” scenes I’ve ever read. 

    Where’s my iced water?

  19. 19
    Shannon says:

    Emma Holly’s heroines are certainly sexually spunky – but they aren’t paid for their pleasures.

    IMeversoHO, the heroine in Strange Attractions walks a very fine there, considering there is financial compensation for her time spent as their playmate. 

    I loved the book, regardless.  *g*

  20. 20
    Bam says:

    There was a chick-lit I read once called Going Down by Jennifer Belle with a hooker for a heroine. This is the description:

    “Bennington Bloom is a 19-year-old acting student at New York Univeristy in search of a part-time job. Answering an ad in the Village Voice for “coeds” leads her into a life as a high-paid call girl. In a light, no-nonsense, humorous voice, Bennington describes her sexual experiences, her adventures with eccentric friends, and her distant father. She becomes so hooked on the easy money she makes as a prostitute that when she finds a decent man and moves in with him, she can’t give it up. Instead, she invents a job for herself as a caterer to explain her frequent evening absences, which leads to heartbreak and humiliation when the truth is discovered.”

    It was actually pretty good.

  21. 21
    Stef2 says:

    I guess I like my heroines – at least in contemporary romance – to be hard working and smart.  I just couldn’t ever buy into a prostitute’s train of thought.  No way I’d believe they did it because they like sex.  And it just seems like a way to make a buck without using her brain.  Maybe she’s disadvantaged, but lots of people are poor who don’t turn to prostitution to feed the family.

    In historicals, I could totally buy it.  Women didn’t own anything except their bodies – and if they were married, they didn’t even own that.  I’d sell myself to eat.  But not in today’s world.  Not in developed countries.  There are too many alternatives to starving.


  22. 22
    Stef2 says:

    Incidentally, is it just me, or does the word ho make anyone laugh?

    Don’t know why, but every time I read it, or hear it, I smile.

  23. 23
    Kristie says:

    One of my favourite Rebecca Paisley’s books Rainbows and Rapture had a ‘working girl’ heroine.  And she was still in the business.
    Oops, I see Rinda already mentioned it.  Anyway, it’s a good book

  24. 24
    Robini says:

    Pretty Woman pops instantly into mind for me: it’s a movie and not a book, but it’s pretty classic romance as storylines go. I think there’s some offhand line about how Vivian is “new” to the scene, but she’s definitely been “working” for a while.

    Either way, she is a a rare lead from the “hooker with a heart of Gold” category that seems mostly composed of secondary-character love interests like Miss Kitty in Gunsmoke (whose career was a bit ambiguous, but it was the 50s) and Dolly Parton’s character in “The Best little Whorehouse in Texas.”

    If you’re talking about workign girls who *continue* to work…Vivian may not qualify, but I get the impression that Miss Kitty and Marshal Dillon’s had an ongoing affair that, told from a different perspective, might have had a heavy romantic angle to it.

  25. 25
    Sally says:

    Oh, speaking of movies, I absolutely love KLUTE, with a great romance between Jane Fonda and Donald Sutherland, and a HEA.  She’s a call girl, he’s a police detective.  Great movie, for those looking for something to watch.

  26. 26
    Arethusa says:

    I think it was Tara that mentioned earlier that the heroine in “When Bruce Met Cyn” by Lori Foster was a former prostitute. One could say that she was “forced” into it by circumstances I guess. The hero was a pastor.

  27. 27
    Maili says:

    STREETS OF FIRE by Judith Duncan may be worth considering.

  28. 28
    Nicole says:

    Hmm..interesting.  I really can’t remember any story I’ve read that had a prostitute as a heroine (or is it whoroine?). 

    Now…I DO have a half-sister who was(is?) a call girl (she actually referred to herself as a madam once) in LA (and in Chicago).  Erm, she’s kinda the black sheep of the family and doesn’t stay in contact much.  I think she’s now in and out of rehab and has the IRS after her for back taxes.

  29. 29

    Actually, in my short, Summer Pirate, I had people telling me they’d rather reade about my heroine’s ho best friend than the heroine herself. So I must write her story.

    And the word ho makes me think of the Weird Al version of Bad: Fat. Where they’re running around yelling Hooooo in their best Michael Jackson fashion, and then one of the guy runs up and hands Weird Al a garden tool, and he says, Ho….

    Ok, it was funny to me.

  30. 30
    Stef2 says:

    *Ok, it was funny to me*

    Other Stef, anything with Weird Al is funny.  Add ‘ho’ and, well…yeah, it’s damn funny.

    Let us know when your ho story is buyable.  I’m thinkin’ I should read a good ho story.

    One Christmas, we had Styrofoam cups with Ho Ho Ho printed on them.  (you totally see where I’m going with this, right?)  I think I was ImaHo.  We had IdaHo, UraHo, BigHo, DonHo (my bil – Donny), SkankyHo, amd BlowHo.  My pure and prudish sister-in-law (who started the whole thing) was NotAHo.

    Yes, we are all below average intelligence.


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