Greetings, and welcome to another installment of “Sarah and Candy: The Email of Many Kilobytes.â€ Today’s topic: virginity in romance, and in the real world. From two women who are decidedly not virgins, so of course we are standing ready to discuss the topic at length.
Check out this article: a very tongue-in-cheek suggestion that women looking for a good man should… look into polygamy, especially black women who bemoan the lack of fine fellas.
I have one friend who would dearly love to meet a great man, but she has a few non-negotiable standards, and one of them is that he agree to wait until marriage. She’s a virgin until married. Period. End of sentence. And no guy will go for that. The minute they find out she’s not available in that way, they’re gone.
Do you know of any dudes who value virginity? Or who even care that much? Hubby didn’t give a crap in the slightest. So of course I wonder, why is a hymen such a frequent character in contemporary romance, including erotica? (cat barb penis CAT BARB PENIS oh GOD make it STOP.) How many times have we read some guy going at it and then, “He broke through her maiden barrier, and felt shock and wonderment pass over him. She was a virgin! He didn’t know! He is the first! And now SHE BELONGS TO HIM FOREVER MWAAAHAHAHAHHA.”
It’s some kind of powerful fantasy construct, either in the sense of being completely and uniquely possessed by the hero, or in the sense of being a remnant from the virginity requirement enforced on so many heroines in past novels. What do you think?
Hmmm, interesting article, and interesting tidbit about your friend and her virginity.
I think I can safely say my guy friends don’t give a shit about virginity. However, I can imagine many men feeling sketched out by a woman who wanted to wait until marriage for a couple of reasons:
1. Some people, like me, believe that sexual compatibility is very, very important. Like it or not, that means trying before buying. And sexual behavior CAN be taught and learned, but there’s a certain chemistry that…well, it works, or it doesn’t, and you don’t generally find out until you’ve slept with each other.
2. Some guys are jerks who just want to get their rocks off, and finding a girl who’s not willing to help with that is a turn-off. No nookie, no go.
It’s a lot pressure, being somebody’s first, and the older the virgin, the higher the pressure. I think people are sometimes scared of this pressure, because there’s an implication of long-term commitment, and, well, most people don’t want to think of the long-term when they’re still working on figuring out whether the short term will work.
Now, leaving the Good Ship Reality and embarking on the wacky vessel that is Virginity in romance fiction:
I think this primal satisfaction in having deflowered the heroine (at least in contemporaries) is kind of a fictional construct. Romance heroes are usually all gung ho and In Lurve and Ready For Marriage (whether they’re ready to acknowledge these two states or not), and these feelings of possessiveness and GRAR MY WOMAN have become shorthand for “He’s in LURVE, he just doesn’t know it yet.”
Other people’s virginity is ALWAYS more interesting than just about anything else! I’ve been emailing back and forth with my friend and she also thinks that part of the problem is the attitudes toward sexuality in the secular community versus in the religious community. On one hand, you have people witnessing folks Doing It for whatever reason in sexually explicit depictions at all hours of the day in print, film, and television, and on the other you have those same people showing up in church being told it’s a sin, and there’s no reconciliation between one and the other.
Oddly enough, she talks to her male married friends from church and they are all like, “Yeah it’s great that you save yourself” but when she asks if they waited for their wives they were like, “Oh, hell no.”
But I am totally with you on the sexual compatibility question. It is my opinion that you do have to try before you buy. There’s no way to tell sometimes – sometimes the quietest guy is a dynamo in the sack. And vice versa.
And you are SO right about the subtext of the hero’s feelings of possession as far as the heroine’s virginity. It’s certainly enough of a squicky moment that the hero does usually pause and think, “WHY ME? Oh, the honor of her luuuurve® is too muchâ€ while he’s gettin’ his bidness done, and it also contains that convenient subtext of traditional historic women-as-chattel ownership.
Hey, this conversation makes me think of some of the stuff we talked about a month back, about sexual empowerment in romance novels. I managed to dig up what I wrote:
See, while I think romance novels are subversive and reinforce the whole notion that women CAN have premarital sex and NOT die horribly by the end of the book, in a lot of ways, the message isn’t subversive at all. In fact, the message is oftentimes quite distressingly sexist.
Look at the obsession with virgins, for example. In no other genre are there so many women over the age of 20 and widows running around with their hymens firmly intact. (However, this may also be due to the fact that almost all of them suffer from some kind of genetic defect that places their hymen 2-3 inches within the vaginal canal.) It’s one thing if historical romances are the only ones guilty of overaged virgins, but SO MANY contemporary romances are obsessed with virginity, too. I mean, dear God, there exists a contemporary romance out there in which the mother of a secret baby IS STILL TECHNICALLY A VIRGIN. (I wish I can remember the title! It was a Harlequin, I remember that much.)
The heroines who aren’t virgins generally aren’t allowed to have orgasms or fulfilling sex lives before the hero comes along with his Monster Cock of Awesome Orgasmatronic power. Many of the non-virgins in Romancelandia are populated with rape victims, abuse victims, unfulfilled widows, women with clueless, sexually selfish exes and neurotic, sexually frigid women. Even in contemporary romances, way too many of these non-virgins somehow skipped sex ed, were never curious about their own bodies and never picked up a vibrator or a woman’s magazine in their lives. They don’t seem to know where the clitoris is, much less know what to do with it—even AFTER having sex. I almost feel like if you asked them what a clitoris was, they’d say, “Wasn’t he that Greek guy who wrote a bunch of tragedies?”
Women are also rarely allowed to be promiscuous the way men are in romance. Most of the heroes are rakish rakes (and somehow miraculously herpes- and gonorrhea-free), but even in contemporaries, the woman is much more constrained in her sexual roles. This becomes especially evident when you read contemporaries in which there’s a Long Separation between the hero and heroine. Usually the hero tries to deal with the trauma by fucking anything that moves. The woman? Why, she stays pure, of course. God forbid that she, too, embark on a slutty phase. I’ve read quite a few books in which the heroine either doesn’t have sex with anyone for years and years and years and YEARS, or she steadfastly remains a virgin.
Erotica and erotic romance have done a better job of blasting through a lot of these walls, in my opinion, and portraying more sexually empowered women. The women masturbate, have hot sex with people they don’t love, enjoy teh buttsecks, have a wider variety of sexual partners and experiences, and hell, they’re allowed to experiment with other girls and multiple partners. This is not something you see in the average romance novel.
Jeeebus. I managed to go on and on and on about that subject, didn’t I? And given the discussion in the comments for my review of Hot Spell about virginity and 20-something-year-old women keeping it, I definitely think this is a pretty hot topic. I’m afraid I came across as an asshole who thinks every woman should lose her cherry by the time she’s 22, or something, and I want to clarify my thoughts on this. (Just to be clear: I’m an asshole, just not an asshole who thinks every woman past 20 should no longer be a virgin.)
Losing one’s innocence is powerful juju in fiction. Having the heroine surrender her innocence (snort!) has been romanticized to a large degree in romance novels, but in the real world…. We attach significance to it, but after a certain age, I think the significance takes on somewhat creepy overtones—or at least, that’s the vibe I get from it.
Your examination (ha!) makes me think of two things:
1. I think that the revolutionary statement that was “women can have sex before marriage and not die a horrible death like Pamela” was as big a statement to traditional sexual value statements back then as the evolution of the nonvirginal heroine in erotica is now. In other words, to be told it’s ok to have premarital sex AND a happily ever after is as much a challenge to existing standards of female sexuality when romance novels first appeared, as the nonvirginal sexually adventurous butt-plug-wearing erotica heroine is today. It’s just an assault on the castle of virgin/whore dichotomy from a different angle.
To put it visually, I picture the development of the feminist subtext in romance novels as a baton relay race, with the baton of female sexual advancement (maybe instead of a baton it’s a bowl or a big inverted pyramid jutting into the Louvre?) being passed from romance to erotica. With the established structures of romance pretty set, there’s a little wiggle room here and there for clever twists on the theme, but the ideas surrounding virginity and sexual exploration are relatively firm. Then, when you pass the sexual advancement on to the erotica writers, you get a whole new set of rules to explore the sexuality of women and men, and in multiple combinations! That said, the advancement made by the romance writers is not to be denied, though the more identifiable progress now seems to be among the erotica writers.
Note: this is not a slam on romance writers; I go back and forth between romance and erotica, because too much of one makes Sarah a dull girl.
2. What do I personally think of virginity in romance novels? Is it important to me? (And by the way, if we were members of a Native American tribe, my name would have to be Bitch Who Questions Everything Rhetorically, and you’d have to be Declarative Bitch).
Personally, I’m not sure I give a crap if the heroine’s a virgin, except for in a historical, because if she’s not, I’d like to know why, since it was of more importance back then that the bride be unsullied. Not being a virgin in a historical is more than just a characteristic, like hair color. But in a contemporary? Do I expect the heroine to be virginal? Not really, unless there’s, again, a reason for it. Writers, be alert! Sarah needs an explanation if she’s not a virgin in the past, and she needs one if she is the Virgin Connie Swail in the present! And if it’s a time travel, she needs the Hymen-Reattachment/Detachment 2000 module added to that time machine.
However, it is curious that those romances that are populated with nonvirgins are rarely sexually explicit as to why she isn’t a virgin. Certainly the construction of the male hero as The Sexual Powerhouse of Orgasmatronic Power is one way of delineating that he is The One, The One Who Shall Bring Orgasms, and is thus a tired cop out in terms of easy definition of the hero – just like abusing animals is an easy way toward creating a villain.
Virginity is such a tricky issue, especially for characters. Shall we turn this over to the Bitchery and see if we can achieve hymeny — sorry, harmony?
Oooh, excellent analogy with the baton-passing. I agree with you: romances revolutionized the way sex was written and viewed in fiction, but it became way too hung up on the Heroines Shall Feel Pleasure Only at the Hands (and Cocks) of the One True Hero trope, and now other related genres are exploring other avenues of female sexuality in fiction.
I think that when it comes down to it, the heroine’s virginity should make sense. I feel that far too many authors are contorting the stories and characters to fit the State of the Hymen, instead of having the State of the Hymen fit the characters.