No one forgets their first (vicarious) sexual experience

The other day, I was reading a post Imogen wrote at The Writing Groove about the first romance novels she remembers reading, and it got me thinking about how many of us romance readers got started when we were kids.

As I told her, I remember very little about the plot of my first grown-up romance novel (which I read when I was about 12), but I very vividly remember that the hero touched the heroine’s nipple.

With a tweak of that man’s fingertips, I became a life-long fan.

But even before that Harlequin mysteriously found its way to my doorstep, I’d voraciously read YA romances and mysteries that had a significant romantic storyline. Most of my friends read books featuring ponies.

Makes me wonder if some of us are hard-wired to be romance readers. Is there something in us that makes us more inclined to love a story with a happy ending? Or is it that an early introduction to written sex leaves a bigger mark on impressionable young brains?

My mom was really honest with me about sex and never minded me reading romance novels. She questioned some of the covers (“Why is he wearing a full safari suit while she’s in a bikini?” “Duh, Mom. It, like, takes place in the Outback, and that’s just what they wear.”), but she never tried to stop me reading them. In fact, she bought them for me and took me to the library whenever I wanted.

She wasn’t a romance reader, so I wonder if she knew how graphic they were. Many of those early sex scenes are still vivid in my brain, more vivid than some of my, y’know, real-life experiences.

I learned quite a bit from them, and I’d argue strenuously with anyone who said they gave me an unrealistic idea of love, sex, and relationships. Instead, they were a safe way for me to explore sex…without the risk of pregnancy or STDs.

Clearly the Harlequins I read weren’t graphic enough to truly educate me, though. I’d been reading them for a couple years before I read one scene and the penny dropped: “Wait – it goes ALL THE WAY IN?”


How old were you when you started reading romance? Know many fans who read their first as an adult?

What are your earliest romance novel memories? Do you think you’re hard-wired to love romance? Do you think you’d be a romance fan if you read your first one yesterday?


  1. Wow! My first romance … can’t say that I remember exactly when it all started but I do remember a rather long and tedious family vacation where I went to the library and brought along a whole bunch of books (I didn’t know they were called romance novels then) mostly Mills and Boon Historicals, I think and some Johanna Lindsey and I was hooked. It certainly made the vacation more passable.

    1. Hi Daz! When I was a teenager, I always needed a stack of novels to distract me from the fact that my family insisted on joining me on vacation. I don’t think I would’ve survived otherwise!

  2. I remember EXACTLY which romance novel left the biggest impression on me: Kathleen Woodiwiss’ “The Flame and The Flower”! I had been reading my Mom’s Barbara Cartlands since I was around 9. I remember arguing with my 6th grade teacher as to whether “fichu” was an actual word… Well, the chaste kiss that ended (and still does) each Cartland romance was just not doing it for me. Flame and Flower was one of the first “graphic” romances – passionate kisses and touching of “strawberry-tipped breasts”. My sisters and I half-wrote our own called “The Skunk and the Badger” – those tiny feet, fruity breasts, and heart-shaped faces got a little ridiculous after a while… The big break didn’t come until I was an adult and discovered “The Lover” (whose author I cannot recall). Then there was some “serious erotica” by Anne Rice (yes, the Vampire Lestat etc author) writing as D.N. Roquelaure. Three books, all with Beauty in the titles, all about people being put into uncomfortable positions and spanked! “The Lover” would be considered tame compared to some of what is out there, but what the heck do I do with the Anne Rice books? I just don’t feel comfortable donating those to the Library!
    I still read romance novels, but have a few favorites who do great characters. I am a bit appalled at how much raping there is in many romances – and heroines falling in love with their rapists…Johanna Lindsey is unfortunately in this group.
    For some hilarious romance reviews,check out

    1. Mommabear, that’s hilarious! I’ve got a blog on strawberry nipples coming up soon. And I read the Anne Rice trilogy the last year I lived in California. A few years later, I woke up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat because I remembered where I’d left them – in a box in my parents’ garage. I was suddenly terrified they’d have a clear-out and discover them. I took them to a used book store last time I was home.

      Thanks for stopping by!

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