First off, welcome to my new followers! *waves* Just so you know, I’m a romance writer, so sometimes I blog aboout things relevant to all writers and sometimes I focus posts on the romance genre. Please feel free to comment and share even if you’re not a romance reader.
For those old followers (I prefer to think of you as “seasoned”, not old) who don’t know, my last post was Freshly Pressed yesterday, so it was on WordPress.com‘s homepage. My blog picked up quite a few new followers, and I look forward to getting to know you all better.
Now for today’s post, which is cross-posted at The Season.
When I started reading romance *mumble mumble* years (okay, decades) ago, it was nearly impossible to find a heroine who’d had sex before meeting the hero. While this is completely understandable and realistic in historical romance, it’s always seemed curious to me that contemporary adult women were virgins.
Most of them weren’t just virgins but were about as inexperienced as I was at 14. (That is, not experienced at all).
As a teenager, I enjoyed reading about women who were a decade older but just as inexperienced as me. Considering I went to a religious high school, I knew sex would remain a vicarious experience for many years, and I’d probably end up like those heroines. Watching their long wait pay off with a hot man made me happy not to experiment with fumbling teenage boys.
I was also surrounded by messages from other forms of media telling me it wasn’t normal for teenagers to be virgins. TV, music, films—they all made me feel my friends and I were strange, while romance novels encouraged me that good things come to those who wait.
A couple of decades later, readers tend to complain when an adult heroine is a virgin. It seems unrealistic. Or perhaps it’s offensive to subject heroines to centuries-old double standards that real-life women are finally shattering.
But how realistic are contemporary adult virgins?
According to the U.S. national Youth Risk Behavior Survey in 2009, 46% of 9th-12th graders have had sex. That number was down from 54% in 1991 (around the time I started reading romance). A slim majority of teens are reaching adulthood as virgins.
But then, of course, there’s college.
Even though they tend not to be virgins, most contemporary heroines are far from being very experienced. They’ve often had one or two partners who didn’t satisfy them. And many have abstained from sex for over a year.
So how realistic is this? Another national sex study, which looked at the sexual behaviors of Americans aged 14-94, asked women and men whether they’d had vaginal intercourse in the past year. 87% of women aged 25-29 said they had. The number goes down as women get older (see this graph). I’m guessing the percentage of romance heroines in that age group who have had sex in the last year is much lower.
Finding heroines who have extensive sexual experience is rare, but this year at least one of the contemporary novels up for a RITA award features a heroine who has quite a past. I haven’t read Lead Me On by Victoria Dahl yet, but I’ve ordered it (along with all the other contemporary single title finalists) and can’t wait to see how different the heroine is.
What do you think about virgin women in contemporary romance? Do you think they reflect real women’s sexual experience? If not, do you want them to?