Tuesday, 5 June 2012
The Vanishing Virgin
The first thing I need to say is that I like virgin heroines in my stories. The ones I read, and the ones I write. I like them because if you get it right first time it's special. Virgins are a tricky thing these days. Firstly, because no one believes in them any more. But in category romances, virgins still pretty much ruled until the last two or three decades. Probably around the time I officially stopped being a virgin. Synchronicity?
In most HM&B romances up to the seventies the heroine was almost guaranteed to be a virgin. If she wasn't a virgin, she would be a widow. One interesting exception I've come across is a Mary Burchell book originally published in the late thirties called "Such is Love" which features a heroine who entered a brief bigamous marriage as a teenager, six years before the story starts. While dated in many ways it is a beautifully written story, full of emotion with a fascinating hero.
The introduction of the Presents line in the seventies started to change things, heating up the stratosphere. Anne Mather wrote a book called "For the Love of Sara" in which the heroine had an affair with the hero resulting in a child some years previous to the action of the book. There may have been others but this was the first time I came across this scenario within the HM&B line.
By the eighties, heroines regularly 'slept' with the hero before marriage. But usually only the hero. In the nineties this definitely changed. Serious relationships with a previous boyfriend often involved assumed or explicitly mentioned sexual relationships. An interesting phenomena is that in my reading patterns it began to seem that the steamier Presents line has become the last bastion of the virgin.
Romance/Sweet lines began to feature more and more single mothers looking for men who were not the father of their child. This has become the norm in many of the current books with very few being reunions between the both father and mother of any child involved. A recent head count showed four of twelve current 'baby' books where the child belonged to both hero and heroine.
Medical lines were some of the earliest to introduce story lines with heroines having previous sexual relationships. This is logical considering the average age of heroines in that line has generally been older, due to the professional nature of their career paths. The nature of medical life would also impact.
And this is another issue with virgins. With the average age of heroine's now being in the mid to late twenties and creeping into the thirties, there has to be a good reason for a heroine to be a virgin in the current day and age. So how do we justify a virgin in her mid to late twenties? Religious reasons would fly but would pretty much cut out publication in all but Inspired lines. Religion is usually very delicately handled in the regular imprints with either no mention or only very vaguely. And if you want your heroine to lose her virginity to the hero on the page, well there go the Inspired options.
Other reasons would usually involve angsty traumatic pasts that might go down well in Presents, which is probably why Presents still seems to have the highest percentage of virgins among the main imprints. Though it is harder to pick them without the generic Billionaire Greek, Virgin Bride type titles that ruled until the last couple of years. All the same, a reading binge a couple of months ago of a stack of recent Presents books still only came up with four virgins out of twenty consecutive books.
So there we have it. The case of the Vanishing Virgin.