• rowan helaine

The Insidious Evil of Virgin Worship in Romantic Fiction

Updated: Nov 9, 2021

If there's one trope that makes me slap the book shut with a quickness, that makes me want to throw a novel across the room in frustration, it's the "untried" female protagonist. Regardless of how much time I've already invested in reading the story in question, whether it's been twenty pages or two hundred, having a woman elude to the fact that she's innocent to the ways of physical love makes me dry up faster than Death Valley in a heatwave.

First hear me out, because there's certainly nothing wrong with being a virgin. We were all virgins at some point, until we weren't anymore. Some people remain virgins forever, which is a valid personal choice. However, the notion of using sexual inexperience as a plot device is just...fucking creepy.*

The composition of a storyline around the idea that a character has never had sex creates an unbalanced power dynamic. Most of the time it deals with an experienced man who initiates a naive young woman, which only serves to infantilize her and often frames him as taking responsibility for her emotional well being, which is excruciatingly unhealthy.

I'm not exaggerating when I say that the fetishization of feminine purity has a damaging effect on society at large. By extolling chastity above inexpugnable virtues such as strength of character, tolerance, and compassion, we plant the seeds of such hateful constructs as slut-shaming and, on a grander scale, rape culture. It reinforces the notion that women who have taken a penis into their vaginas have been somehow diminished by the experience, and god forbid they've done it with any frequency...she's now damaged goods, undeserving of any love or respect at all!

If there is one habit I think we can all agree is toxic as fuck, it's that we should not be centering our self worth around sex, yet that is precisely what this theme feeds into. And as for the dudes getting off on the thought of being a girl's "first?" Well, I think if Martin Short's arc on Law & Order SVU has taught us anything, it's that if there is a man out there fantasizing about a woman bleeding on his sheets, he's either a serial killer, or at the very least, an indefensible misogynist.

*Amendment: For a woman to be expected to be a virgin in historical romance is somewhat less creepy, because it is in keeping with the times in which it is set. In those cases, I applaud a girl's prerogative to "ruin" herself with the duke, pirate captain, or gameskeeper of her choice.

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