Is your heroine experienced? by Rosanna Leo

I think it’s possible, that when I wasn’t looking, I became a prude. Yes, you heard me correctly. Sigh.

Pardon my frustration. I’m in the middle of a new work in progress and have reached a characterization impasse. And the whole reason I think I’m stuck is because of ridiculous social prejudices. You see my wolf shifter heroine, Charlotte, is a sexually savvy lady. Now please don’t get the wrong idea. She’s not an aging barfly, who’s seen everything and done everyone. She’s a lovely 25-year-old woman with a healthy appetite. She’s the sort of person who wants to sample life’s bounty and not settle down until she’s had her fill. In fact, she may not want to settle down at all.

I didn’t have an issue with this character trait until about 30,000 words into the manuscript. And then it hit me…will this character be seen as, well, tooΒ worldly?

I hate that I even thought it. After all, in this day and age, most women are not virgins when they marry. And in the world of shifters, sexual needs run rampant. However, in romance lit, there’s always been an expectation that the heroine is somewhat more innocent in the bedroom than the hero. Right? It doesn’t mean she needs to be as pure as the driven snow, but we normally expect the men to be the experienced ones. In fact, the heroines usually have a sexual awakening upon meeting these heroes. They open their eyes, you know, among other things.

And yet, I have created this woman who’s been with several men and who prefers casual relationships. Now of course, this will end once she and the hero get together, but I confess I’m worried about how she’ll be received.

Am I being silly and letting archaic ideas overrule my common sense? I would love to hear from readers and fellow authors on this. When you start a new romance, how much experience do you expect the heroine to have? Have you ever read about a heroine who’s more experienced than the hero? What did you think of her? Do you prefer a heroine who is more virginal, or do you wish romance books were finally freed of this stigma? What about when reading paranormal shape shifter books? Do you expect these characters to be more open to experimentation in the bedroom, because of their animal natures?

I would love to hear from you, and so would my heroine Charlotte. She’s feeling a little, um, dissatisfied.

47 thoughts on “Is your heroine experienced? by Rosanna Leo

  1. I write a traditional mystery series featuring a twenty-something female narrator with all kinds of healthy appetites, so I often ponder your question. It’s worth pondering in a genre context, but also in a larger literary one because it asks us as readers to consider how and why we identify with characters, and what that says about our cultural thinking. PS: in my series, her lover has less experience than she does. He’s still awesome in bed (thanks to a very uninhibited former girlfriend who taught him a thing or two) but in all matters romantic, she’s usually the aggressor. And my readers seem to like her — and him — this way.

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    • Thank you for this, Tina! You put me in mind of Diana Gabaldon’s Jamie and Claire. When they first went to bed, she knew more than he did because of the time period. It’s amazing how these things can still concern us, but glad I’m not alone. Congrats on your books! It sounds as if you’ve made this work!

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  2. I may not be a writer, but as a reader, I don’t think it matters that much, as long as you know how to play with words so that we don’t get the wrong ideas. We see many kinds of heroines, and when it comes to experienced ones it’s a nice change in pace, if the writer knows what they’re doing. So, I’m saying “go for it!”.

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    • Thank you L&A! I agree, we need to see different people in our worlds and in our books too. And the trick is writing them sympathetically. Thanks for joining us today!

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  3. The male or female characters can be experienced with a select few people, without rampant bed-hopping. When leading characters- either sex- are indiscriminating in their proclivities, it tarnishes the story for me. If they are so promiscuous, how can you know if the story is a happily-until-a-new-lust instead of a happily-ever-after? Also, I know I don’t enjoy the story as much if the female has more experience than the man, don’t mind equal, but prefer less experience for the women as it’s easier for me to relate.

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    • Thanks for your honesty, Mrs. H. This is exactly the sort of idea I’ve been grappling with, and I must admit I’ve always enjoyed my heroines much as you have. This one is a bit of an experiment for me, so we’ll see how it progresses! LOL

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  4. Two of my heroines are more experienced in the bedroom — not necessarily more than the hero, but at least as much. Those have been my two least popular books, with prejudice toward the heroines each time. That being said, I’d write it that way again if the character called for it. It’s realistic, and I enjoy it in other stories.

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    • Wow, that’s interesting, Allyson. Thanks for sharing. Now I want to read them! It’s interesting that sexual knowledge in a woman still makes people nervous. Hmmm…

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  5. Let the girl sow her oats! My biggest issue with the lean toward more virginal heroines is that it pisses me off that these virgins, or nearly virgins, seem to have zero trouble achieving multiple orgasms. Ok, fine, it’s fiction. But still… Can’t we have some gals that have learned what they like with regards to sex and have no bones (pun intended) about telling the guy know what they like? I, for once, would like to see a gal who ISN’T an anal virgin when they lovers go there. I mean, if all these guys are hung like Ron Jeremy and none of the girls have ventured into the back door before, I can promise you, it’s not gonna be as magical and comfortable as the stories are letting on.

    So, yeah, I think Charlotte should be able to have her cake before eating it too. (Forgive the botched metaphor, please, but you get my point, right?)

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    • Thank you, Nickie! I was hoping for a response like this! LOL. And I have heard other readers say the same thing in other contexts. And yet, Allyson gives us an interesting too. I appreciate what you’ve said, and promise to throw some cake at Charlotte…you know, before her big bad wolf tames her. πŸ˜‰

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  6. I just finished a story where the guy had decided to remain virgin (which didn’t mean he hadn’t played around) until he met the ‘right one’. He was an alpha in every other way but had grown up nerdy and while it hit me as odd to begin with it worked out just right. The heroine actually was much more experienced – had had a very hard life, on the street as a teen etc. no details offered but lots implied. As I say it felt odd at first but it was the way THEY interacted that made it work for me. Very nice HEA. I don’t like either hero or heroine to be the type to sleep with everything that moves but I suspect with your heroine it’d depend on her attitude about ‘preferring casual’ as to whether I’d enjoy her. And I do think I accept a more active, lusty lifestyle from my shifters than I probably would enjoy in a contemporary. But flip side with shifters, no fooling around once mated!

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    • You got it, Peggy! And my for shifters, they do NOT fool around once they accept their mate. That’s a huge no-no for me too. Interesting take on the story you mentioned. It’s nice to see roles reversed sometimes and interesting to see how/if it works. Thank you.

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  7. One of my favorite authors had her hero and heroine meet in a bar and spent the night together in a motel across the street. I was so disappointed in this. I’m not a prude, or I wouldn’t be reading the genre that I read, but I have little patience with a heroine who has such little respect for herself. There is just so much wrong with that. I did enjoy the book, overall, but was really not happy with the beginning. I believe there should be an emotional connection between two people before they jump into bed with each other.

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    • Oh, absolutely, Windybon! There still has to be emotion involved. My Charlotte will be tortured by her emotions for the hero because she’s never allowed herself to feel them before. Other men were simply other men, but her hero will make everything change for her. And she doesn’t just jump into bed with him either. They have a history. πŸ™‚

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  8. What you described with your character Charlotte wouldn’t bother me to read about or turn me off from picking up the book. I probably relate best to heroines with limited sexual experience and I tend to write about heroines I identify with in this regard, but I encourage you to be true to the character. I have noticed that I will very occasionally come across a review that devotes a significant amount of attention to the heroine’s sexual history or behavior in a negative way. So I understand your worry. On the other hand, I think it can be important to step outside our comfort zone on occasion for both the reader and writer. I’m also sure many readers will like the book no matter what. πŸ™‚

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    • Thank you Yuri. I seem to relate the same way. This is definitely outside my old comfort zone, that’s for sure, and I’ve seen some similar reviews as well. However, I’ve also seen the opposite. I guess we do need to be true to our characters.

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  9. I’ve published a dozen or so books, and only two of them have had virgin heroines, and so far I haven’t had any negative reviews about the woman’s sexual history. I think in this day and age readers are okay with sexually experienced heroines, so long as they’re not voracious man-eaters (*cough*, at least not in the negative sense). I tend to leave their history vague, which seems to help those who might have an issue with it gloss over the fact, while giving enough info that there are no surprises when the heroine knows more than just what she learned in high school sex ed class.
    Your characters are always well fleshed out, Rosanna, so I don’t think you should worry. πŸ™‚ Just write her the way she wants to be written!

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    • Oh, thank you Susan! That is very much appreciated. And this heroine is not a “voracious man eater” either; however, she enjoys sex and has had it a few times (as I’ve written her thus far anyway). We shall see how she develops. Oh, and you know I love your work too!

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  10. I tend to go with the heroine not having as much experience — or the experience she has had was “meh, not so good” — and then when she meets the right alpha-dominant male she learns what good sex is all about.

    And what is good sex all about, you ask? Trust, liking, and true emotions. Casual sex is not my thing. There has to be more than just scratching an itch. Also, going to bed with strangers is not safe on many levels.

    So having heroines who sleep around just to sleep around turns me off a book. I don’t appreciate men who sleep around either, but it seems to be more accepted (in fiction and in life) — and if the hero is going to be more experienced than the heroine, I guess it is a given. With shifters, it seems to be a typical trope — the male shifters mess around until they scent their mates and then they are fiercely loyal (well, unless the author is writing erotic romance and a menage ensues).

    But my preference is when the hero meets the heroine, then all sleeping around had better be off the table (or floor or bed or wall or wherever). My books tend to reflect that — whether it is the Prime mating or my SSI alpha guys.

    I love your books, Rosanna — you write romance just fine– go with your gut, it’s done ya good so far. πŸ™‚

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    • Thank you, Moni. I am trying to go with the gut on this one, but the gut is floundering a little LOL. The sleeping around definitely stops when the H/H confront each other again after some time away. We don’t see my heroine sleeping with anyone in the book, other than the hero, but she talks about it. I think she’s the most “in-yer-face” sexual woman I’ve ever written. The others all had “meh” experiences before the hero too.
      Thanks for your kind words.

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  11. I usually write heroines as women who have had maybe one other serious relationship, or sometimes none. Sometimes she’s been married and her husband has died. Or she had a serious boyfriend. But I’ve never written a heroine who had casual sex, because I AM kind of a prude. LOL. However…that being said, I don’t mind READING about a heroine who is more experienced. Usually these women are strong, but afraid to let someone in their hearts. So it’s that much more satisfying to the readers when a woman like that finally lets someone in. Obviously, what I write and what I read aren’t always the same. πŸ™‚ I say, if you like this character, make her however you want her to be.

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    • That’s how I’ve traditionally written my women, too, Lauralynn. I am a little jealous of women with experience, because I was a little prudish as a younger woman, and one wonders if one missed out anywhere along the line. However, as Monette put it, the emotions are key. Thanks for your words and encouragement.

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  12. Charlotte would have been my friend, in my mid-twenties, Rosanna. WAY back in the 1990s. About 80% of the women who were my college buddies, were either in long-term relationships, heading towards marriage, or already married. 20% of us were not. We were dating, casually and focusing on our careers. In fact, the LAST thing I wanted was a long-term relationship. I was having too much fun being a single gal, with her own place to live, car, money, etc. It was the first time in my life I was truly independent and relied solely on myself. It was a liberating experience.

    Along with that was the opportunity to meet and date different types of men. I was free to develop friendships or any sort of pairing I wanted to. I dictated the connection I was able to give and the men either wanted to continue to see me, or not. (In fact, I got married exactly three weeks before my 30th birthday to a former US Army Sergeant. Hubby served the majority of his career in Germany, and let’s just say he “took advantage” of the “experiences Europe had to offer.”)

    I gave myself permission NOT to “fall in love,” but went into, what I refer to as “shoe shopping mode.” Try on a bunch and keep the ones that fit best. But, trying them on can be SO MUCH FUN!! So. Much. Fun.

    This vibe must have been felt by writers because those were the early days of “chick lit” – Helen Fielding, Sophie Kinsella, Candace Bushnell, etc. It gave rise to “Sex and the City,” which was a great characterization of the wonderful friendships women in their mid and late-twenties of the era were cultivating. I STILL identify with heroines of this type. Moreover, I PREFER heroines with life experience. These women are REAL.

    One of the main reasons I am deeply dismayed with the NA genre is the plethora of “virginal,” immature, undisciplined, needy and whiny female characters. What the hell changed from Generation X to Millennials?! How did the women become intentionally helpless?! When did they stop owning their brains, bodies and sexuality?! It is one of the “curses” brought about by 50 Shades, in my opinion. Fully-developed, intelligent women gave way to these insipid ingenues who “needed a man” to “complete” them. Uh. no. I mean, HELL NO.

    So, please, please, please stick to your guns and listen to your characters, as you have always done. Charlotte is REAL woman and the man who captures her heart must be strong enough to be worthy of ALL of her, not just the “pure” parts. There’s nothing sexier to a real man than a woman who can show him EXACTLY what she likes. Men are visual and the “demonstrations” could lead to some spicy, sexy times.

    Food for thought: we would never have this conversation about male characters, regardless of their sexual experiences, or lack thereof. The women should be treated the same.

    Love you to pieces, lady!

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  13. Well, I don’t really have anything to add that others haven’t already said, and said better, so I’ll just second all of the votes for “let her be how she wants to be”. While I personally like virginal or near-virginal heroines, I’ve nothing against the more experienced ones. I’m sure you’ll write her as a wonderful, sexy, confident woman the way all of your heroines are with nothing about her that anyone with half a brain could criticize.

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    • LOL, thank you Michelle. I’m glad the experienced ones haven’t put you off. I shall do my best to make her sassy and confident…and just the slightest bit unnerved once that first kiss happens with the hero. πŸ˜‰

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  14. I actually have an issue with the virginal heroines due to being quite an experienced woman when I met my hubby. He was also experienced so we’d sowed our wild oats before meeting and settling down. I understand some women have only been with less than 5 and meet the one or even marry their one but I wanted to “shoe shop”. to always have men who park there Johnson in any willing warm spot but a woman who is chaste is just not correct in this modern age. I love these books to death but this is my one sore point that constantly doesn’t play to truth.
    Women love sex, I love sex, some casual most in loving relationships but for me I’d like a woman happy with her body and sexuality. Heck I’d like a woman whose tried both sides before meeting her one!!
    Sorry for the rant but I can’t help it Rosanna forgive me :-/ xx

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  15. I like it when characters aren’t innocent. You’ll always have genres (like historical/regency romance) that focus on virginal or nearly virginal heroines and there are readers that enjoy that type of thing. But that doesn’t mean you have to write your heroines that way. A lot of romance and erotica novels have been leaning away from the viriginal stuff. And honestly, a heroine can still have an earth-shattering sexual experience and not be innocent (gasp, the humanity!). Write what works for the story, the setting, and the characters. Most importantly, write the way you would like to read and don’t let anyone make you feel guilty about it. πŸ™‚

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    • Thank you Leesha! Yes, ultimately, we just need to be true to the character and the voices in our heads…luckily I have substantial amounts of those! LOL

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  16. Pingback: Expectations of Heroines Series: I. Introduction | Syropae's Narratives

  17. I rarely read erotica because I’m annoyed to death of the sexual awakening of the young female protagonist (also, random sex… I like sex in my books but adding a sex scene just because there hasn’t been one yet that chapter annoys me.) Anyways, so I would be completely fine with the idea of a woman that knows about sex, who’s story arc isn’t about a sexual awaking through intercourse with the hero, but maybe a much needed emotional awaking with interaction with the hero that happens to include a lot of healthy (and maybe some unhealthy) sex.

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    • Love this response, Siona! I, too, have grown a little tired of the innocent heroine, although many of mine have fallen into that trope as well. It is fun showing a heroine experiencing her first “a-ha” moment, but there are so many other moments to enjoy and describe out there. Romance should allow for more experienced heroines because, heck, many of us have been that woman too. Thanks for commenting!

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      • I think there should be more room in that first “a-ha” moment too. I know in my own personal experience I was not completely innocent when I first did the horizontal tango. There’s a lot of grey area with the idea of the ‘innocent’ female protagonist that I feel needs to be explored more. And women should own their bodies already

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