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Paranormal Heroines: It's Okay to Kick Ass, but Not to Get Some Ass

Paranormal romance is the home of the hyper-masculinized hero. They’re bigger than mere men. Broader. Immortal. And I’m not just talking about their erections. But this is okay, because the Hyper-Masculinized Paranormal Hero is generally paired with the Kick-Ass Paranormal Heroine. She’s tough. She’s ruthless when necessary. She knows what she wants and goes after it. She wear tight, sexy clothing and has been around the block a few times.  Or wait… has she?

I’ve been noticing something odd in the paranormal romances I’ve been reading. The oversexed heroes are being paired with women who are — or rather, were til they met the overpowering hero — anything but.

This first became obvious to me when I read a number of Larissa Ione’s books is fairly rapid succession. (And just to be clear, this was because I really enjoyed them.) At some point I lost count, but before that my mental score was:

2 mystically enforced virgins (plus, to be fair, 1 such virgin male)

1 seemingly slutty surprise!-saving-it-for-the-right-guy virgin

3 gently used heroines

and 1 sexually experienced heroine who is forced to have sex because she’s a sex demon.

Gently-used heroine, an awesome phrase I stole from “JMM” at “All About Romance,” describes the heroine who has

1) only had sex with at most two other men and

2) never really enjoyed it

It’s a way of coping with the fact that virgin heroines in a modern contemporary romance seem a little ridiculous.  But it’s become so obvious and ubiquitous a ploy, it comes off as even more ridiculous.  One of the most unintentionally hilarious things I ever read was the plot contortions Robyn Carr when through to make her exotic dancer heroine, who has two children by two different men, and was married to a third, into a gently-used heroine.

Reading Ione brought back memories of reading Karen Marie Moning’s Highlander series, in which every hero is taller, broader, and better hung than the last, and every heroine is a virgin — complete with lovingly detailed hymen-breaking scenes. At least two of those are done by hero’s fingers, if memory serves.

Moning also came to mind when recently reading a Kresley Cole book, one of at least three of hers I’ve read with “technical” virgin heroines. If I recall correctly, two were of the highly convenient mystical can’t-lose-intercourse-virginity-but-can-fool-around-as-much-as-possible-without-breaking-the-rules variety. The most recent set-up really made me groan: the heroine believably never had intercourse because of pregnancy fears, but despite being a very lusty gal, she’s never even tried oral sex. And — surprise, surprise! — despite her habit of dry-humping dudes, she still has a hymen and gets a finger-lickin’-good digital deflowering.

What is up with this? These dudes they’re paired with are unstoppable. Shouldn’t they have the cojones to deal with the fact that their mates had some good times with mere mortals before they came along?

Of course, the gently used heroine, et. al. is not limited to paranormal romance; statistically speaking, I wouldn’t be surprised if paranormal romance has more sexually experienced heroines than any other romance subgenre. It’s the incongruity that makes it really stand out in these instances, as well as the way the authors seem to be trying to both get credit for having sexually experienced heroines and still maintain the pure heroine status quo.


  • Sounds about right. Lol. I think the only exceptions that comes to mind are Nalini Singh’s Guild Hunter series and Meljean Brook’s series, but then most of the others…

    Although, I would also like the point out the flip isn’t that fun either. Where the heroine has to be a courtesan to have been around the block. Or even then, never really enjoyed it until the hero.


  • This is the same thing I’ve found repeatedly (I saw it at its worse in the Blackdagger Brotherhood series where the women are all virginal or Gently Used compared to most of the men. This is countered by the HUGE number of prostitutes in the books who are murdered – that’s not coding at all – I had quite a rant about it) – the women have to be sexually inexperienced otherwise they’re no longer Good ™


  • @Fangs for the Fantasy: I read most of the BDB so long ago, I didn’t remember whether they fit this category. But I’m unsurprised.


  • I wonder if this represents a change in PNR. I wonder if we’ve gone from more sexually experienced heroines to less?

    I just noticed a similar thing in The Marriage Bargain: lost about the hero;s sexual past, and so little about the heroine’s that I wondered if she were a virgin. There was a throwaway line after they consummated their relationship that indicated she was not, but it was like her sexual history had been erased, and I wonder how different an erased sexual history is form a nonexistent one.


  • @Jessica: I don’t mind the sexual history of the heroine going unmentioned as long as it’s not a glaring contrast to that of the hero. A lot of categories from the 80s seemed to take that approach of just not going into the subject, and I think that works really well — generally you just assume these are typical adults who have had previous sexual relationships. I think lots of current contemporary writers take this approach: Nora Roberts, Susan Mallery, etc.

    But yeah, if there’s lots about the hero’s past, it’s much more of an erasure.


  • Eeep. Guilty.

    I just did a UF where the heroine had thought she was asexual into her forties. Nobody did it for her, not men or women. Until, of course, Scarred-Up Leather McKilty Mage showed up in her office and the mana said “You want him now!” Her first response is to be thoroughly pissed off about it and approach the sex as one more chore, like eating or peeing, that has to be done so she’s not distracted on the mission.


  • @Angelia Sparrow: Nah, that sounds different enough that I won’t give you a black mark. Yet. 😉


  • Stacia Kane’s heroine in the Downside Ghosts books, Chess Putnam, is the opposite of gently used. She suffered tons of sexual abuse as a child & compensates as an adult by having frequent one-night stands. And over the course of the series, she has sex with 2 guys, and enjoys it w/ both – even though one is decidedly unheroic.

    And I can think of a bunch of series where it’s implied that the heroine has a thoroughly normal amount of sexual experience, but we don’t get a laundry list of every hookup – Kim Harrison’s Rachel Morgan, Faith Hunter’s Jane Yellowrock, Jenn Bennett’s Arcadia Bell, Cate Tiernan’s Nastasia, Stacey Jay’s Annabel Lee…I’m sure I could go on, too.

    Though, to be fair, all the series I’ve named are urban fantasy versus paranormal romance – that might be a crucial difference, since I never had the impression that KMM’s MacKayla Lane is at all virginal when she appears in the Fever series…though I guess we don’t get an exact count of her previous partners, so we can imagine what we like.


  • Merrian
    September 6
    1:15 am

    I love this as a companion piece to Liz’ blog post on the over-determined alpha male. Then today I read an article about a cream to shrink your experienced older vagina to that of a virginal 18 year old:


    I do not understand why finding love with ‘the one’ means heroines can only be Ladies of Shalott living their half lives in waiting. Why isn’t coming into relationship with their ultimate lover the culmination of the growth and experiences of a fully lived life? This also ties in with how isolated many PNR/UF heroines are with few friends or family ties. I understand that the hero becomes her family and her best friend but the thing that prepares the way for that is her success at these other kinds of relationships.


  • @Angelia Sparrow: I wanted to follow up this comment — I don’t think there’s anything wrong with writing any of the kinds of characters I mentioned here. It’s more the pattern that’s getting to me. It’s like, if you wrote one lesbian villain, I’d probably think, “Well, it’s a bit of a cliche” but if you then kept writing them over and over, I’d have to wonder about your motivations.


  • foosrock!
    September 8
    2:53 pm

    MEH! and BLAH!. Can’t STAND this genre. Some things are just best left in the head and not put on paper.


  • Amanda
    November 15
    7:05 am

    I actually prefer a virgin heroine in my books. I can relate to the heroine more that way. Guess I’m just old fashioned lol.


  • […] about this gave me a new insight into the “gently used” paranormal heroine I wrote about a while ago: perhaps that’s the only (or best or favorite) equalization the […]

  • […] (don’t judge me, I got it from the library, okay?!) and am amused at the new version of the Gently Used Heroine. I’ve seen it a few times before in Harlequin Presents, which tend to be the most […]

  • […] far, 3 novels and a novella in, the series fits in very much with a post I wrote a while back at Karen Knows Best, about paranormal heroines and their inability to get some until they’re […]

  • Lissa
    April 20
    3:15 pm

    Gently used heroine… Perfect! Lol. I couldn’t agree more with pretty much everything you wrote.


  • Karen
    May 3
    10:00 pm

    This post has been referenced I believe in fangs for the fantasy, but there was another blog or article that talked about this subject and referenced this post. But Ican’t for the life of me find it anymore. Anyone know which article/blog I’m talking about?


  • […] a whiff of the “gently used heroine” trope (hat tip to willaful for her thoughts here and here), but since Kel has spent most of his immortal life trapped in a sword (yes, like the […]

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