“People with lost personalities will suffer a great deal more than those with lost virginities.”
― Melina Marchetta, Saving Francesca
You’ve noticed, right? That you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a virgin in most YA (and NA) plotlines? Sometimes after catching a few minutes of Teen Mom, I think there are more virgins in YA than in real life. I have nothing against virgins, of course. Heck, I used to be one myself. For me, much depends on the function of a character’s virginity within a storyline. It seems that virginity – particularly for our female protagonists –typically falls into one of the following categories.
Virginity as a rite of passage. Well, let’s face it. Most of us “do the deed” for the first time as teenagers. As part of a normal developmental trajectory, virginity is embedded in our cultural narrative about growing up. For better or for worse, we remember our first time and in some way, we carry this into adulthood as a marker of something lost or something gained. Maybe both. When a main character loses her V-card, it can be symbolic of innocence lost. Of leaving childhood behind to face impending adulthood and greater responsibility.
Virginity as regret management. Most YA authors are well past the stage of being considered young adults. In fact, we typically have to squint a little to look back on our own adolescence. Given the proliferation of skilled, sensitive lovers that make up the ranks of YA book boyfriends, I sometimes wonder if we aren’t engaging in a little wish fulfillment. I mean, didn’t we all want it to be earthquakes and shooting stars? Weren’t most of us just a little bit disappointed by the reality of fumbling hands, sharp elbows, and sweaty bodies? The magic of writing is that we get a chance to do it all over again (pun intended), but this time we can get it right.
Virginity as sexual tension. Uncertainty can be hot, right? The wonder of a first kiss or first base. The wonder of wondering how far things will go and what will happen next. Sometimes a character’s virginity is used to help the audience re-experience that rush of oxytocin we all felt at the beginning of our sexual education, when things were new and unknown. Used this way, the butterflies and the nervousness function to heighten the mystery and the excitement of a first experience.Virginity as a plot device. Sometimes virginity (or the loss of it) is the biggest part of the story. Either the MC wants to get rid of it or someone else is hunting her maidenhead like a stag in the woods. This usually ends badly. Almost always for our protagonist.
Virginity as purity. This is my least favorite version of the virginity trope in YA novels. Far more often than I’d like, virginity is used to reassure the audience that our protagonist is really a “good girl” – someone who is pure of heart and mind, despite the fact that she may also be a sexual being (gasp). In this vein, virginity is used as indication of worth and value. The implicit assumption is that young women are most worthy when they are “untouched.” This is usually paired with some macho posturing that includes a book boyfriend slugging anyone who is unfortunate enough to look at our MC the wrong way. This portrayal of virginity also means that it’s quite likely that marriage will be mentioned at some point.
What did I miss? Are you sick of the emphasis on virginity in YA? Do you think it’s appropriate given the intended audience? Do you have any favorite fictional V-card moments?
A massive massive thank you to Georgia for doing this guest post for us! I absolutely loved what she had to say :P Here is a little bit more about Georgia and her book.
After her father dies, Rachel realizes she is scared and stuck. Scared of heights, of cars, of disasters harming the people she loves. Stuck in a life that is getting smaller by the minute. Stuck with a secret she has kept all her life: Someone has been watching over her since birth. Someone who tends to show up when she needs him the most. Someone she believes is her guardian angel. Eaden is a 1,500-year-old immortal who wants to die. Drained by a life stretched too thin, he has requested his final reward – a mortal sacrifice bred specifically to bring him death. But something went wrong. Rachel’s ability to grant death has mutated in ways that threaten to upset the uneasy alliance between mortals and immortals. And utterly beguiled, Eaden discovers that although Rachel is the key to his death, because of her, he no longer wants to die. And he will do anything to protect her. Swept into a world of legends, caught between the warring political factions of immortals, and carrying the future of mortal kind in her flesh and bone, Rachel must risk everything to save her world and the man she loves.
Georgia Bell, author of Unbound (All Good Things #1), was raised on a steady diet of science fiction and fantasy, courtesy of her father, a man who loved his family, fishing, scotch, and science (although not necessarily in that order). Georgia is an avid reader of young adult fiction, and a lover of good wine, music, children, and cats (although not necessarily in that order). She's currently working on Unknown, the second book in the All Good Things trilogy.