Thursday, April 14, 2011

Dakota Talks Sex in Paranormal Romances

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Why is it okay for the male in the story to sleep with multiple partners, but the heroine has to be virginal?

Hi, I'm Dakota Banks. Thanks, Tori, for letting me guest post on your blog today. This question is a little ambiguous, so I'm going to break it down into two parts.

1. The male has slept with multiple partners before this current story even begins.
2. The male is sleeping with multiple partners during this story.

First, let's take YA off the table. Theoretically paranormal YA shouldn't be measured by the same standard as adult books, although these days those standards are shifting. With so many adults reading YA books, and with the target audience more aware of and struggling with sexual identity questions at an earlier age, it's hard to tell where this subgenre is going.

Let's talk about before the current story begins. There are a good number of paranormals based on an immortal male and a normal female who, in the process of the story, discovers her abilities, destiny, etc. So if a guy is three hundred years old, can we honestly expect him to be a virgin before page one given that today's men have their first sexual experience on average at age 16.9 years? Get real. If he is still virginal, he has a very serious mental or physical problem, and how often does that situation show up in the hero of the story? Maybe in the villain, but we're not rooting for the heroine and the villain to get together. He could be a creature that has a very slow development to adolescence, and that would work.

The heroine, generally speaking, is between twenty and thirty years old. She could be a virgin if she had been raised in an unusual situation, such as in a convent, and is just now stepping out into the world. That would be explained in the book to give her a believable background. Given a typical background, though, how likely is it that she's still a virgin? The Kinsey Institute says that 92% of women have had sex by ages 22-24. If the heroine is in her twenties and still a virgin, there has to be an explanation in the story. A strongly religious upbringing, extreme shyness, aversion to sex due to something horrible in her background. and so on. On the other hand, the woman might be a creature who is vastly older than she appears, which puts her in the same category as long-lived men: unlikely to be a virgin.

Sacrifice (Mortal Path, Book 2)Sacrifice (Mortal Path, Book 2)Sacrifice (Mortal Path, Book 2)Sacrifice (Mortal Path, Book 2)During the story, should the guy get to play around while the relationship with the heroine is developing? In reality, men usually do. The Kinsey Institute says that only 20% of men have had one sex partner in their lives, whether they are married or not (compared to 33% who have had 11-21+ partners). Do we want our fiction to mirror reality? I say no, because we're talking about paranormal stories. That means the author isn't bound to the behavior of a majority of men in real life. The author can decide whether the male lead is a player or not, and how that figures into the plot and the romantic relationship.

Now I want to take a step back and look at romantic relationships in paranormal books in general. What are we, the readers, looking for? To identify with the male or female lead and be swept up in the romance by putting ourselves in the story in place of the character. That's when the element of fantasy comes in, not only in the paranormal part of the story but in the romance. If I'm a guy reading the book, I want to put myself in the story as an experienced player, charming with women, and attractive. It doesn't hurt if I'm super-strong or immortal. This plays right into men's fantasies. A man's interest in the book might wane if his representative on the page is a loser in his eyes--I'm not a man, but I'm going to go out on a limb here and say I don't think too many men fantasize about being a virgin. If I'm a woman reading the book, I go straight for the fantasy of new love or first love, allowing myself to relive it or experience it. Women's fantasies tend to be more emotional and romantic than men's and that's what I'm looking for in the book--to escape into a romantic fantasy, something that--let's face it--probably doesn't closely resemble our current love lives.

Were there any actual conclusions buried in all that, or was it just a brain dump? I think that the age of the character is a strong factor, but it depends on how realistic vs. fantastical the author wants to make the relationship. It's possible to create any combination of experienced/virginal desired and mess with their individual characteristics. For example, let's invent a male lead a thousand years old to whom something bad will happen when he first has sex--he loses his powers, changes into a frog (!), or even dies. Understandably, he's going to be selective about choosing a partner. That's part of the fun of paranormal for authors--and if readers can form a bond with your characters, I think they'll stay with you through the end of the book no matter which combination you choose. At least, I hope so! My series features Maliha Crayne who, after 250 years of decadent living, is beginning to open her heart to love. She's certainly no virgin, and she hasn't quite gotten the whole relationship thing down yet. She's like some unmarried women today in that she'll have sex on her own terms, when it's meaningful for her.

Have I gotten your blood boiling yet because you disagree with me? Or are you glad someone said what you were thinking? Let me know. I'd love to read your responses. 

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