Harlequin Presents Code #5: Virgin

by Tessa Shapcott, Executive Editor, Harlequin Presents

Harlequin Presents editors get a lot of questions and comments about the words that often appear in our book titles – and ‘Virgin’ is one that seems to arouse a lot interest.  Mainly because, it seems, some find it hard to believe that there could be any woman over the age of eighteen who is still unawakened!   I’m not sure that’s true, and I know that there are women out there who wish that their ‘first time’ had been better – and that there are also women who wish that every time could be a first time, in terms of anticipation, excitement and discovery!

Anticipation, excitement and discovery: in Presents, a virgin is a code-character who embodies those qualities, whether to revive that fresh, first-time feeling for readers, or as an expression of the insecurity and uncertainty that can accompany the initiation of a sexual relationship – though, as we know, in the arms of a Presents hero, the earth will do nothing less than move and there’s nothing to be scared of!

Look out for the following novels in Harlequin Presents – and you’ll see how the book title lets you know what kind of story you’ll be reading:

The Desert King’s Virgin Bride by Sharon Kendrick (#2628)
The Australian’s Housekeeper Bride by Lindsay Armstrong (#2634)
The Sultan’s Virgin Bride by Sarah Morgan (#2637)

Do you like stories where the heroine is a virgin?  Let us know what you think about our virgin heroines and our book titles!

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Comments ( 25 )
  1. Trish Morey
    May 28, 2007 at 8:41 am

    It’s sad in a way, isn’t it, that people should assume no woman over the age of, say 18, could possibly be a virgin. Is it a case of judging people by our own standards? Or a case of popular culture – like the telly especially and programmes like Sex in the City etc telling us this is how it is?

    I love that in Presents Land (just one short block from Fantasy Land) there is a special place for virgins. But they so fit the role. I know about half my titles so far have featured virgin heroines, which is strange when I go back and think about it. Because it certainly wasn’t by design.

    What I love about a virgin heroine is that sense of innocence. It’s the classic white hat v the black hat. It’s beauty v the beast. It’s the unknowing against the expert.

    It’s a wonderful imbalance. And the lovely, gorgeous thing is, it usually throws the balance completely asunder. Discovering his lover/mistress/wife is a virgin is a wondrous spanner in the works, just when the hero thinks he’s got this heroine right where he wants her.

    Preconceptions about her are smashed to smithereens and we have a hero either feeling that he’s got something more special then he expected, or he’s starting to feel remorseful for thinking she was so available and/or taking her like he never would have if he’d had any idea. It’s a wonderful mechanism for illustrating our hero’s finer points, or more heroic qualities (and I’m talking about those points that have been hidden until now, not what you’re thinking!)

    Gosh, it can make for some lovely complications in an already taut story! Talk about upping the ante! Especially when this weak, innocent girl ends up bringing this gorgeous guy to his knees – figuratively if not literally.

    As for titles, they do make it clear what you’re getting and I have loved or haven’t minded most of my virgin titles. All except one. (sorry hqn!) But it’s no secret that my title least loved is the title I was given for my “The Pearl Master’s Mistress”. That ms became “A Virgin for the Taking”. She wasn’t for the taking, as it happened, and I just think it was unromantic and made her sound a tad desperate, but maybe that’s just me. I did however love the Spanish version, published as “Amor y Perlas” or “Love and Pearls”. Now that summed the book up beautifully and was sooooo romantic, just like the book. And it let the hero discover the heroine was a virgin for himself, without reading it on the cover – LOL.

    Oh, but if there was any doubt non desperate sounding Virgin titles were popular, I’m totally delighted to say my “The Italian’s Virgin Bride” was #1 Borders/Waldenbooks bestseller for the week to 19/5/07. Thanks to everyone who picked it up and made it number 1!

  2. Julia-James
    May 28, 2007 at 9:04 am

    I know that some readers specifically want to read stories where the heroines are virgins, and so they do like to have it ‘cued’ in the book’s title. (I’ve even read suggestions that it would be helpful for books to carry a ‘V’-mark – not for Vegetarian but for Virgin!!)

    For me, as both reader and writer, I sometimes like not to know and therefore to feel the hero’s astonishment (and sometimes disbelief!) when he discovers her virginity, so I’d rather not have had it cued in the title.

    I also sometimes like it when all the expectations are that she is NOT a virgin – especially when ‘motherhood’ is involved. I like stories where the hero assumes she is a child’s mother, but in fact she isn’t the birth mother (I did that myself in my “The Italian’s Token Wife”, where I hope the disclosure came as a bit of a surprise for the readers as well as the hero!). Another good ‘blind’ I enjoy is when the hero (and the reader) is given to understand the heroine has been another man’s mistress -again, the moment of ‘truth’ is always highly satisfying.

    I do, I know, especially enjoy books where we have a cynical hero blithely assuming the heroine he fancies has ‘been around the block’ a good few times, and then, ha-ha-ha, he has to eat his own cynicism when he discovers, actually, she’s a virgin. But this is tricky territory to negotiate, of course, as the thorny issue of ‘equivalent promiscuity’ then can raise its head. After all, if the hero has had a lot of sex with a lot of partners, why, pray, should the heroine not have done similar?? No hero has the right to condemn a heroine for having a sex life as active as his own!

    Sometimes, too, even the discovery that the heroine is a virgin does not make the hero think any better of her. I can remember a really searing Robyn Donald where the hero promptly assumes that the heroine he’s just slept with had deliberately pursued a policy of ‘teasing’ all the ‘other men’ he’d blithely assumed she’d been manipulating. And in Lynne Graham’s Prisoner of Passion, the hero similarly assumes the worst of the heroine, that she’d been trying to entrap him by yielding him a virginity he’d assumed she did not possess – he felt very hard done by!

    As ever, as with all the other ingredients in the Presents code – secret babies, revenge, MOCs etc etc – the issue of virginity can have an almost infinite series of changes rung upon it, to great satisfaction!


  3. LorieHartt
    May 28, 2007 at 10:04 am

    The girls virginity, or lack thereof, doesn’t really factor into a story for me, although, I do enjoy the satisfaction of the hero being disgruntled to discover he was wrong about her.

    I also apreciate that the covers let you know what you’re getting (to some extent.)

    Trish ~ I liked “The Pearl Master’s Mistress”. For me it gave her stronger footing than the title the tale ended up with.

  4. juliemt
    May 28, 2007 at 11:16 am

    I’d love to read a Presents where the hero is a virgin rather than a heroine. I’d love to read a novel where an Alpha male is waiting to give himself to the woman of his dreams rather than indulge in meaningless affairs! I’d certainly pay good money to read a novel called A Virgin for Her Taking!

  5. KateHewitt
    May 28, 2007 at 11:33 am

    I like virgin heroines who are still sassy, confident, and unashamed of their inexperience. I also like to be surprised by her virginity as the hero often is, and feel that sometimes having ‘virgin’ in the title makes her defined by her virginity, when in fact it is only one aspect of a complex character. I’d love to read (or write) a virgin hero–I wonder how other people feel about that? Is it important for our Alpha heroes to be experienced?

  6. Kate Walker
    May 28, 2007 at 11:54 am

    Julie, I love the idea of a title of A Virgin For Her Taking! There have been virgin heroes – in Amanda Carpenter’s Waking Up (1986) and Daphne Clair’s Never Count Tomorrow (1980) . And I’d need to check on this one but I think that the brilliant Susan Napier’s A Lesson in Seduction did too.

    Hmm – make me want to go and root out a copy and reread it . . .

  7. Julia-James
    May 28, 2007 at 12:27 pm

    I think that’s a good point that “sometimes having ‘virgin’ in the title makes her defined by her virginity, when in fact it is only one aspect of a complex character.”

    I don’t know if there are any more variations coming along, but one new ‘moniker’ I liked in the generic titles is the term ‘inexperienced’ – as in Lynne Graham’s ‘The Italian’s Inexperienced Mistress’. OK, it isn’t as ‘dramatic’ as ‘virgin’, but it does, for me, ‘do the business’ in that it spells out that the heroine is significantly less sexually experienced than the hero, whether or not she’s ‘technically’ a virgin!

    As for Virgin heros – yes, I know, I ought, in the interests of gender equality, to buy into that, but I guess I do think a virgin hero would be less sexually attractive than one who is not. One exception in general women’s fiction, that doesn’t apply to Presents, is the idea of the minister or priest hero, where his choice of celibacy/virginity can be extremely emotionally powerful.

    I definitely agree with the point that the discovery of the heroine’s virginity can be the occasion for a real emotional ‘breakthrough’ on the hero’s part, and be a real opportunity for his heroism to come into play. I must say, I’ve done this several times, when the hero, realising the heroine is virgin, goes to great lengths to ensure her first experience is really special, and, of course, in doing so, makes it really special for himself as well. In a way, she gives him her physical virginity, and in exchange he gives her his emotional virginity. I think that the hero’s behaviour to a virgin heroine is a ‘moral touchpoint’ about him, in the same way as is his behaviour towards children – suddenly he can’t be selfish and self-indulgent, but has to think about someone else.

    However, overall, I’d probably say that my ‘ideal heroine’ or ‘typical Presents heroine’ is someone who has had some sexual experience, but that (unless for the reasons of the plot it has to be particularly negative and traumatic), it won’t have been very earth-shattering. One thing I definitely know, I don’t like either the heroine or the hero not to be a ‘love virgin’ – ie, I want their love for each other to be both their first and last love! (I don’t mind some calf-love/teenage-love, but that’s all!). I know I definitely find it a turn-off if they’ve been deeply in love before with anyone else.


  8. KateHewitt
    May 28, 2007 at 12:43 pm

    In a way, she gives him her physical virginity, and in exchange he gives her his emotional virginity.

    Excellently put!


  9. OV_099
    May 28, 2007 at 2:20 pm

    Heck, I love virgin heroines. Don’t mind them one bit. . . but when it comes to the heroes, just as long as they aren’t hundreds of women experienced, then it’s okay. LOL Not that I ever really read any like that. 🙂

    And yeah, I know it’s the 21st century, but still, there are over 18 virgins. . . or over 25. . . or five months over 30. It can happen. 🙂


  10. Annie West
    May 28, 2007 at 9:19 pm

    Oh, I wasn’t going to post. I have a book to finish and I just popped in for a quick look. But I got caught – by the virgin hero! I’ve read a couple of these and they were terrific. Of course it’s all in the execution! Kate, now you have me wondering about the Susan Napier, I’ll dig out my Lesson in Seduction. I can tell you that her Secret Admirer has a virgin hero and boy, oh boy, is he sexy! That is such a brilliant read. I’d love to write a virginal hero and have been toying with it for a while, but I’d have to be sure I wasn’t too influenced by that and other stories.

    As for virginal heroines, I have no problems with a woman deciding to retain her virginity. It does happen, though not as much as in the past, and what a terrific plot it can make!

    Off now to work.


  11. Kate Walker
    May 29, 2007 at 2:42 am

    Annie – I’d appreciate it if you did find a moment to check for me. I’m not toally sure of the title – just that I knew there was a wonderful Susan Napier book that had a virgin hero. It might be Secret Admirer I’m actually thinking of – and I can’t find my copy to check.

    Trish and Lois – I’d agree with you. The papers/films /TV – even romance novels! – would have us believe that no one over 16 is still inexperienced but there are as many different choices on this as there are heroines. And it is all down to personal choice. We all come to that important stage in our lives at different times and for different reasons and so it should be for the characters we create. The same with the emotional effects of any such decision – it’s totally possible for a heroine who is no longer actually a virgin to be still very very innocent and vice versa.

    What matters for both hero and heroine is that together they create something very special that neither of them has experienced in quite this way before and that is going to change their lives. I’ve written heroes – and heroines – who have loved before and lost that love (A Sicilian Husband ) is one example – the healing from the loss of the past love and learning to love again with someone new is a different form of ‘conflict’ from the more often used type, but it has huge emotional depths. It’s all about the journey to loving this one person now and for the future and I love the way that writing romance gives us the scope to do this with such a wide range of characters.

  12. lidia
    May 29, 2007 at 10:54 am

    As a reader it makes no difference to me if the heroine is a virgin or not. I don’t want her to be a “loose” woman but it is OK if she has some experience. I also don’t mind if the hero or heroine has loved before — reading about the conflict they go through to let go of the past before they are ready to love again can be great if “executed properly.”

    In most books the hero has “a lot” of experience. Sometimes it seems to me that the hero has “too much” experience. While a normal male of about 30 has had some relationships — I don’t like to read about one that seems to change women as often as the sheets on his bed get changed — seems just a bit too much.

    Anyway, as Kate Walker always says — “it is all in the execution” — for the most part — as long as the plot is not one that avoid. 😉

  13. LorieHartt
    May 29, 2007 at 11:45 am

    It is all personal choice, and there certainly are over 18 virgins in todays world. I wonder why it is that they’ve been painted something of an oddity.

  14. 2paw
    May 30, 2007 at 8:10 am

    Annie and juliemt you had me going straight to my bookcase: Susan Napier has written Secret Admirer, The Mistress Deception and A Lesson in Seduction!! I’ll have to turn the computer off now and read them all!!!

  15. Annie West
    May 30, 2007 at 4:35 pm


    Just dug out my Susan Napier books (and then had to drag myself away). A Lesson in Seduction has a heroine who is far more sexually experienced than the hero, though he’s not a virgin. Do check out Secret Admirer when you get a chance – I can recommend it!


  16. CT
    June 2, 2007 at 8:35 pm

    I do enjoy reading books with virginal heroines for all the reasons stated above, but I absolutely loath the book titles. Most HP book titles now are so silly that I usually hide the book until the last moment when purchasing and then help the cashier put the book into a bag ASAP!

    My husband has lots of fun teasing me about the books also (wow, another virgin, who’s got her this week, a Frenchman, a Greek, maybe a Sicilian?) I remember some authors discussing their desire to have romance novel readers get the respect they deserve, but I’m certainly not getting any respect by being seen with books having these titles. I do remember almost passing up “A Virgin for the Taking”, because I thought the title was offensive. But, I have liked Trish’s books in the past and am glad that I read it, regardless of the title.

    As a long time reader, my advice to Harlequin is to keep publishing the virgin heroine stories, but please stop with the over-the top book titles. Go back to classic titles like “Smoke in the Wind” and “Sweet as my Revenge”, great books that I can actually recommend without embarrassing myself.

    I’m glad to see so many fans of Susan Napier’s books, she is my favorite author. I have read A Lesson in Seduction and I loved it, I agree that having the hero less sexually experienced than the heroine was a unique twist and made for a very good story.

  17. Julia-James
    June 4, 2007 at 5:45 am

    Although I know that generic titles are controversial, I have to say the only one I don’t care for are those with the ‘at his command’ in the title (or blurb!), because of the implications of control/dominance and subserviance. I probably wouldn’t mind it ONLY if the actual story showed that the ‘at his command’ business was merely in the hero’s fond ambition, but that the heroine very soon put him right!!! And, of course, the hero would have to have a real ‘conversion’ on the subject before the HEA. I guess, for me, it raises the old thorny issue of just how ‘bad’ a hero can be before he crosses the line and can’t come back, however remorseful he is for the way he’s treated the heroine.

    However, if the ‘sexual connotation’ of ‘at his command’ is absent, and it’s simply a question of a bossy alpha male used to having all the minions of the world jumping whenever he snaps arrogant fingers at them, and the heroine (of course!) running rings around him, then I wouldn’t object.


  18. Mitchy
    June 4, 2007 at 4:12 pm

    I like virgin heroines… but only because most likely the hero will be this alpha male one. I would say there is just something about a woman being “awakened” that is just sexy. it’s entertaining, too!

    And… to follow up on Annie West’s comment on Napier’s book “a lesson in seduction” the woman was definitely far more experienced than the hero… I think that it’s very unconventional although really sexy in a way…

    it’s definitely one sided of me… but I enjoy books where men are at least more experienced: it probably goes along with my taste for bad boys. =)

    Anyway… the Presents line has very distinct signatures and I think Virgin heroines are a part of it. I know I actually make it a point to buy a book with a virgin heroine every time I buy my bulge of Presents books… =)

  19. ritalee
    June 5, 2007 at 3:16 pm

    I love to read about virginal heroines, and when it comes to reality, believe me, there are virgins over the age of 18. I was one of them. I had my first boyfriend (now my husband) at the age of 21. And he was 30 at that time, and guess what, a virgin himself! Of course I expected him to be experienced (because I read so many Presents books 😉 ), but he soon told me he was not, and I thought, ok, why not? Let’s lern and have fun together! But I must admit, my perfect first time would have been with a guy with some knowledge (not that it was bad, mind you). So I think that’s what those Presents books are for: fantasy. We’ve got reality every day. And I like to read about something special, as those virgins experience in their books.

    P.S.: Hope you’ll understand what I try to say, I’m German and a bit rusty when it comes to writing in English…

  20. LorieHartt
    June 5, 2007 at 4:23 pm

    You did fine Ritalee. We understood you quite well.

    How sweet that you and your husband shared your first time. I agree, fiction is for fantasy, men are real enough once you take them home 😉

  21. KateHewitt
    June 5, 2007 at 10:19 pm

    The question of titles is interesting, because they really seem to have changed over the years. I also prefer the older titles–more evocative without giving the whole story away! Yet something must be working with the current titles I suppose or we wouldn’t be having them…

  22. ritalee
    June 7, 2007 at 7:12 am

    Thank you, LorieHartt, it means a lot to me to know I can express myself at least a bit 😉

    When it comes to those titles, I don’t know about you, but sometimes I think I’d need a database with all the book titles of all the books I own because, at least to me, some of them sound very similar, especially when the word “virgin” is used. I can’t give you an example right now, but sometimes I need to look up my past orders on Amazon to see whether it’s a reissue or a new book. Most of the time only reading the synopsis helps… But those titles are catching your interest, it tells you a lot about the story (setting, etc.), for example “The Prince’s Virgin Wife” by Lucy Monroe: You know it’s about royalty and his virgin wife (in real life often necessary in those past centuries, and since most of the fictional monarchies are set on there traditions, it’s required today, too.). Then I read an excerpt, and on this I decide to buy it or not. So for me, it’s not only the title (or book cover).
    How about you?

  23. KateHewitt
    June 9, 2007 at 9:57 pm

    After reading the comments here I bought ‘A Lesson in Seduction’ and ‘Secret Admirer’. Funnily enough, I’d actually read ‘A Lesson in Seduction’ before, about 11 years ago (when it first came out, I guess)–although I didn’t remember a lot of the book, I remembered about the man being less experienced (and a few other salient details!) Great to read it again… now onto ‘Secret Admirer’…

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  25. Recap: Virgin Heroines in Harlequin Presents Books at I (Heart) Presents
    September 25, 2008 at 10:46 am

    […] We got a great response to Tessa’s post Harlequin Presents Code #5: Virgin! I must admit I was curious about why modern women were still intrigued by virgin heroines in romance novels, and you guys certainly gave a variety of reasons. Let’s take a look at some standout comments that summarize why virgin heroines continue to be so popular in the Harlequin Presents series. […]