I adore virgin heroes. Adore. I love the reversal aspect; it’s so common for romance heroines to be virgins that’s it barely worth mentioning in a review (unless they’re a virgin widow!), but male virgins have always been few and far between. Given that the most common characteristic of a romance hero is his sexual skill, it takes a lot of skill to pull off a virgin hero.
A hero’s virginity can be a mere gimmick, but those types of books quickly fade from memory. For me, quality is shown by how creatively the author makes the hero’s virginity part of his characterization or vital to the plot.
Below are my top five favorites in this sub-genre. They are almost all American-set historicals. Perhaps this is because the Aristocratic Rake is a lot more rare in America, due to the lower numbers of Aristocrats. And, paradoxically, the percentage of male virgins seems to be higher! (By the way, judging from the male virgin books I remember, if you want to find a male virgin, your best hope is to look among cowboys. In Texas.)
5. The Texan's Wager by Jodi Thomas – I love this one because it combines “male virgin” with another of my favorite sub-genres, the Marriage of Convenience. The setting is 1870s Texas. The heroine, Bailee, ends up married to the hero, Carter, after he “wins” her in a lottery (there are complex plot reasons for this which I won’t go into here). Carter’s always been solitary and bookish and not skilled at interacting with people. Bailee is much more outgoing, but she’s also in a very uncertain situation. In this short category novel, the plot is very focused, and it’s lovely to watch them coax each other into a relationship. It’s a sweet, touching book.
4. Untouched by Anna Campbell – this is the first novel I read by Campbell, and it remains my favorite because the plot is so gloriously wacky, resulting in incredibly high levels of narrative tension. It’s set in Regency England. The hero, Matthew, has been declared insane and held captive by his uncle since the age of 14 (for nefarious purposes, of course!). Grace, the widowed heroine, has been kidnapped for Matthew in order to keep him quiet. Matthew doesn’t realize that Grace is there under duress; Grace doesn’t immediately realize Matthew is not insane. The conflict is heightened when the uncle threatens Grace if she doesn’t seduce Matthew within a week, so Matthew’s virginity, and his reasons for it, are a big part of the tension. It’s definitely a book for those who love wildly emotional stories.
3. The Way Home by Megan Chance – I’m a big fan of the so-called “beta hero,” and the virgin hero of this book, Aaron, is an excellent example. This book is set in 1876 Texas. The heroine, Eliza, initially gives her virginity to Aaron’s brother, Cole, who abandons her and leaves her pregnant, all her dreams crushed. Reclusive, responsible Aaron marries her to protect his brother and falls desperately in love with her. He secretly writes her poetry because he is so shy that he can hardly bear to speak to her. Eliza has had few options for a better life until now, but because of her past, it takes her a while to accept Aaron’s loyalty and his love for her. It’s definitely worth the journey; this is a long, complex novel with wonderful characterization.
2. Simple Jess by Pamela Morsi – this book’s hero, Jesse Best, suffered cognitive impairment from a childhood accident. The book is set in Arkansas in 1906. The others in the town where he lives call him “slow;" his issues are more with thinking quickly and with expressing himself than thinking in general. It’s a terrific virgin hero story because virginity is just one of the things Jesse has to overcome; he has to prove himself to himself as well as to his future wife and to the rest of the town. Jesse has been blocked all his life from having the things he wants: respect, a home, and a wife. He has the opportunity to obtain all three when the heroine, Althea, needs someone to help her prepare her farm for the winter. Jesse wins her over with his honesty and his loyal and determined hard work, especially notable in comparison to her other suitors. He’s a person who sticks by what he knows is right, regardless of the opinions of others, and that’s one of the major things Althea begins to love about him. The resulting romance is sweet and unique.
1. Wild At Heart by Patricia Gaffney – of all the books on this list, I think this is the most complex thematically and has the most richly imagined setting. The hero, Michael, was a “wild boy,” taken in by an anthropologist in 1890s Chicago who wants to study him. The heroine, Sydney, is the anthropologist’s widowed daughter, who’s being courted by her father’s research assistant. Michael is a virgin because, well, he lived alone in the woods from childhood until his capture in adulthood; his virginity in sex is part of his overall virginity in dealing with other human beings. His “wild” state gradually changes with his experiences in the novel, and as he regains lost memories. Even in the face of terrible treatment, he’s honest, empathetic, and insightful. There’s so much going on in this book, so much more than Michael being a virgin; in a way, losing his virginity is just another way he rejoins the community of humanity.
Have you read any of these? Do you appreciate a virgin hero? What others would you recommend?
Victoria Janssen is the author of three erotic novels and numerous short stories. Her latest novel is The Duke and The Pirate Queen from Harlequin Spice. Follow her on Twitter: @victoriajanssen or find out more atvictoriajanssen.com.