When I started reading romances as a teenager (a few decades ago), the heroines were almost always young and virginal, age 18 to 20, maybe 22. If memory serves, I may have read a few where the heroines were 17. They’d just received their A levels or their O levels when they met a rich, much older hero. This was a typical Harlequin trope.
That’s what a romance was. Virgin meets much more experienced man.
Romances have evolved since then. Not only is virginity is no longer a requirement, it’s rare. Heroines have matured, gotten older, gained life experience, and are as likely to kick the hero’s ass as fall in love with him. Romances have become more erotic. Even “non erotic” romances are more sexual than they used to be. Heroines not only have sex, they have sexual histories.
As a reader who has gotten older, I’ve appreciated older characters with whom I can more easily identify. As an author, I’ve generally create heroines who are “thirty-ish,” with the idea that that middle-ish age would have the broadest appeal. Thirty-something gives the character some experience that readers 30, 40 and above will appreciate, yet she’s still young enough to appeal to women in their 20s.
But the youth trope still exists and if anything, is experiencing a renaissance.
Young heroines consistently have been the norm in historical romance, particularly Regency, where the 18-20 year old experiences her “season” in the Ton with the hope of attracting a rich titled husband. (I happen to love Regency romance. I am amazed at how authors can use and reuse this same basic trope over and over and still make it interesting. But they do!).
“New Adult” (not to be confused with YA/Young Adult, which refers to teenagers) is a relatively new popular genre that features women of college age or early 20s dealing with experiences common to that age.
And in spanking romance, the heroines are often young. First, the power dynamic of domestic discipline lends itself to that. The age difference heightens the gap between dominant and submissive. Second, character development almost requires it. There has to be a reason to spank the heroine; she has to commit some misdeed. Misbehavior is more acceptable in a young, immature woman. An “older” (say 40s) woman who lied, cursed, shirked her responsibility, did reckless things, would not be a sympathetic character.
But I think the main appeal of youth is its freshness, that heady rollercoaster feeling that comes with first love. You can still get that fluttery feeling later in life, but to be young and in love only comes once. It is the essence of romance.
Until recently, the youngest heroine I ever created was Melania Traynor of Unexpected Consequences (age 23 or 24). In Rod and Cane Society 6, IRRESISTIBLE ATTRACTIONS, Hannah Laurie is a 20-year-old college student who meets an older, more experienced man. Although Hannah is young, this is the most erotic of all the Rod and Cane books.
I hope you enjoy my spin on timeless trope.
An “oops” baby born late in her parents’ marriage, Hannah Laurie never received the love or acceptance she needed, but she’s determined to make something of herself. Living on a shoestring, she’s paying her way through college by working nights for a cleaning service. Among its clients is the Rod and Cane Society of domestic discipline practitioners. As Hannah cleans its mansion headquarters, with its bold display of implements and artwork glorifying discipline, she is drawn to idea of being spanked. Although she prides herself on following the rules, one evening while alone at the mansion, she surrenders to the impulse to try out the equipment in the secret disciplinary chamber.
Millionaire cybersecurity magnate Jordan Bevy, Rod and Cane’s disciplinary proctor, is responsible for ensuring the rules of the organization are followed to a T. Using the disciplinary chamber for personal pleasure is strictly forbidden. But when he catches the shy little cleaner girl trying out the equipment, what’s a fellow to do but bend the rules by giving her a hand?
But when their relationship deepens, their respective worlds collide and clash, throwing into doubt that a lowly cleaner girl can find acceptance in her rich boyfriend’s monied world.
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