Elizabeth: There’s Always a First Time

Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice

Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice

Reading Jilly and Justine’s recent posts on romance and attraction led me to thinking about the point in my own stories where my hero and heroine and finally get together, in an up close and naked kind of way.

In my mystery story, Cassie and Nicolai are (relatively) mature, experienced individuals, so when lust finally propels them together, they know what they like and just what to do.  They may think, “oh, hell,” afterwards, but in the moment, they have a great time, as the blindfold dangling from the chandelier attests the next day.

In my contemporary story, Maddie and Sam were actually together years before, so their first time is really not a first time at all.  They have the comfort level of knowing what to do and knowing each other, but they also bring along emotional baggage and uncertainty that adds vulnerability to the interaction on both sides and makes it about more than just two people having a couple of hours of fun together.

Abigail and Michael in my Regency story are very different.  Abigail has no experience and was raised by her widowed father so there was no “birds and bees” talk for her.  Even if she’d had a mother around to give her the talk, it’s not likely that there would have been many helpful details.  She’d probably have been told that “submitting” to her husband was her wifely duty and to “lie still” and “think of something pleasant.”  The 19th century wasn’t big on believing in sexual fulfillment for women, so it’s unlikely that there would be any discussion about her own needs or enjoyment.  It’s very likely that she would approach her first sexual encounter with a fair amount of trepidation, no matter how much attraction there might be.

Michael would have sown his wild oats while off at school and in the army, so he’d bring experience to their first encounter.  Unfortunately, he’d probably bring along disease as well, a fact Regency stories happily ignore. When they get together, he is the one taking the lead.  The trick is making the scene believable and fun, while keeping the story and tension in place.  As currently written, this still needs some work.

To get some ideas about how to address the inexperienced woman / experienced man scenario, I went to my bookshelves and did a little research.  I found many cases where the couples had phenomenal sex the first time they got naked together, both in contemporary and in historical stories, but had to dig deep to find examples where things didn’t run quite so smoothly or where there was a distinct imbalance in experience levels.

Amanda Quick has many stories where the first time the hero and heroine get together isn’t exactly fairy tale perfect.  Her heroines’ make post coital comments like “we don’t have to do it again anytime soon, do we” and her heroes sometimes lose their cool in the moment and wind up apologizing, “sorry, I meant to take things a little more slowly,” afterwards.  What the scenes lack in the best-sex-anyone-ever-had department, they make up for in humor and realistic, how-is-this-supposed-to work, bumbling about that makes them endearing and engaging.

Jo Beverley’s An Arranged Marriage is another example of an experienced man and an inexperienced woman.  In this case, the wedding-night interaction is additionally complicated by the fact that the heroine (mistakenly) thinks she has married the man who previously ruined her.  Plenty of trepidation to go around there, but the hero is kind and patient and all works out well in the end.  More importantly, the scene is written in a way that is convincing and believable.

I think the infusion of a little humor with a side of patience in Michael and Abigail’s first encounter may be just what’s needed to perk things up.  Guess I know what I’ll be working on this week.

So, what’s your preference for fictional “first-times” – phenomenal sex right out of the gate or a little realistic bumbling to begin with? Any recommendations for books with great first-time scenes (for research, of course)?

10 thoughts on “Elizabeth: There’s Always a First Time

  1. Of course in Outlander, Clair was the experienced one and Jamie was the virgin. I liked that Gabaldon flipped the experience/virgin trope on its head.

    The way the first time is approached in a story is probably not going to be a dealbreaker for me either way. As with many other things, it depends on how the author handles it and whether it sounds real within the context of the story. There just can’t be any fuzzy lines around consent, willing participation, or sobriety for a couple’s first time. For me, enthusiastic consent is one of those things that had no ‘necessity’ in historical context, but is absolutely necessary when we are writing in today’s world for today’s reader. (We know better, so we do better.)

    I just critiqued the first part of a mss for a friend, and she had a scene with an inebriated heroine trying to seduce the hero. To his credit, he carried her to her bed, took off her shoes, put her under the blankets, and left. They will have their first time later in the book when they can both soberly and enthusiastically consent, and it will be fabulous. We need to write male characters (even historical ones) the way we would want a man to behave with us (or our daughters!).

    • That’s a very good point about consent, Nancy. Even in historicals that can be an issue. There are a couple of stories by an author I like where some of the encounters come a little too close to the non-consent boundary. The experienced male is trying to force the consent “for your own good,” which I don’t like. I mentally re-write those scenes or skip them entirely when it’s a story I otherwise like and tend to re-read. I think that was more prevalent in stories written years back; it’s why I tend to avoid pirate stories.

  2. Books with great first-time scenes. I’ll have to think about this and get back with you.

    As for preference, I have to admit (with red-faced shame) that I love the guy-who-knows-so-much-about-women-he’s flawless-the-first-time. I’ve been married 3 times. I KNOW it doesn’t work like that, sex is definitely something that improves as you get to know each other (and practice), but I love that fantasy.

    That’s part of the mystique behind the popularity of 50 Shades–Christian’s past equipped him to be that knowledgeable about women. (Total b.s., but again, it’s fantasy.)

    • Nothing wrong with liking the knowledgeable heros, Jeanne. There is definitely a time and place for them. 50 Shades wasn’t my catnip, but I know it was for many others.

  3. Jenny’s “Faking It” has a first-time (and subsequent times) sex scene where the sex doesn’t go well, and I really like that. It’s feels true to life, and yet you get the feeling that by the end of the book, the sex will be fabulous, which it is. I don’t have the courage so far to try that. I have a hard enough time writing sex that IS fabulous. 🙂

    • Kay, you’re right, I had forgotten about Faking It. Crazy for You has one too, or at least one where the hero has to work a lot harder than he expected because the heroine was thinking too much psyching herself out of the moment. Oh heck, now I want to go back and read those, because the sex does end up fabulous by the end.

  4. I was going to mention Faking It, too.

    What I like best is when the two people have driven each other nearly crazy with lust, and so the sex is a blessed culmination. “Oh, so that’s what this is all about?” I don’t really want to see the sex scene, actually. They can fumble and bumble around a bit all they like . . . off page. What I want to see is satisfaction and a strong desire to do it again when we rejoin the happy couple.

    But you know, different stories demand different things.

    (-: Also, I would prefer it if your hero was one of the lucky ones who didn’t catch anything from his previous ladyloves (-:. I don’t want to be thinking about strange rashes (or syphilitic dementia!!) during a love story.

  5. Stephanie Laurens has one in which the heroine drugs the hero and then gets the job done. Very weird/creepy. As her love scenes go on for pages and pages and pages, it’s a long weird/creepy scene. Like you, Elizabeth, I would skip that one and some of the non-consent in Christina Dodd’s historicals. I can take it in older stories, from, say, the 70s and 80s, when that was more the style and society was still fighting the “good girls can’t want it” paradigm. Susan Elizabeth Phillips has some weird ones in Nobody’s Baby But Mine.

    • Michille, I know just the story you’re mentioning and yes, very weird/creepy. If the roles had been reversed it would have been considered rape, I would think. It’s too bad, because I rather liked the hero in that story – he was one of the few from that series of bother/cousin heroes that actually felt distinct from all of the others.

      As you say, attitudes were different in the older stories, which is why I don’t often read them or skip scenes when I do read them.

  6. Being a romantic at heart, I prefer great sex right off. BUT I want to long and crave and wait for it (The tension, the tension! Nothing provides me with more pleasure). I also prefer it when the woman works at it a little: a guy who’s maybe irresistible and skilled in bed, but decides everything during sex puts me right off. Even virgin or shy girls can show their appreciation and opinion at some point, rather than just lie there, being told what to do and what to feel 😀

    Oh, and I cringe when the language used is too flowery sweet. No need to delve into words overloaded with porn but saccharine overdose is distracting.

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