I’ll never forget the first time I heard the expression. My daughter, a high school junior, came home in a huff because one of her (male??) friends was dating a girl she didn’t like.
I asked, “What’s wrong with her?”
She tossed a hand on her hip. “Mom, she’s a dirty-girl.”
In my naive state I thought—gross. Why in the world would Brian want to date a girl who didn’t bathe?
It didn’t take long to catch on. Dirty-Girl was the updated version of the ugly nicknames we used in high school: tramp, slut, or the big W∙H-you-know-what word. You have to admit; dirty-girl sounds much nicer.
So I find myself asking as a writer—how dirty can my heroine be before she steps over the line into trashy? I guess it depends on the genre and what readers will accept as reasonable. Remember with fiction— it’s very subjective. Everyone may not agree with what I consider tolerable.
As a reader, here’s what I’ve discovered:
All heroines in the Inspirational novels I’ve read have been virgins. And stay that way until they say I do. No surprise there. That genre seems pretty strict. No dirty-girls allowed.
Regency heroines stray a little from virginal innocence, but not too far. I’ve noticed a lot more heroines are widows. A couple of the leading ladies have had a lover before meeting her hero. I’m okay with that, but that’s about all the dirty-girl I can handle in this genre. Again, subjective, but I expect my Regency heroine to be naive in the art of love-making. I want the roguish hero to teach her everything when it comes to passion and blistering sex.
For example, I read a Regency a few years back where the hero meets his heroine in a brothel. That’s right. She was a prostitute. Sorry, I couldn’t get over her dirty-girl past. Her lame excuse for turning to a life of harlotry was her family died and left her penniless and the only thing she knew to do was sell her body. What? You mean in her well-to-do upbringing she didn’t learn one skill she could put to use to earn an income? She claimed she didn’t have the experience to be a governess, maid, cook, etc. Excuse me—she went in a virgin. She surely didn’t have experience when it came to sex either.
So as a Regency reader, that didn’t work for me. Call me old-fashioned, but I expect certain dirty-girl limitations when it comes to historical.
Contemporary is a different story all together. It’s okay for the Heroine to have a few hunk-notches on her bedpost. Just as long as she isn’t so dirty she needs to make weekly trips to the drug store for prescriptions. I expect my contemporary heroine to be good at everything. Sex is no exception.
I don’t read a lot of Paranormal, but a friend of mine told me super-sexed is the expectation.
Romantic Suspense heroines have been known to throw back a sheet or two.
Erotica speaks for itself.
As a WRITER, how do I know if I’ve a made my heroine too dirty? Again, it depends on the genre. Of course, my heroine’s back-story matters too. What is she like? What has she been through? What are her beliefs and values? More times than not, the character dictates her own level of dirty.
I’m asking other writers of the world. What things do you consider when writing your heroine’s sexual experience? Does what you accept as a READER, play a role in deciding your heroine’s dirty-girl rating?
I’d love to hear about it.
Remember to Dream Big!