Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Celibate Hero in SFR

A recent post on Virgin Heroes in Science Fiction Romance discusses some of the more memorable heroes who have never done the deed prior to meeting the heroine, and how that element works for the story and the characters.

The topic got me thinking about another brand of hero, the hero who engages in self-imposed celibacy by choice or circumstance. Does celibacy make for a realistic hero? Or does our society's focus on sex make it implausible? What possible reasons would make a man resort to celibacy?

Actually, there are a number of reasons a man might decide to disengage sexually from society.

It may be due to his choice of work. He could be a space station astronaut, an Arctic or oceanographic researcher, a scientist conducting research in a remote area or any number of occupations where female companionship either is not available or not possible.

It may be because of his experiences. A broken heart can be a powerful deterent to intimacy, either because the man was badly burned in a relationship and doesn't care to repeat the experience, or because he still grieves for a lost mate.

He may chose not to be in a sexual relationship to focus on his duty or profession.

He may have been injured and is now undergoing a long recovery.

He may be a prisoner of war, a slave, a hostage, or incarcerated.

He might have chosen to become a priest or a monk with a vow of celibacy.

He may be head-over-heels in love with a woman who is not available to him, and unwilling to settle for anyone else.

Or he may simply observe religious principles against sexual relations outside of marriage that he feels he must honor.

When you start thinking of all the reasons a man might opt for sexual abstinence, it no longer seems so far-fetched in the context of romantic fiction.

And that goes just for our world. Once you start delving into the SFR universe, there can be any number of barriers to sex presented by a non-Earth culture or religion.

Whatever the reasons, abstinence often makes for a more appealing hero. It shows his degree of moral integrity. He's someone who doesn't treat sex--or relationships--as fun and games. In his mind and in his heart, it's serious stuff--and it's going to take one heck of a woman (cue the heroine) to overcome his resistance.

Examples of Celibate Heroes in SFR

Linnea Sinclair's Dock Five Series is anchored by the romance between Chas and Gabriel "Sully" Sullivan that blossoms in the first novel, Gabriel's Ghost. At a turning point in the story, Sully confesses to Chas that he had once been a monk. It's never perfectly clear why he took this step, but it seemed to be a result of his ongoing war with his personal demons. Chas has always thought of him as a player and a ladies man, and when she learns the truth about his past, she looks at Sully in a totally new light.

In Pippa Jay's Keir, the hero is an outcast who is demonized by his own culture. Tortured, tattooed and treated as a social pariah, he is eventually imprisoned for the "threat" he poses to his own people. Feelings of self-loathing and shame create an emotional barrier between him and the woman who later rescues him, the kind-hearted Quinn, who he secretly longs for but believes his desires are disrespectful.

Born of Night by Sherrilyn Kenyon features a hero who's a top assassin with a tortured and twisted past. In his role as a trained killer, he has no time or patience for a love interest. Until he's assigned to protect Princess Kiara, the daughter of a consulate president.

Finn in Song of Scarabaeus by Sara Creasy, is a hero who's an expendable slave in a situation that makes sex the least of his concerns. Leashed to the heroine with a biotech connection that will kill him if he's separated from her, he begins to experience temptation, even though her mental state can cause him extreme discomfort.

Celibacy is a hot topic for romance readers. There have been lists of books with discussions on Amazon and Goodreads about celibate heroes.

So now it's your turn. What books have you read with celibate heroes? Were you more or less intrigued with the hero because of his choices regarding celibacy?


  1. A lot of my heros have been celibate for a while, but none of them stay that way after meeting the other romantic lead.

    Chuck Hummingbird, in Glad Hands, isn't much for casual sex. He's kind of in the "sex is sacred" religious thing (but only kind of). His last relationship broke up about three years ago and he's been too busy with work (a truck driver) to try for another.

    Ruvane Delkroy in "For Love of Etarin" is a spacer (space trucker!) and doesn't stay in one place long enough to bother most of the time. He has an immense porn collection.

    Bran McKay in _Spellbound Desire_ is badly scarred, enough that most women won't even be around him. He hasn't had sex for six years, and he had to pay the last one. He's never been in love or had a relationship.

    Hevik in the forthcoming _Heart's Bounty_ is very much of the "I'm a traveling man and too damn busy for that. It only brings nuisance, anyway," mindset. He has a wife and daughter he can never see again, because when you get fired on his planet, they banish you from the planet.

    All four of these are traveling men, covering long distances on a regular basis. They all have intense relationships with their hands. They are solitary (two freight haulers, a combat mage and a bounty hunter) and mostly like it that way.

    The celibate hero can work. So can the celibate-until-you hero.

  2. I no part of the attraction for me is when the celibate or inexperienced hero has their first experience. Or where the hero is led into temptation like in the legend of King Arthur, where Lancelot can't give his heart to anyone else because he loves Guinevere, and they're forbidden to each other. It's a great way to increase sexual tension until they reach their HEA, or hit the disastrous climax of the story because they gave in. If the hero's reason for abstinence isn't known, at least to the protagonist trying to attract/seduce them, I find that makes for greater tension too.

  3. I think the celibate hero is an interesting twist on the "virgin" heroine trope when it's done well and as Pippa notes, it's one way to increase sexual tension. None of my heroes ever present themselves to me that way, just as none of my heroines ever seem to be virgins. I just think that leads to too many complications once they do land in bed! All of a sudden now he's expected to be competent and she's expected to enjoy it? Unlikely. Of course, as Laurie points out, space does offer a LOT of job-related reasons for people to go long periods without sex, so it's not like I'm going to roll my eyes if I see that in a plot.

  4. I was a virgin when I got married. I write my heroines that way too. That's how they come to me. Most of my heroes too. I view sex as something sacred, not to be shared outside the bounds of marriage. That's how I write it too, because I think it's beautiful.

    My current SFR hero was not a virgin when he met the heroine, nor was he celibate by choice. In the first book it was intensely interesting to watch him fight his physical attraction to the heroine, partly because he wasn't ready for another intimate relationship, and partly because at the same time he was desperate for one. He missed it with every fiber of his being. He's also a slave, and his best friend became The Voice of Reason in encouraging him *not* to lose the only thing he had control of.

    Which made it all the more intriguing, for me as the writer, when he let someone else use him for sex in order to protect the heroine. She didn't even notice until the last act. It's created some very interesting complications in their marriage.

    For me, a celibate or virgin hero is intensely appealing. It's a signal of how he thinks about women, even if he doesn't realize it. He doesn't view them as toys or throwaway people. He's waiting for the right woman, whether he knows it or not, so he can be a true hero and protect and cherish her. My daddy has given romance heroes HUGE shoes to fill. There's nothing more beautiful than a man who cherishes the woman he loves.

  5. @Angelia, all your heroes sound fascinating, but Chuck Hummingbird intrigues me.

    "Celibate-until-you" Love that.

    @Pippa, I totally agree with your thoughts on creating great conflict. If the heroine doesn't know why the hero has chosen celibacy, it could really heat things up.

    @Donna Yes, that's the advantage of the celibate hero over the virgin hero, IMHO. The celibate hero is probably experiences, he's just elected to forego intimacy, but once he finds it again, he'll know what to do. (Like riding a bike, right?)

    @Rachel, it's sounds like some of our heroes are cut from the same cloth. Although none of my heroes (so far) fall into the "virgin" category, all the leading men in my first three novels elect to be celibate because of intense feelings for someone in their past--but their circumstances are all very different. (And not all are 100% successful in sticking to their choices.) I think the hero making this lifestyle choice out of love and respect for the heroine is admirable...and I don't think it's as rare in our society as some might think.

  6. @Laurie, Chuck is Cherokee, and follows the old paths. He's a truck driver in the DisUnited States of America. And he finds a hitchhiker in Iowa.

    When Seven offers sex in exchange for food and a ride out of the country, into a more tolerant one, Chuck says,
    "Hush now." Chuck’s tone never changed, but Seven subsided, the big driver’s anger almost palpable. "Sex is sacred, that much is right. It’s the most intense way two people can connect. Now you’re cute, but I don’t screw every cute guy I see." He smiled, easing a little, and stroked Seven’s cheek. "I’d like to know more about you than the biggest blue eyes in the world and a sad history. You’ll work. I’ll teach you about the truck and you can help me out on the run. In return, I’ll feed you and get you into the Tribal Lands. Now, if once you’re fed up and safe in the Tribal Lands, you come to me and say, ‘Chuck, you’re gorgeous and I’d like to take you to bed,’ then I’d say yes."

    I've written one virgin heroine. She was over 40 and thought she was asexual until the aforementioned Bran McKay walked into her life. She isn't saving herself, or having moral scruples, she just doesn't find orgasms worth the bother of finding someone willing to be naked with her. She's cultivated a chainsaw personality since her teens to make sure no one gets close.


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