One of the most archetypal and well-known traits of the Unicorn is its affinity for virgin women. In legends where unicorns were characterized as either fierce and untamable or as incredibly elusive, a virgin maiden was said to be the only one who could tame the beast or draw it out of hiding. In works where unicorns are epitomes of benevolence and purity, virgin maidens are the only ones the creatures allow close to them — or, in certain cases, to ride them.
The precise definition of "virgin" can vary a lot. Some portrayals use a purely physical definition of virginity, with varying levels of strictness. Other works instead depict unicorns as just having an affinity for girls and young women in general, or as being attracted to women with a "pure heart" — which, itself, can mean any number of things, but generally involves the unicorn being in some way able to sense to moral character of others and only approaching those it finds sufficiently innocent, noble, benevolent or the like.
In cases where physical virginity is what matters, this may be applied to male virgins in addition to the traditional female ones. The virgin in question will often find the unicorn's attention to be acutely embarrassing.
In older works, and in modern ones based more closely on them, this often takes a darker twist — the maiden acts as a lure to expose and subdue the unicorn so that hunters can claim its horn, and its love for her brings the unicorn's doom.
An uncommon inversion has evil or corrupted unicorns who are attracted to what regular unicorns shun, typically either highly promiscuous people or just plain evil ones.
Subtrope of Unicorn, Nature Adores a Virgin and Virgin Power. Related to Only the Pure of Heart. For another mythical being with a similar but decidedly less innocent taste in human companionship, see Dragons Prefer Princesses.
- Delicious in Dungeon: Played with. Unicorns are drawn to virtue and can be tamed by innocent virgin maidens, but bicorns — black horses with two goat-like horns — love immorality and are known to eat virtuous husbands. Laios reasons that they can be tamed by corrupt adult males, and the party tries to catch one by behaving sinfully so that they can get close, but they fail to take it alive when it senses Chilchack (who the party assumed was the necessary corrupt adult) and tries to eat him. It turns out that the state of his marriage is both less and more complicated than he pretends.
- High School Dx D: Unicorns will only approach virgins, and the characters need the horn of the unicorn to get Rias and Asia back to normal because they've been turned into children. While all of Issei's harem are virgins, Azazel uses Akeno as bait for the unicorn.
- Overlord (2012) has a curious subversion/inversion. On Yggdrasil, there exists a rare subspecies of unicorn called a bicorn that has two horns and is covered in black fur. The succubus Albedo keeps the ability to summon one when the whole of Nazarick gets transported to a new world. Yet when she tries to mount it, the animal keeps refusing her. The reason? Opposite to their white and pure cousins, bicorns can only be mounted by a woman that has lost her virginity — something that Albedo hasn't done, because her loved overlord Ainz keeps refusing her advances (and being a skeletal Lich means he is physically unable to correct that).
- In Arak: Son of Thunder #37, a foreign envoy has brought a gift for the Frankish king: a unicorn. All they need to tame it is a maiden, and all eyes turn to Action Girl Valda. But they don't know about her recently-consummated relationship with Arak, and the unicorn has to be pacified by Court Mage Malagigi's magic when it goes wild because she is no longer a virgin.
- Legends From Darkwood: The main character, Raynd, remains a virgin for the purpose of hunting unicorns and selling their delicious meat at a premium.
- Wonder Woman (1942): Rituals for finding a new queen on Bellara Island invoke this, with potential wives for the queen being put to a test where they're meant to safely encircle a unicorn's horn. The evil prime minister makes the contest more dangerous, and difficult and then kills the women who manage to survive it to prevent the king from getting married and legitimizing his rule which draws Wondy's attention.
- Discworld Tarot: In "The Ace of Swords", there's a different twist on this trope. Alice Band is able to tame a rogue unicorn where others have failed, despite being sexually experienced, because her sexual experience is only with other women. She still technically qualifies as a maiden, unsullied by contact with men, and therefore meets the strict specification for unicorn-wrangling. It's also possible that while the unicorn was trying to make its mind up as to whether she qualified, she got a silver-ornamented bridle over its head and settled the question early.
- In Zim the Warlord: Irken Reversion, it's noted that unicorns only like those who are pure, with the virgin connection being specifically mentioned. Which makes it very confusing for everyone when the unicorn they meet not only doesn't like Gaz (who quite angrily insists that she's still a virgin) but actually tries to attack her on sight. There's also a related species called bicorns, which are the exact opposite of unicorns and will thus instinctively attack anyone that unicorns normally like.
- Legend (1985): Lili's "innocence" allows her to approach the unicorns. This is deliberately taken advantage of by Darkness and the goblins to lure the unicorns into the open so that they may kill them.
- Ariel Boyett: The protagonist is a wisecracking twenty-year-old virgin, which allows him to become the magical Familiar of the eponymous unicorn. After the unicorn is captured, their magical bond causes the protagonist to go into unicorn withdrawal and becomes a bit of a headcase until the unicorn is freed. The constant advances from random women don't help, either.
- Black Dogs: Only virgins are susceptible to the illusions of unicorns, which here are mangy, carnivorous horse-like things that prey on those that fall for their illusions.
- Book of Imaginary Beings: Unicorns can be caught and rendered tame by a virgin maiden, which according to Leonardo da Vinci is due to the unicorn's lust overpowering its otherwise indomitable fierceness.
- The Dresden Files: In Summer Knight, when the characters run into a unicorn guarding a route they need to take, Harry mentions that they are attracted to purity, not virginity, so one of the other characters has to distract it by holding its attention and concentrating on keeping her mind blank and clear so it doesn't attack.
- Everworld: At one point, the characters see a unicorn in the distance, and Christopher jokingly suggests that April wouldn't be able to attract it if she tried. April (who's very religious and, as is later stated, explicitly waiting for marriage) tells him not to believe every rumor going around their school.
- The Fire Rose: The ritual to summon a unicorn requires a virgin to carry it out.
- Forest Kingdom: In book 1 (Blue Moon Rising), the lead character is a male virgin with a loyal, if sarcastic, unicorn. When he rescues a princess who can't ride a unicorn, the trio hastily agree that when they get back to civilization, the unicorn will have to "go lame", because otherwise, it'd be far too embarrassing for both humans if he rides in and she walks.
- The Good, the Bad and the Mediochre: The standard method for hunting unicorns is to get a young female virgin to stand in the middle of a forest clearing and hide nearby with a gun. The heroes try to foil this when they find it happening by getting Charlotte — a younger female virgin — to stand in a different clearing, thus attracting any unicorns away from the hunters. It becomes a non-issue anyway, since the whole thing was a trap.
- Guinevere: Guinevere has a telepathic link with one of the only remaining unicorns in Britain. At the end of the novel, she has married Arthur and has a final conversation with the unicorn, in which she discovers that she had to stay a virgin if she wanted the bond to continue.
- Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire: After Hagrid is too ashamed to show his face after being exposed as a half-giant, the substitute assigned to teach his class brings a unicorn to the class and warns the students that it will only let the girls touch it. Hagrid later one-ups her by getting some unicorn foals that the whole class can pet and examine, explaining that they only grow hostile to men in adulthood.
- "Honeymouth", a Harry Turtledove short story, subverts this. A foul-mouthed and very lecherous mercenary, nicknamed Honeymouth, is somehow able to ride a unicorn without any problem. When asked how he can do it, usually while the unicorn is parked outside a brothel, he sarcastically replies that he's a virgin. He is, technically. The nickname "Honeymouth" has nothing to do with scatological verbiage.
- Incarnations of Immortality: In For Love of Evil, when Parry is about to marry Jolie, someone drives a unicorn into the bridal party, but Jolie is able to call and touch the unicorn, proving she is still a virgin (and stunning her father and the entire town).
- Lords and Ladies: The unicorn is a wild and ferocious beast that sows terror in the mortal world when released there by the Queen of the Elves, but can still be tamed and pacified by a virgin. Even if the virgin in question in an old woman and the most powerful witch in the world.
- Make Way For Dragons: The main character gets a fawning unicorn, who becomes more of a loyal dog than anything. Some humor is poked at him as the other female characters have a variety reactions to his being a virgin.
- Market of Monsters: In a darker take, Unicorns are a species of monsters which feed on the souls of virgins for sustenance.
- Myth Adventures: In Another Fine Myth, Skeeve is the only one in the group that does not elicit a negative reaction from a unicorn, which gets him some teasing. This point is brought back in Sweet Myth-tery Of Life, where Buttercup the unicorn acts unsociable towards Skeeve after he blacks out drunk on a date with a vampire.
- The Obsidian Trilogy: Kellen summons a unicorn, Shalkan, with a Wild Magic spell to help him escape the territory of Armathalieh. Shalkan informs him that the mage-price for his help is to remain both celibate and chaste for a year and a day. Unicorns explicitly cannot touch humanoids who are not virgins: Shalkan can't touch Kellen's long-lost sister Idalia because her own mage-price to escape Armathalieh while shapeshifted into an eagle was to hatch and raise a clutch of chicks, which involved mating with a male eagle.
- Rampant features a society of virgins who hunt bloodthirsty, evil unicorns. Over the course of that novel and its sequel, it's shown that losing one's virginity causes one to lose one's ability to hunt unicorns — whether willingly (one girl sleeps with her boyfriend specifically to avoid getting roped into unicorn-hunting) or unwillingly (another is raped). Having sex with a girl doesn't count, fortunately for one couple. Losing one's virginity likewise strips a girl of magical protection from the unicorns, who, albeit reluctantly, cannot attack a virgin. Also, males never (naturally) get either protection or powers, status of virginity notwithstanding.
- In "The Silken-Swift", a short story by Theodore Sturgeon, the unicorn subverts this trope itself. Given a choice between a gentle young woman who'd recently been raped and a virginal but selfish and malicious witch, the unicorn chooses to lay his head in the lap of the true innocent (who promptly sets it free).
- Spellsinger: Downplayed. Although the male unicorn character is drawn to human virgins and somewhat protective of them, he's gay and mainly interested in other equines in any case, so attempting to distract him with virgin human females to capture him simply doesn't work.
- The Spiderwick Chronicles: In the third book, a unicorn grants Mallory a vision of one of its fellows being hunted by being lured by a young girl. When the animal-loving Simon is peeved that the unicorn is more interested in Mallory than himself, she points out that it's because she's a girl. The spinoff book Arthur Spiderwick's Field Guide to the Fantastical World Around You subverts this, however. It claims that the idea that unicorns are specifically attracted to virgins is a myth, and they will only approach those who are truly innocent with pure spirits, regardless of their gender.
- Tales of the Five Hundred Kingdoms: Unicorns are attracted to and very protective of virgins of the opposite sex, and tend to become mindlessly fawning around them. There's a bit in Fortune's Fool where three female unicorns come rushing to protect the virgin male hero from a female ghost — but then it turns out the ghost is a virgin, too. And then a male unicorn shows up, intent on protecting the ghost, because she's a virgin female, after all...
"No problem... this is a creature of darkness!"
"But..." the hesitant one said, as she dropped her head to sniff at the water. "A virgin creature of darkness..."
"I'm sure there are virgin creatures of darkness all the time," the leader retorted, stamping her forehoof.
- The Unicorn Creed: Unicorns associate with virgins because they're young and impressionable, and because girls don't generally remain virgins long (unicorns are out to make the world a better place, one girl at a time). It's stated that they could have chosen pregnancy just as easily, except you can get pregnant more than once.
- Xanth: Mare Ann can summon any kind of horse she wants, and when she still had her "innocence" this included unicorns. She broke up with the Magician Humphrey because she wanted to keep that ability, but after her death she went to Hell, lost her innocence, and therefore lost the ability to summon them anyway.
- Galavant: The unicorns' reputation for preferring virgins leads King Richard to become embarrassed when one starts acting friendly towards him.
- Legends of Tomorrow: "The Virgin Gary" sees the team dealing with a murderous unicorn on the loose at Woodstock. Constantine plans to banish the thing to hell before it can massacre the attendants, but requires a virgin to lure it in long enough. Thus, the team gets an unwitting Gary to pose as bait.
- In medieval folklore, art and bestiaries, unicorns were used as symbols of purity and grace, associating them with virginity, innocence and chastity. A very common visual motif had the unicorn resting with its head in a maiden's lap, as it was said that the presence of a virgin maiden would draw the creature from the woods to sleep in her embrace. In religious art, the unicorn was often associated with the Virgin Mary. The secular humanist movement later used unicorns to symbolize chaste love and marital fidelity.
- Mahabharata: In English translations, there's a wilderness ascetic called Ekaśṛṅga, often translated in English as Unicorn (one-horn), because he has a single horn on his head. Ascetics can make any wish of theirs come true if they are doing well with their asceticism, which can include taking the gods' place. As Unicorn becomes a successful ascetic, the gods send a drought as punishment and a local king decides to end Unicorn's asceticism by sending his daughter to seduce him. As Unicorn had never seen a woman before the princess arrives, he is fascinated and gets tamed by her. This is the Ur-Example for the trope. It's not the first reference to a one-horned beast, but it's the first case of a one-horned character who can be tamed by virgins and the medieval legend can be traced back to the Indian prototype (which appears first in iconography and not the Mahabharata but the Mahabharata is the oldest text).
- Dungeons & Dragons:
- Unicorns sometimes allow themselves to be ridden, but only accept human or elven maidens of pure heart and good alignment. Dragon Magazine #190 describes a number of unicorn variants, several with their own spins on this theme: alicorns and cunnequines have the same requirements as common sylvan unicorns, the Neutral Evil pyrocorns accept evil female riders with affinities for fire magic, the Chaotic Evil black unicorns accept evil fighters or thieves of either sex, fairy unicorns accept any halfling, gnome, elf or fairy of good heart, gray unicorns accept only female druids of strictly neutral alignment, the Lawful Evil criocorns bear only exceptionally evil women with a talent for icy magic or who worship an evil god of cold or winter, pinto unicorns accept any rider of pure heart, narwhals bear only sea elven women of pure heart, and unisi may be ridden by any humanoid maiden with a good heart.
- The "Vow of Chastity" feat in the Book of Exalted Deeds supplement for Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition, gives a character many benefits for maintaining virginity, one of which involves acquiring a unicorn as your companion by taking the Prestige Class "Beloved of Valarian". If a Beloved of Valarian ever willingly couples with a mortal, they lose the companion permanently.
- Unicows, joke creatures described in Dragon #156, can be tamed by maidens who are pure of heart, neutral in alignment, and not very bright. These women are thereafter referred to as "milkmaids" or "cowgirls" and care for their unicows with great care and diligence "right up to the day they sell their unicows to the Elven Stockyards for meatloaf".
- GURPS: GURPS Fantasy Bestiary notes that fantasy unicorns may ally with anyone of noble heart, but only allow children and female virgins to ride them. The mythical unicorn is likewise said to have a weakness for female virgins, and that on encountering one it will place its head on her lap and allow itself to be stroked until it falls asleep. Hunters can then capture it while its guard is down. This is the only way to catch them, as unicorns are otherwise extremely fierce beings and will fight to the death rather than be captured.
- Palladium Fantasy: Unicorns are believed in-universe to have an attraction to virgins. In truth, they actually prefer people of very good character and are especially fond of children and innocent souls, even allowing them on their backs, which led to the origin of the myth.
- Powers And Perils: In the Heroes magazine Volume 2 #2, the article "The Sea of Tears" describes Ghia Trell, who has a Creature Power related to unicorns and unicorns feel comfortable around her. If she ever has sex with a man she will lose these abilities.
- Warhammer Fantasy Battle: Downplayed. Unicorns are a rare mount option only taken by elven mages and by the all-female priesthood of the Lady of the Lake. The Storm of Magic supplement also describes them as being attracted to magic in general, but as being particularly fascinated by magic cast by female wizards and seeking them out like moths seeking a flame.
- Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay: Unicorns are said to only suffer the pure to ride them, which many take to mean the virginal and chaste. However, there are also tales of unicorns bearing wounded noble knights to safety even when that knight was very certainly not innocent. This is generally taken to mean that they prefer riders of strong moral character, but they're also notoriously choosy about such things — even the elves, who have a much closer relationship with unicorns than other races, only produce one or two maidens per generation who can ride the creatures.
- Kingdom of Loathing: Played for laughs in the description of the uniclops, a unicorn cyclops. While unicorns will lay their heads in the laps of virgins, uniclopses will settle for a girl who doesn't go past second base on the first date.
- Suikoden II: A Star of Destiny, a unicorn, can only be hired if you have a female virgin in the party when he's encountered. The Stalker with a Crush schoolgirl Nina usually qualifies for this; the list of characters that make the cut is oddly telling. Bring Sierra to him and he briefly approaches her... before freaking out a little and quickly making his apologies. She's vaguely insulted.
- Tales of Berseria: Played with. When the party finds a unicorn horn they need, Magilou stops Laphicet from picking it up, stating it will lose its powers if handled by anyone other than a pure maiden. The party gets into a heated debate about their respective eligibilities until Eizen, sick of the farce, picks it up and explains it's a perfectly mundane narwhal horn. Magilou chews him out for spoiling her fun.
- Tales of Phantasia: The Unicorn only lets virgin women near it. In the first game, the flirtatious Arche thus has to leave during the portion of the quest where you seek it out. In Tales of Symphonia, Raine notes she shouldn't bother trying to go near it, and Kratos doubts that Sheena can. She can.
- Ultima VII: The leader of a herd of unicorns once refused the summoning of a wizard, who in retaliation placed the Curse of Chastity upon them and made them unable to stand the presence of non-virgins. Lasher the unicorn in particular is very tired of being used to ruin the reputations of women. Unless you've visited the in-game brothel before meeting him, your party members (one of which is a lecher, and another of which is married) are quite amused to learn that you are a virgin. Since the game had no way of telling whatever your protagonist has done in the previous nine games, Lasher simply reveals that you "regain your virginity" whenever entering the realm of Britannia.
- The Adventures of Dr. McNinja: The chapter "Doc Gets Rad" features Sparklelord, a unicorn from another universe who takes the form of a motorcycle when he enters the McNinja universe. He teams up with Doc McNinja against their mutual enemy, King Radical. At the end of the chapter, Doc's sidekick Gordito asks "Don't unicorns only approach virgins?" Doc doesn't like the implications and quickly changes the subject.
- Arthur, King of Time and Space: In the Superhero Arc, a bank robber called the Unicorn, whose costume includes a horn, is powerless to fight the Batman-counterpart the White Night... that is, the Celibate Hero (at the time) Lancelot.
- Darwin Carmichael Is Going to Hell: Unicorns love virgins, though they have a rather crude attitude about it. They seem to operate on Technical Virgin rules, however, as they like Darwin, who's just been having a long dry spell, and Ginny, who does things that "don't count".
- In El Goonish Shive, in a fantasy panel, a unicorn is depicted to emphasize that Sarah and Elliot are pure, innocent virgins.
- The Order of the Stick: In one of the book-only strips, the Order encounters a unicorn. Haley tries to pass herself off as a "maiden of virtue", and the unicorn falls over laughing.
- Gravity Falls: "The Last Mabelcorn" has a G-rated variant. When Mabel asks the unicorn Celestabellebethabelle for a lock of her hair, Celestabellebethabelle scans Mabel with her horn and refuses the request because Mabel is not "pure of heart". Even after Mabel does a variety of good deeds and comes back, Celestabellebethabelle claims that it still isn't enough to make Mabel a good person. It turns out that unicorns made up the "pure of heart" requirement to prevent humans from bothering them, and Celestabellebethabelle just doesn't want to share her gorgeous hair. Angry about her lies, Mabel and her friends beat up Celestabellebethabelle and take a lock of her mane by force.