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Virginity Lost

Virginity Lost: An Intimate Portrait of First Sexual Experiences

Laura M. Carpenter
Copyright Date: 2005
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 295
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  • Book Info
    Virginity Lost
    Book Description:

    Nervous, inexperienced, confused. For most, losing your virginity is one of life's most significant moments, always to be remembered. Of course, experiences vary, but Laura Carpenter asks: Is there an ideal way to lose it? What would constitute a positive experience? What often compels the big step? And, further, what does going all the way really mean for young gays and lesbians?In this first comprehensive study of virginity loss, Carpenter teases out the complexities of all things virgin by drawing on interviews with both young men and women who are straight, gay or bisexual. Virginity Lost offers a rare window into one of life's most intimate and significant sexual moments. The stories here are frank, poignant and fascinating as Carpenter presents an array of experiences that run the gamut from triumphant to devastating.Importantly, Carpenter argues that one's experience of virginity loss can have a powerful impact on one's later sexual experiences. Especially at a time of increased debate about sexual abstinence versus safe sex education in public schools, this important volume will provide essential information about the sex lives of young people.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-9008-3
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction: The First Time
    (pp. 1-15)

    The headlines read: “A is for Abstinence” (2001), “Choosing Virginity” (2002), “Like a Virgin (Sort Of)” (2002), “More in High School Are Virgins” (2002), “1 in 5 Teenagers Has Sex Before 15” (2003), and “Young Teens and Sex” (2005). News stories about adolescent sexuality appear in the popular press like clockwork. Almost all of them focus on virginity and virginity loss, the touchstones of American conversations about young people and sex. In some stories, what is news is that teens are losing their virginity; in others, the point is precisely that they’re not. More than a few accounts pause to...

  5. 1 A Brief History of Virginity Loss
    (pp. 16-43)

    In the summer of 1999, not long after I’d conducted the last interview for this book, Universal Pictures released a movie about four high school boys determined to lose their virginity by the night of their senior prom.American Pietook box offices by storm, launching the careers of half a dozen young actors, and ultimately spawning two commercially successful (if increasingly vapid) sequels.¹ If anyone had doubted that young Americans saw virginity loss as a significant experience, here was confirmation that they did.

    On the surface,American Pieresembles countless other teen sex comedies. Its plot centers on a...

  6. 2 Defining Virginity Loss Today
    (pp. 44-56)

    When I asked people how they would define virginity loss to someone who had never heard of it—“Say, to a visitor from another planet”—the vast majority of the heterosexual women and men I interviewed gave replies like Lavinia Thompson’s.¹ A 30-year-old African American paralegal, Lavinia answered simply, “[Virginity loss is] the first time having sex.” It became clear from her responses to subsequent questions that when Lavinia said “sex,” she meant vaginal intercourse. A few heterosexual people I spoke with remarked that beliefs about oral and anal sex vis-à-vis virginity were somewhat ambiguous; fewer still raised the possibility...

  7. 3 A Gift of One’s Own
    (pp. 57-100)

    Was Britney Spears really a virgin until the age of 21? From 1992 to 1994, preteen Britney epitomized wholesome American girlhood as a Mouseketeer on Disney TV’s revival ofThe Mickey Mouse Club. The young girls who admired Spears then helped propel her to superstardom a few years later, buying her first album and mimicking her wardrobe and dance moves by the millions. When Spears’s debut single reached No. 8 onBillboard’s pop charts at the end of 1998, she was not yet 17.¹ By 2000, the 18-year-old Spears boasted a decidedly sexy public persona, strutting the stage in skin-tight...

  8. 4 An Unendurable Stigma
    (pp. 101-140)

    One of the most curious incidents in the history of virginity loss in America took place in the summer of 1999. Late one evening in July, an unprecedented offering appeared on the Web site of Internet auction house eBay: the virginity of Francis D. Cornworth. A 17-year-old boy about to begin his senior year in high school, Francis explained his motivation for placing the advertisement succinctly: “I decided I’d like to lose my virginity. I figured with the latest eBay craze, I’d see exactly how much I could get.”¹ The yearbook photo accompanying “item No. 138277430” (quantity: “one”) depicted a...

  9. 5 A Natural Step
    (pp. 141-177)

    Margaret Mead’s best-selling volumes on South Pacific youth, published between 1928 and 1935, and Bronislaw Malinowski’s sensationally titled 1929 monograph,The Sexual Lives of Savages, introduced educated Americans to the concept of puberty rites—ritualized celebrations of an individual’s passage from childhood to adolescence or adulthood.¹ Anthropologists noted that these transitions typically entailed a shift from relative asexuality to potential or actual sexual activity, often marked by virginity loss (customarily defined as first vaginal sex). Virginity loss accordingly came to be understood as arite of passagethrough which boys were transformed into men and girls into women.² In some...

  10. 6 Abstinence
    (pp. 178-193)

    The student workbook for Sex Respect, one of the most widely used sex education curricula in the United States, gives pride of place to a teen-written “rap” declaring:

    Love and sex

    Sex and love

    Both are gifts from up above

    One is good

    The other is great

    They would both be greater

    If you WAIT.¹

    In addition to learning that virginity is a gift, students are given the impression that the only alternative—adopted by foolish youth—is to think of virginity as a stigma. For example, the SR-produced videotape, “Dating: Predator or Partner,” promises to demonstrate that

    on dates...

  11. 7 Virginity Lost
    (pp. 194-208)

    Physical health and emotional well-being represent central components of sexual health, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), former U.S. surgeon general David Satcher, and other leading authorities. As defined by the WHO in 2002:

    Sexual health is a state of physical, emotional, mental and social well-being related to sexuality; it is not merely the absence of disease, dysfunction or infirmity. Sexual health requires a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships, as well as the possibility of having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences, free of coercion, discrimination and violence.¹

    This definition informs my comparative analysis of the...

  12. Methodological Appendix
    (pp. 209-216)
  13. Notes
    (pp. 217-254)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 255-276)
  15. Index
    (pp. 277-294)
  16. About the Author
    (pp. 295-295)