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Virgin: The Untouched History Hardcover – Bargain Price, March 20, 2007

4.3 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews

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Hardcover, Bargain Price, March 20, 2007
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. By any material reckoning, virginity does not exist," writes Blank in this informative, funny and provocative analysis of one of the most elusive—and prized—qualities of human sexuality. Blank, an independent scholar, has pieced together a history of how humans have constructed the idea of virginity (almost always female and heterosexual) and engineered its uses to suit cultural and political forces. Blank has no shortage of fascinating facts: since Western virginity was symbolized by the color white, missionaries viewed nonwhite peoples as sexually immoral; late medieval and Renaissance moralists thought they could detect whether a woman was a virgin by examining her urine ("a virgin's was clear, sparkling, and thin"). Blank also has a pleasing, highly readable style that allows her to convey large amounts of information with wit and agility. But she becomes most animated, and political, when she probes contemporary ideas about virginity. Taking on a range of questions—why is virginity considered sexy? how does the idea of virginity fuel violence against women?—she makes the case that contemporary culture is as obsessed with, and benighted about, virginity, as those of the past. Thoroughly researched, carefully argued and written with a sly sense of humor, this is a bright addition to the popular literature of women's and cultural studies. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Blank's revealing history of virginity begins with discoveries related to women's bodies over time, then quickly moves on to a fascinating analysis of the roles economics, religion, and urbanization have played in the changing attitudes toward virginity. From the Roman Empire to the Jazz Age and beyond, with appearances by Jesus, Elizabeth I, Samuel Pepys, and Alfred Kinsey, this is a rich history indeed. Some common threads favored by Blank include virginity as commodity (trading virgin daughters for land) and the ideology of virginity (Mary's importance in Catholicism). Offering compelling insights, Blank is upfront about telling a female history, although one wishes she had broadened her view as she moved into the present, particularly when she spends time on virginity in popular culture today. This is also strictly a Western history, with modern-day "honor killings" not mentioned until the epilogue. And what of depictions of virginity in, say, Bollywood? Perhaps Blank's next treatise will provide a needed further look at this complex and significant topic. Annie Tully
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA; 1st edition (March 20, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1596910100
  • ASIN: B001G8W5W6
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.5 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,822,741 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Rob Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on March 26, 2007
Format: Hardcover
A billboard in Baltimore used to read, "Virgin: teach your kids it's not a dirty word." That it could be thought of as a dirty word, and that social forces might pay good money to change this concept, illustrate part of the ambivalent feelings our society has toward virgins and virginity. The ambivalence, at many levels, is exhaustively examined in _Virgin: The Untouched History_ (Bloomsbury) by Hanne Blank. An independent historian (with some books of erotica to her credit), Blank says that she was working as a sex educator and wanted to find authoritative sources on virginity. Despite the medical, historic, religious, and social implications of the subject, she found few. "Even though my interests were limited to virginity and virgins in the Western world, it was rapidly becoming obvious to me that if I wanted to read a comprehensive survey of virginity, I was going to have to write it." Her book is indeed comprehensive, and it is scholarly but far from dry, as she examines the surprisingly complicated topic of what a virgin is, and tries to make sense of why the subject has been on our collective minds for so many centuries.

Just defining what a virgin is is a tough exercise. And it isn't just a philosophical or verbal one: "It is an exercise in controlling how people behave, feel, and think, and in some cases, whether they live or die." The confusion is shown by Augustine, who said that if a virgin resisted rape, then she was still a virgin after rape.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This review is for the Kindle edition specifically. The book itself is great, and very interesting, but it's abundantly clear that the kindle version was run through OCR software without any additional editing or proofreading. At times, the randomly italicised words started to distract me from the text. Why was the word "of" italicized here? Why the first "five"? Was this some kind of elaborate word-scramble to produce a hidden meaning in the text? It wasn't until the chapter comparing "Beverly Hills go210" with "The Rocky Honor Picture Show", however, that the absurdity truly came to light. Perhaps the next book should be about the lost art of proofreading?
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Format: Hardcover
I have been looking forward to this book with vivid interest, since I have studied the subject myself in the context of sociobiology and given it more than a passing thought. The author divided her book in two main sections, the first being devoted chiefly to the bio-medical aspects of virginity, the second to its cultural and religious aspects. Both parts are well written and read sometimes as a thriller on a fascinating subject. Since the author limited herself to the Western history of the subject, she can hardly be blamed for incompleteness, but the result is, as a consequence, somewhat biased.
Some examples. The Greek word 'hymen' means 'membrane' in general, but Hymen is also the Greco-Roman god of marriage. I have always found the learned question whether there is a link between the two highly prosaic, but the author seems to agree with the view that there is no relation. Yet, the mytho-poetical transformation of empirical data often splits the meaning of words into different spheres of significance. So, for Hippocrates epilepsy was merely a process within the brain, whereas it was a 'holy sickness' in Greek religion. Hymen, the god, and hymen, the word, both have roots in Sanskrit culture. Such loose ends get lost in a study which limits itself to the Western history only.
The original manuscript of the book had about 1000 pages which the publisher wanted to be reduced to less than 300, so it is hardly amazing that only a selection of the enormous amount of material in the medical literature is included in the publication. The author concentrates on the final 'discovery of the hymen' by Vesalius, but its existence was still denied afterwards, not only by Paré.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I recently had an essay to write about the nature of human sexuality. It focused on and how different parts of society seeks to control sexual expression. The essay was for an English class and the nature of virginity was a topic that frequently came up during my research process. Although the essay was written in a part of the world that lives by the motto live and let live; the topic of virginity and what it means to people is a hard topic to find out about without having to wade through propaganda and religious filtering. Blank's endlessly researched and fact filled book will satiate any anthropologist or casual reader's curiosity. The book is a look at what it means to be a virgin throughout history and having the reputation of being one or not being one shaped the people and the society that they lived in. The book never takes a break from it's rumination of history to preach any viewpoint or defend the author's personal, political or religious interests, instead the reader is given objective and easy to read historical accounts from around the world backed up by intelligent evidence that will enlighten every person who reads it. I highly recommend this book to anyone who has ever spent time considering the nature of human sexuality before repeating any propaganda or rumor about a subject that has caused endless controversy that continues to this day.
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