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Virgin: The Untouched History Hardcover – 20 Mar 2007

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 290 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC; 1 edition (20 Mar. 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1596910100
  • ISBN-13: 978-1596910102
  • Product Dimensions: 15.9 x 3.3 x 24.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 1.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,319,016 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Virgin Why has an indefinable state of being commanded the attention and fascination of the human race since the dawn of time? In Virgin, Hanne Blank brings us a revolutionary, rich and entertaining survey of an astonishing untouched history. From the simple task of determining what constitutes its loss to why it matters to us in the first place, Blank gets to the heart of why we even care about it ... Full description

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0 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Doruk Denkel on 9 Jan. 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If it is about social anthropology, or anything that is informative, an author should not begin by telling she could not find 'too many' resources about the subject matter she writes about from chapter one. Better not to write a book then. 'Virgin: The Untouched History' would not add anything to anyone's knowledge base.
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Amazon.com: 12 reviews
33 of 35 people found the following review helpful
A Historical View of an Important and Immaterial Topic 26 Mar. 2007
By Rob Hardy - Published on Amazon.com
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. The defining emphasis on a potentially procreative act, rather than any other canoodling, isn't because of any inherent biological cause, but seems to be due to social factors, like a father's valuing his daughter's virginity as a bargaining chip in matrimonial negotiations No other animal besides ourselves seems to recognize or value a condition of virginity. Sometimes the explanation given is that humans are the only animals with hymens, but this is not true; lots of mammals have them, and they have hymens that are useful in, say, sealing out water, or only opening up when the female is in estrus. No animal besides ourselves pays the hymen any attention, and this is despite that the human hymen serves no function. There is no accurate test for virginity, although many have been proposed, from the supposedly physiological to the downright superstitious. "The simple fact is that short of catching someone in the act of sex, virginity can be neither proven nor disproven. We cannot prove it today, nor have we ever been able to." Just to show how patriarchal is the interest in such tests, there is always one form of evidence that is universally considered inadmissible in the matter: the woman's own verbal testimony.

"Of all the countries of the developed world," writes Blank, "the United States is the only one that has to date created a federal agenda having specifically to do with the virginity of its citizens." Our federal government is attempting to establish virginity as the only proper sexual status for its never-married citizens. That young people should abstain from sex is the basis of millions of dollars of federal programs; that they do not abstain, and never have, is obvious but makes no difference to those with a pro-virginity agenda. Usually such agendas come from religious groups. Funding, for instance, goes to a program called Free Teens USA, which is run by people with strong ties to the Unification Church of the Reverend Sun Myung Moon. The church maintains that any sexual activity outside of marriage is an abomination, and Reverend Moon has advocated that a woman who is threatened with rape ought to kill herself rather than undergo extramarital coitus. Less extreme religious groups may advocate virginity, but the results are poor. Abstinence programs do not reliably lower risky sexual behavior. When the Centers for Disease Control did research into programs that were supposed to reduce such behavior, none of the programs that were successful were centered on abstinence. (Since then, the CDC has discontinued such research and removed the results from its website, and its recommendations for contraception have been replaced by statements of official support for abstinence and abstinence only.) Blank's book is not a polemic, but her enlightening historical review of western attitudes to virginity would be good reading for anyone making governmental policy about our virgins. It is also a call to remember the long confusion of historical definitions and attitudes, and that "losing one's virginity" is probably not one physical, emotional, or psychological event, but a process of sexual development that is different for everyone and ought not be oversimplified as one coital act.
12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
battle of the hymen 31 Mar. 2007
By Bernardus Hoffschulte - Published on Amazon.com
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. There was a real ideological 'battle of the hymen', with an obvious division between conservatives, sceptics and libertines. This highly relevant battle, with philosophical parallels, is not adequately expounded. The conclusion of the first part of the book is that the hymen does indeed exist, but has no discernible function, so that its significance in culture is a malleable social construct void of any fundament in human nature. The name Havelock Ellis is mentioned by the author, but his viable conjecture concerning the biological function of the hymen gets no attention at all.
In line with the idea of Havelock Ellis the conclusion of the first part of the book could have been that the probable function of the hymen is to form a barrier against weak, unfit suitors, thus being valuable underpinning for a careful selection of partners in the dialectics of human courtship. This conclusion would have made a real difference for the second part of the book, since it would support a certain conservative concern with virginity. Then the last paragraph, just before the epilogue, wouldn't be a politicised diatribe against conservative campaigns in favour of traditional sexual morality, but probably have been a lot more constructive (without being less critical of patriarchal prejudices).
In spite of this ideological bias I admire the author for having delved into this perennial topic and come out of the mines with a lot of relevant material. She deserves honour for being at the helm of this maiden voyage into a fascinating, almost untouched history. There is much more material to be gathered together, both in the Western world and outside of it.The author considers her book to be a first journey and she is rightly confident that, in spite of our changing culture, 'virginity and virgins will continue to matter profoundly to us all'. There is a selected bibliography and an index. Read this book with an open and critical mind!
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Please Consider The Facts 24 April 2013
By RK - Published on Amazon.com
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.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Kindle Version Poorly Edited 17 July 2014
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
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?
5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Extremely Interesting 15 Dec. 2007
By M P - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As someone interested in history and anthropology, I found this book to be fascinating. In nearly every section I found information I wanted to pass on to someone else. I didn't necessarily agree with all of it, but that's what critical reading is for! I would highly reccomend it to anyone who wants to know more about the social, political, biological, mental, etc. impacts of virginity--whether academically or for leisure.
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