Natalie's Reviews > Virgin: The Untouched History

Virgin by Hanne Blank
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's review
Apr 11, 2009

really liked it
bookshelves: i-blame-the-patriarchy, condemned-to-repeat-it, do-i-make-you-horny, sociology, female-pen
Recommended for: women, feminists, men who still subscribe to sexual double standards

So it's probably no surprise to most people that women have been valued for most of recorded history based on sexuality alone, or lack thereof. Still, seeing the timeline of this history and the paradigmatic shifts it's undergone is a bit overwhelming; and even though American culture has had several sexual revolutions, major and minor, since the early twentieth century, the value-laden (and intrinsically meaningless, without the value that society places upon it) status of women as virgins is still the dominant narrative. (See: Abstinence Education.)

Not so surprisingly, there is little to no such social interest in maintaining the virginity of males, and this is something I wish Hanne Blank had touched on just a tad more. That is my only real complaint with Virgin; the book is thoroughly researched as far as historical and literary record, maintains the neutral tone of the observer, and imparts plenty of information that directly contradicts "common" knowledge. For example: brides are veiled and bridesmaids are dressed in similar fashion in order to confuse evil spirits as to the bride's and her maids' identities. Entire wedding industries are built on vestigial Dark Ages superstition! I find that hysterical.

An early chapter deals directly with the female hymen, the magic membrane protecting women's virginities - except when it grows back, except when it doesn't break at all during intercourse, and except when women are born without one or break it during physical activity outside of sexual encounters. The hymen was not even discovered until the sixteenth century, and barely noted even then. It's evolved from a footnote in old anatomy texts to the Most Important Asset a woman has that must be protected like the Holy Grail. Of course, in antiquity as now, women's very lives in some parts of the world depend on this otherwise-useless bit of protective skin. The human hymen has absolutely no function and again is meaningful because of the outside value placed upon it.


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Comments (showing 1-8 of 8) (8 new)

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message 1: by Jen (new)

Jen condemned to repeat it, eh?

Sounds fascinating...

Natalie That's my "aren't I clever?" shelf title for history-related books. :)

So far, yeah, it's pretty interesting.

message 3: by Jen (new)

Jen Say no says there are five different types of hymens? This is need to know information!

Natalie I just finished the "five types of hymens" part. I was amazed. I'm learning an incredible amount to be only forty pages into this thing!

message 5: by Jen (new)

Jen I, personally, had a French Country hymen. (I do hope you appreciate wrongness in humor!)

Joking aside, I put the book on my to-read list...I am looking forward to the review on this one!

Natalie I appreciate a little wrongness in humor if you don't mind a little TMI...mine was made of friggin' reinforced steel!!

I'm going through it (the book, not my hymen, LOL) at a pretty good clip, so a review should be up in a few days.

message 7: by Meg (new) - added it

Meg I think I'm going to add this to my to-read list, mostly because I want to know what kind of hymen I have. Had? I don't know. Maybe this book will educate me.

Natalie The "types" are based mostly on physical examination, so I couldn't really guess as to what mine might have been - but yes, it's quite possible that it's still there, because some grow back, others aren't even torn during intercourse, etc. Much ado about nothing in the world of controlling female sexuality, as usual. :)

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