Sex and Virginity: Two Book Reviews

Laurie says:

Heather Corinna has written a remarkably good book on sex for teens: S.E.X., The All-You-Need-To-Know Progressive Sexuality Guide to Get You Through High School and College.

cover of S.E.X.

To quote the cover “In S.E.X. you get answers to everything you were afraid, embarrassed, or didn’t know to ask.

To randomly list some topics:

“The Old Give and Take: Sexual Symmetry, Reprocity and Equality”
“Top Ten Bits of B.S. About STD’s”
“Methods that Suck (Or Just Shouldn’t Be Called Birth Control)”

And a great quote practically at random, since there are so many:

“Turn off the switch on your brain that makes you say things like ‘All men are jerks’ or ‘Women just want money’, ‘Only gay guys talk like that’ or ‘She looks/acts/sounds like a boy’. There are NO sex, orientation, or gender absolutes, and the less we fall for and support them, the less power they have to keep all of us down.”

She covers everything from the very basic physiology of sex (with excellent clear illustrations), to complex questions of parenting, to issues about sex toys, fist fucking, and multiple orgasms.

And S.E.X. is truly queer-inclusive, not simply queer-positive or queer-friendly. Issues for queer teens are woven in to the book ways that make them as universally interesting and important as those for straight teens

Anyone who has a significant teenager in their life, or works with teens, should buy this book.

Debbie says:

I’m eager to read (and to give away copies of) S.E.X.. The book I want to talk about, however, is Virgin: The Untouched History by Hanne Blank.

cover of Virgin

I often find that a nonfiction book on a fascinating topic isn’t well-enough written for its material, or that a beautifully written book covers old ground or loses my interest. In Virgin, Hanne Blank has achieved the perfect synthesis of subject matter and tone.

Aptly enough for her topic, Blank is entering uncharted territory. Most of her encyclopedic resources are either highly technical or focused on a very specific sub-area of her topic, while Blank is writing an overview for a wider audience. The first section of the book covers physical issues of virginity, including a comprehensive description of the hymen in its many observed forms and variations, as well as a medical history of what the hymen has been thought to be at various times. Blank can handle a serious subject with humor, especially when describing some of the virginity tests that have been applied at various times: her description of the one that identifies virginity by comparing the size of a woman’s skull measured in a particular way to the diameter of her neck as “a parlor trick” is one example.

The physical information is fascinating, and the cultural comparison (in the physical section) of the Romany conception of virginity, as measured by an organ roughly the size and shape of a grape which is only found in virgin women, to our own contemporary physical concepts is deftly handled. Nonetheless, the heart of the book is in the second section–the cultural concepts, implications, and effects of how various Western cultures view virginity. Blank includes a good deal of Catholic church history, including an examination of the role of the Virgin Mary in the popular faith of individual Catholics. She explores how it is that the concept of “the children of virgins” has had significant standing in some periods, which leads into (or stems from) the distinction–and sometimes lack of distinction–between “virgin” and “maiden.” Along the way, I learned why wedding dresses are currently white and what that (doesn’t) have to do with virginity or purity.

The book leads the reader inexorably to the conclusion that virginity is 1) impossible to prove except by its absence; 2) almost impossible to define except by its absence; and 3) one of the essential underpinnings of the concept that women’s bodies are the property of men.

To me, the book felt rushed at the end, as though much about the late 20th and 21st century was omitted for reasons of space. Fortunately, Blank has given us access to her cutting room floor for those of us hungry for more.

women, feminism, sex, teen sexuality, teens, queer teens, body image, Heather Corinna, Scarleteen, Hanne Blank, virginity, hymen, Body Impolitic