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Virginity Lost

An Intimate Portrait of First Sexual Experiences

Laura Carpenter

Publication Year: 2005

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.

Published by: NYU Press


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pp. v

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pp. vii-viii

It has been my exceptional good fortune to be mentored by two outstanding and outspoken feminist sociologists. As my main adviser at the University of Pennsylvania, Robin L. Leidner taught me volumes about the science and art of sociology and showed great faith in my promise as a scholar. ...

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Introduction: The First Time

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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 ...

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1 A Brief History of Virginity Loss

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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 Pie took box offices by storm, launching the careers of half a dozen young actors, ...

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2 Defining Virginity Loss Today

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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, ...

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3 A Gift of One’s Own

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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 of The Mickey Mouse Club. The young girls who admired Spears then helped propel her to superstardom a few years later, ...

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4 An Unendurable Stigma

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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 ...

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5 A Natural Step

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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 ...

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6 Abstinence

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pp. 178-193

Traditional beliefs about gender differences in sexuality permeate Sex Respect and other similar curricula that share its only-abstinence-until-marriage perspective, as does the assumption that “normal” people are heterosexual.3 Claiming that “many things about the male and female gender . . . are opposite,” ...

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7 Virginity Lost

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pp. 194-208

This definition informs my comparative analysis of the four metaphors through which people in my study made sense of virginity loss. By addressing approaches to virginity loss in terms of their effects on sexual health, I am moreover interrogating the assumption, codified in the federal government’s guidelines ...

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Methodological Appendix

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pp. 209-216

One of the questions I’ve often been asked about this project is, “How can you be sure that the people you interviewed told the truth?” Study participants’ truthfulness is of perennial concern of all social scientists; and this concern is magnified by the private nature of sexuality in American culture. ...


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pp. 217-254


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pp. 255-276


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pp. 277-294

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About the Author

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pp. 295

Laura M. Carpenter is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Vanderbilt University, where she conducts research and teaches courses on gender, sexuality, and health over the life course. She received her Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Pennsylvania ...

E-ISBN-13: 9780814790083
E-ISBN-10: 0814790089
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814716533
Print-ISBN-10: 0814716539

Page Count: 304
Publication Year: 2005