Virgin Envy: The Cultural Insignificance of the Hymen

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Jonathan A. Allan, Cristina Santos, Adriana Spahr
Zed Books Ltd., Nov 15, 2016 - Social Science - 256 pages
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Virginity is of concern here, that is its utter messiness. At once valuable and detrimental, normative and deviant, undesirable and enviable. Virginity and its loss hold tremendous cultural significance. For many, female virginity is still a universally accepted condition, something that is somehow bound to the hymen, whereas male virginity is almost as elusive as the G-spot: we know it's there, it’s just we have a harder time finding it.

Of course boys are virgins, queers are virgins, some people reclaim their virginities, and others reject virginity from the get go. So what if we agree to forget the hymen all together? Might we start to see the instability of terms like untouched, pure, or innocent? Might we question the act of sex, the very notion of relational sexuality? After all, for many people it is the sexual acts they don’t do, or don’t want to do, that carry the most abundant emotional clout.

Virgin Envy is a collection of essays that look past the vestal virgins and beyond Joan of Arc. From medieval to present-day literature, the output of HBO, Bollywood, and the films of Abdellah Taļa or Derek Jarman to the virginity testing of politically active women in Tahrir Square, the writers here explore the concept of virginity in today’s world to show that ultimately virginity is a site around which our most basic beliefs about sexuality are confronted, and from which we can come to understand some of our most basic anxieties, paranoias, fears, and desires.


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About the author (2016)

Jonathan A. Allan is Canada research chair in queer theory and assistant professor of gender and women’s studies and English and creative writing at Brandon University. He is the author of Reading from Behind: A Cultural Analysis of the Anus.

Cristina Santos is an associate professor at Brock University. Her previous publications include Defiant Deviance: The Irreality of Reality in the Cultural Imaginary (2006), The Monster Imagined: Humanity's Re-Creation of Monsters and Monstrosity (2010) and Monstrous Deviations in Literature and the Arts (2011), to name a few.

Adriana Spahr is an associate professor at MacEwan University in Edmonton, Alberta. Her last co-authored book Madre de Mendoza/Mother of Mendoza (Corregidor, 2013) reflects her current research interest in testimonial literature.