Virgins: A Cultural History by Anke Bernau - review by Frances Wilson

Frances Wilson

Hymn to the Hymen

Virgins: A Cultural History


Granta Books 232pp £18.99 order from our bookshop

These days we are more likely to associate the word with Richard Branson than we are with Elizabeth I, but not too long ago even Britney was famous for being a virgin. Red squirrels might be sighted more often than fair maids, at least in my neck of the woods, but that does not mean we are no longer fascinated by sexual purity. On the contrary: witness the pulling power of Anke Bernau’s book. 

‘What is virginity?’ Bernau asks, and the question is not as innocent as you might think. Does virginity have a different meaning for today’s teenager than it did for the medieval nun? Is it a physical, mental, or spiritual state? Can it be lost more than once? And – moot

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