Virginity Lost

An Intimate Portrait of First Sexual Experiences

295 pages

November, 2005

ISBN: 9780814716533



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Laura M. Carpenter is Associate Professor of Sociology at Vanderbilt University and author of Virginity Lost: An Intimate Portrait of First Sexual Experiences.

All books by Laura Carpenter

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.



  • “The first book to date to take an in-depth look at the meaning men and women ascribe to their first experiences with sexual intercourse. . . . This body of research appears to be promising and will likely add much information to literature in the area of sexual behavior.”

    Sex Roles

  • “Well-organized and well-researched, Virginity Lost is an inquiry into adolescents’ understandings of virginity.”

    Qualitative Sociology

  • “This is a great book. It is well researched, grounded in compelling personal stories from 61 diverse young Americans, and accessibly written . . . Carpenter nicely grounds her analysis in sociocultural context, considering wider social reasons for shifting attitudes toward virginity loss and adeptly attending to the intersecting identifications of race, ethnicity, class, gender, and sexuality.“

    Choice, Highly recommended

  • “Well written and engaging, Virginity Lost is an extremely valuable contribution, giving us in depth and moving descriptions of how first sexual experiences changed men's and women's lives and capturing interesting comparisons of both heterosexual and homosexual relationships and encounters. Laura Carpenter assumes nothing, and therefore, learns a great deal. Reading this book has changed the way I look at first intercourse. I am in the author's debt, as is, I believe, the entire field of sexology.”

    —Pepper Schwartz, author of Everything You Know about Love and Sex Is Wrong

  • “A provocative book. Carpenter's extensive in-depth research shows that the meaning of virginity loss differs by gender and by sexual orientation. For the details, read this excellent book!”

    —Judith Lorber, author of Paradoxes of Gender