Pure Madness

Unsnarling the irrational, contradictory, still-thriving obsession with virginity

If the editors of Virgin Envy: The Cultural (In)Significance of the Hymen considered, even briefly, appropriating the title of Madonna’s iconic song for their book, they may have dismissed it as too corny. But, as usual when it comes to iconography, Madonna was on to something. The essays in Virgin Envy explore in depth what the pop singer was gesturing at: what virginity is like—what it stands in for, what it is groomed and manipulated and fetishized to represent—as much as what it is.

The essays in this voracious and wide-ranging collection are paired thematically in four sections: “Too Much Pain for Such Little Reward”; “Blood, Blood, Blood … and More Blood”; “Men Be Virgins Too: Queering Virginity,” and “F*ck: They Entrapped Us in Social Issues and Politics.” There is a lot of cross-fertilization here. As editors Jonathan A. Allan, Cristina Santos and Adriana Spahr make clear in their...