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Sexuality and Culture

, Volume 11, Issue 2, pp 24–38 | Cite as

“Am I Still a Virgin?”: What Counts as Sex in 20 years of Seventeen

  • Stephanie R. Medley-Rath
Articles

Abstract

In this paper, I analyze what counts as sex using a qualitative content analysis of the sexuality and health advice columns in Seventeen from 1982 to 2001. These columns are a useful source for identifying adolescent sexual norms including what counts as sex. Previous sex research often assumed that sex meant penile–vaginal intercourse and was the cause of virginity loss. Thus, I use virginity-related key terms (e.g., virgin, sex) to identify the sexuality and health advice columns pertinent to this project. These columns illustrate how multiple sexual acts can cause virginity loss; however, Seventeen remains ambiguous in its discussion of what counts as sex. Letter writers are concerned with what sexual acts they can participate in and still remain virgins and what act defines virginity loss. My analysis reveals that the columns reinforce heteronormativity by telling readers virginity is lost only through penile–vaginal intercourse. Additionally, Seventeen supports the sexual double standard by placing the responsibility of sexual behavior solely on female adolescents rather than on them and their partners.

Keywords

Technical virginity Traditional virginity Adolescents Heterosexuality Sexual behavior Heteronormativity 

Notes

Acknowledgments

I thank Elisabeth O. Burgess, Denise A. Donnelly, Wendy Simonds, Robert Adelman, Saori Yasumoto, Michael Lepore, Melissa Travis, Evelina Sterling, Cenate Pruitt and Rob Rath for their insightful comments on earlier drafts of this paper. I also thank Laura M. Carpenter for advice on this project and the anonymous reviewer from Sexuality & Culture. An earlier version of this paper was presented at the 2004 annual meeting of the Society for the Study of Social Problems.

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Copyright information

© Springer 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyGeorgia State UniversityAtlantaUSA
  2. 2.Department of Sociology and CriminologyUniversity of West GeorgiaCarrolltonUSA

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