In the Middle Ages it was believed that only a virgin could charm a unicorn out of hiding, but far from being a quaint, anachronistic concept, virginity remains a central value in western culture. Type 'virgin' into Google and you instantly get over 400,000 hits: everything from the Anti-Nicene Fathers to advertisements for 'Free Teen Virgin Pussy'. This book asks why virginity has remained so important in western civilization, and looks at the changing roles of virginity over the last 800 years, drawing on a wide range of examples from medieval saints to contemporary vampire-slayers. Anke Bernau examines the Medical Virgin - what exactly is virginity, and how can you reliably identify one?; the Religious Virgin - from the Madonna to the American Christian Right's insistence on sexual abstinence before marriage; the Popular Virgin of Gothic fiction and modern day horror films; the Political Virgin - virginity's intimate connection with money and power; and the Monstrous Virgin, as embodiment of what is ultimately unknowable, and of violence, excess and death. This is a lively and wide-ranging examination of a phenomenon that has touched many aspects of our culture.