Navigating virginities: enactment of sexual agency among Arab women in the USA

Sarah Abboud, Yzette Lanier, Loretta Sweet Jemmott, Marilyn S. Sommers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


People interpret virginity in a variety of ways with different implications for sexual identity and behaviour. In Arab societies, heterosexuality and compulsory virginity before marriage are traditionally understood as ideals for a ‘good’ Arab girl, a ‘good’ Arab family and, consequently, a ‘good’ Arab society. In this study, our goal was to gain an in-depth understanding of the enactment of sexual agency and decision-making around virginity from the perspectives of Arab women living in the USA. We conducted a qualitative phenomenological study involving interviews with ten women whose accounts could be grouped into three distinct types: ‘For me, it’s the person you marry that you will be doing these things with’; ‘I want to wait until marriage but I know there might be a possibility where I’m not’; and ‘I started dating this guy, and I did lose my virginity to him’. The life stories of the women illustrate different ways of enacting sexual agency that are strongly influenced by socio-cultural norms and contexts. Our findings have important implications for future research to better understand decisions and behaviours about virginity and how Arab women in the USA enact their sexuality.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1103-1116
Number of pages14
JournalCulture, Health and Sexuality
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 3 2019


  • Arab women
  • USA
  • Virginity
  • agency
  • perspective

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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