The summer after my junior year of high school, in the mid-1990s, my German class traveled to Bavaria for a month of cultural and language immersion. I remember passing around a magazine, the German equivalent of Seventeen, as we ignored our grammar instructor.

To my surprise, our German counterparts were offered a two-page, full-color spread featuring the sexual “position of the week,” complete with explanatory photos. The spread was, in a word, eye-opening, and not simply because of the nudity. What impressed me was how the mores for adolescent sexuality in Germany differed from those back home, where the assumption was that teens should be abstinent and should meditate deeply on the meaning and fact of their “virginity.”

Perhaps it goes without saying that Americans are more apt to presume virginity because our levels of religiosity and practiced Christianity are higher than in Western Europe. It’s become a truism to blame our Puritan forebears for our moralizing about sexuality and our discomfort with talking frankly in public about it. Two recent books, though, take up the distinctly American discourse on sexual purity and premarital abstinence among Christian subcultures and complicate that story in interesting and critically important ways.