-- Is a woman's virginity worth $3.8 million? That's how much a 22-year-old from San Diego, California, said she has been offered through an auction she announced in September.
The woman, who goes by "Natalie Dylan," set up a private auction through the Moonlite Bunny Ranch, a legal brothel in Nevada. The auction has given her lots of "business opportunities," she said.
Her top bid comes from a 39-year-old Australian, but she has no immediate plans to settle the auction, she said in a recent interview with CNN.
Some men may seek virgins because they want them as trophies, or desire purity. But as to why men would bid so much money on virginity, she said she has no answer.
"I honestly don't know what they see in it," she said.
If you think Dylan's auction amounts to prostitution, she completely agrees. She also said she's not breaking any laws -- after all, prostitution in Nevada is legal.
"I feel people should be pro-choice with their body, and I'm not hurting anyone," she said. "It really comes down to a moral and religious argument, and this doesn't go against my religion or my morals. There's no right or wrong to this."
The idea that virginity has a high value harkens back to the days of early humans -- if a man has sex with a virgin woman, he knows for sure that her children will be his, anthropologists reason. In early civilizations, women were also considered the property of men, said Laura Carpenter, assistant professor of sociology at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee.
Through the 1950s in America, women were expected to remain virgins until marriage, Carpenter said. But with the availability of the pill and the IUD in the 1960s, combined with youth counterculture and gay rights movements, it became more common for women to engage in premarital sex, she said.
Attitudes shifted toward the conservative side in the 1980s with the worldwide HIV/AIDS pandemic, which made the stakes much higher for choosing a sex partner, especially for men. Abstinence-based education programs also took off around that time, with government support, she said.
Today, about 95 percent of Americans have sex before they're 25, Carpenter said. But worldwide, virgin prostitutes can claim larger fees, certain cultures still attach larger dowries to virgin brides, and some women undergo reconstructive surgery to restore their hymens.
In looking at Dylan's auction, "To some extent it's not new. The new part is the Internet," Carpenter said.
Dylan is not the first to hold a public sale for her sexual innocence. An Italian model reportedly had plans to sell her virginity for more than $1 million in September. Dylan said she was inspired by a report of a Peruvian woman who put her virginity up for sale.
Some think Dylan's auction may be indicative of a shift in the way society treats sexuality.
"In a world that is teeming with brand messages, with sponsorships everywhere, intimacy is really just the next thing to go," said Jon Ray, a 24-year-old marketing consultant in Austin, Texas, and author of the blog Who is Jon Ray?
Brett Austin Vanderzee, a 19-year-old student at Oklahoma Christian University who has pledged to stay a virgin until marriage, finds Dylan's actions somewhat appalling, but not shocking.
"It's kind of crazy, but I think it's the general direction that society has been heading in for a while," he said. "We're becoming more accepting of things that normally would have been considered unwise."
Kiara Daines, a 17-year-old from Detroit, Michigan, said she's saving herself until marriage for personal and religious reasons. Both Vanderzee and Daines said they have endured teasing from their peers because of their choice to remain abstinent.
Others say there's just too much hype around virginity. Martha Kempner, vice president for information and communications for the nonprofit Sexuality Information and Education Council of the U.S., said telling a young woman to stay"pure" misses the point that sexuality
will influence her long after she loses her virginity.
"By putting the emphasis there, [on virginity], we're actually devaluing the rest of women, the rest of her, and the rest of her sexuality for the rest of her life," she said.
A recent study in the journal Pediatrics showed that religious teens who take virginity pledges are as likely to have sex before marriage as their religious peers, and less likely to use condoms or birth control when they become sexually active.
Many people say losing one's virginity has different implications for men than women. While young women see the act as a symbolic giving of themselves, young men are more prone to want to get it over with and brag about it. Similarly, says Kempner, women are taught to keep themselves "pure" and help men exercise control, while there's a "boys will be boys" attitude around men.
Do men really think that virginity is worth millions of dollars?
Audacia Ray, a 28-year-old former sex worker from New York and author of "Naked on the Internet: Hookups, Downloads and Cashing In on Internet Sexploration," is skeptical. She views Dylan's auction as a publicity stunt and doesn't anticipate she'll "continue in the industry."
The importance of a woman's virginity may vary in different cultures, but generally there's not the high value there used to be, Ray said.
"It begins to be viewed more as a burden over time -- a burden in that losing virginity is an event, so that it has to somehow mean something, which is part of the reason why people are all up in arms about Natalie," she said.
How do Dylan's friends and family feel? Dylan, who said she was raised in a conservative, non-Christian religious household, said although her mother doesn't agree with her, she still loves her as a daughter. Generally people have been supportive, Dylan said.
"I've talked with my exes, some different guys, and they understand it's just a business deal, and they know me, and they know I'm not this promiscuous girl.
Honestly, even if I didn't do this, I'd always be the girl who thinks prostitution is OK," she said. "I would always want to find a partner that can accept me for me." What is virginity worth today? - CNN.com