BACKGROUND: Nationally, African American (AA) girls aged 15 to 19 have the highest incidence of Chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis compared to White and Hispanic girls of the same age group. To address this STI epidemic, it is imperative to target AA girls during early adolescence and before sexual debut. According to the 2011 National Youth Risk Behavior Survey, approximately 7% of AA girls initiate sex prior to age 13. The purpose of this descriptive, qualitative study was to explore AA girls', aged 12 to 14, perceptions about virginity and relationships and how those perceptions influence their decisions to engage in or abstain from sexual activity. METHODS: A convenience sample of 64 participants was recruited through community-based organizations in Alabama. Data were collected using individual interviews and focus groups. Individual interview focused on (1) values and beliefs about being a virgin, (2) choosing boyfriends, and (3) perceptions about good and bad relationships. Focus groups were held to validate findings from interviews. Verbatim transcripts of audiotapes, observation notes, and demographic data were primary data for analysis. Content analysis was used in analysis and interpretation of qualitative data to formulate meaningful categories, themes, and patterns. The qualitative research software, QSR N-Vivo®, was used to code and sort data into categories. The SPSS statistical software was used to conduct descriptive analyses to describe the study sample. RESULTS: Mean age of study sample was 12.9 years. Out of 64participants, 5 reported having engaged in sexual activity. Mean age of sexual debut was 13 years. Common themes that emerged included: respecting myself, ideal boyfriend, characteristics of a romantic relationship. CONCLUSIONS: Findings from this study suggest STI prevention programs should build upon the values related to virginity to promote delaying sexual activity. Furthermore, findings suggest the need for education about healthy relationships.