Welcome Back, 'Jane the Virgin': Let's Talk Virginity on TV
A look at recent depictions of virginity (and devirginization) on television.
Jane the Virgin returns to small screens everywhere on October 12th for its’ second season on The CW. Rejoice! To celebrate its return, I took a look at some of TV’s most recent fictional virgins, the ranks of which Jane Villanueva (played by the fantastic Gina Rodriguez) joined when Jane the Virgin debuted as one of the smartest and funniest new shows of the 2014-2015 television season.
Virginity — more often that not, a woman’s virginity — has been a Topic of Discussion since the dawn of time (a scientific estimation), whether in arranged marriage negotiations, religious sermons, slumber party gossip sessions, movies about high school, etc. Representations of virginity in pop culture vary — and you may not agree with all of them (I know I don’t think they’re all perfect by my liberal, non-religious, feminist standards). And you may recognize that virginity as we think of it (largely heteronormative, etc) is pretty outdated. Even so, “virginity” is still a prevalent idea in our society and that extends, of course, to television.
So how do some of today’s biggest TV hits handle virginity — and/or devirginization? Let’s check it out.
A note: defining devirginization is tough, one of the reasons Everyday Feminism calls for the eradication of this “virginity” concept, but here I’m working with the somewhat broad definition of “has sex for the first time.” This sex does not necessarily include penetration (which excludes female-female sexual relationships).
Another note: I would be remiss in publishing this article without addressing the gender issues that persist in our culture’s treatment of virginity. Female virgins are often praised for their purity (and on the flip side, called “tease” and “prude” when they won’t put out), while male virgins are typically mocked for being lame and unmanly. These reactions are, quite simply, bullshit.
Jane Villanueva, Jane the Virgin
Jane’s a virgin. A pregnant virgin. Thanks to an accidental insemination, Jane (the virgin) got pregnant and this show’s very catchy elevator pitch was born. Jane is a virgin at 23 thanks to a creatively terrifying lesson/metaphor from her abuela in her youth, her Catholic upbringing, and a desire to not follow in her mother’s footsteps (pregnant at 16).
As of the end of last season, Jane is still a virgin, and since her virginity is one of the show's main plot points, it is oft-discussed and sometimes sensationalized. Some people (her mother) think it’s silly for her to wait for marriage but respect her choice, some (Rafael) are initially shocked but again, respect her choice, and others (her abuela) remain thrilled that Jane has protected her precious flower — and yeah, there’s an actual flower involved.
This show is so good and I can’t wait for it to return in October.
The Liars, Pretty Little Liars
Each one of the four main girls on Pretty Little Liars lost her virginity in different situations — one involved camping in the woods and one involved a high school English teacher, for starters — but the thing they all have in common is that each girl was ready to move their respective relationships to the next level. These girls have agency, 'A' be damned.
From the second episode of the show’s first season, Hanna was ready to have sex, but ultimately it was Emily who did the deed first. The show never explicitly confirmed that Em and Maya had sex in Spencer’s bedroom before Maya left for rehab camp, but in TV language, an abundance of lit candles scattered artfully all over a room signal sexy-time for sure.
One interesting aspect of PLL’s virginity loss depictions is that all the girls except Emily lost it to a guy whose motives would later be questioned — but not in the typical “does he like me/is he using me for sex” way you often see on TV. Rather, these guys all became #1 suspects in the “is he stalking and trying to hurt me and my friends/is he 'A'/is he working with 'A'” game that's at PLL’s core. Chalk these situations up as more evidence for the “PLL teaches teenage girls they cannot trust males” thesis.
P.S. In case you’re wondering, I fall squarely in the anti-Ezria camp. Their sexual relationship is illegal and he knew it when they met, y’all. Because he was an undercover investigatory journalist researching Aria and her friends.
Nearly everyone, Awkward.
Most of the characters on MTV’s Awkward. are virgins — or were when the show started — which makes sense, since the show is set in high school, a time when you’re just starting to explore your sexuality and your sexual urges.
Jenna Hamilton, the show’s protagonist, first had sex with the popular Matty McKibben in a storage closet. The results here were mixed: Jenna and Matty embarked upon a secret hook-up relationship that made her mostly unhappy, but Jenna also became comfortable with her sexuality and started to own her own desires. But, as evidenced by her fling with Collin, she also learned to use sex as a tool to keep a guy around, which is not really the healthiest outlook.
Jake Rosati wanted his first time to be special, which involved him decorating the back of his van with a lot of pillows. When he and Tamara ultimately swiped each other’s v-cards, it was...not great. For her. Unfortunately: accurate. Awkward. consistently puts forth a refreshing — and pretty realistic, in some ways — portrayal of teenage sexuality.
Shosh, the often hilarious, somehow both naive and wise, gal on HBO’s Girls was a virgin for most of the first season of the show, before having sex with Ray in the season finale. She followed her urges in the moment and just...did it. And though she was anti-Ray for a little while afterwards, she ultimately realized she liked him and they dated for a bit. All in all, a pretty non-sensationalized depiction of virginity loss on television.
April Kepner, Grey’s Anatomy
Dr. April Kepner, the farm-girl-turned-surgeon on Grey’s Anatomy, was waiting until marriage to have sex due to her religious beliefs. However, she and her best friend Jackson had sex the night before their stress-inducing medical board exams. I mean, have you seen Jackson? A girl would have to be a saint, is all I’m saying. April freaked out, shaken to the core and upset with herself for having given up on something that had held her devotion for so long. Later, she recommitted to waiting for marriage to have sex again, and then eventually married Jackson. Kepner stayed true to herself through it all, and A+ for that.
Jon Snow, Game of Thrones
Jon Snow was one incredibly sexy virgin, I gotta say (and one of the guys bucking the “dudes get teased for being virgins” trend, possibly because he never went to high school). And apparently Jon Snow was one of those virgins who knows exactly what to do when having sex for the first time, to the pleasure of his partner, Ygritte. Those totally exist, right? In the world of Game of Thrones, yes. Ygritte was mighty pleased, and good for her. Good for him. If only they’d stayed in that cave forever…
There are quite a few — and more than just these I’ve detailed above — representations of virginity and devirginization on television, and variety is the spice of life. Sex education in schools and communities is vital, and so are diverse depictions of sex and sexuality in TV, movies, and books. Be sure to tune in to the shows above, and Jane the Virgin on 10/12, to see how these characters' sexual journeys continue.