On Jane the Virgin's Beautifully Nuanced Approach to Women's Sexuality

TV Features Jane the Virgin
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On <i>Jane the Virgin</i>'s Beautifully Nuanced Approach to Women's Sexuality

In the third episode of Jane the Virgin’s third season, Jane Gloriana Villanueva finally loses her virginity and it’s… complicated. First of all, if you aren’t already watching Jane the Virgin, get on that—Gina Rodriguez is absolutely luminescent as Jane, a young Latina woman in Miami who gets artificially inseminated by her boss. Despite its glorious telenovela elements (Long lost twin sisters! Murders in a luxury hotel!), Jane the Virgin’s gift is for folding elements of humanity and empathy into these storylines, allowing the show to address serious issues—including the double-edged sword that is women’s sexuality.

In the pilot episode, 10-year-old Jane has a slightly troubling conversation with her grandmother, Alba (Ivonne Coll). Her abuela gives her a flower and tells her to crumple it up. When Jane’s unable to return the flower to its original form, she’s told that it’s symbolic of what happens when she loses her virginity. Yikes.

Fifteen years later, Jane is in a long-term relationship with Detective Michael Cordero (Brett Drier), yet that childhood lesson remains with her. Besides, she desperately doesn’t want to repeat the mistakes of her mother, Xiomara (Andrea Navedo), who had Jane at the age of 16. Jane resolves to remain a virgin until she is married.

In this season’s “Chapter Forty-Seven,” after years of waiting, and after their wedding night is interrupted when Sin Rostro—the crime lord formerly known as Rose, played by the beautiful Bridget Regan—shoots Michael, the couple finally has sex, and it’s underwhelming, at least for Jane. While they’ve done “other things” successfully, Jane fakes her orgasm, and the rest of the episode is devoted to her getting it back, complete with two animated musical numbers. (It’s important to note the distinction Jane makes between sex and “other things,” implying oral sex and related activities: A definition of “sex” that discounts couples who never engage in penetrative sex, but one that’s nonetheless common, especially in the United States.)

But Jane’s lack of orgasm isn’t simply a physical issue; she has a lot of emotional baggage related to the loss of her virginity that needs be addressed before she can truly find pleasure in sex. What’s so notable about her reaction is that she’s instantly slightly discomfited by her loss of virginity, but it takes her a significant amount of time for her to be able to articulate it, which she eventually does to her mother. Jane cries for her virginity, for that horrific flower metaphor, to which Xiomara responds by telling Jane that she hasn’t lost something intrinsic to who she is—she’s gained something new, something with the potential for greatness. Jane is entering a new phase in her life, one of sexual growth, and it’s truly a beautiful thing; Xiomara encourages Jane to revel in it. The end of the episode is marked by an animated sequence in which Jane finally gets her orgasm back because she’s learned to embrace her sexuality as a part of herself and not some strange being.

It isn’t solely Jane’s Miami, however, in which the toxic culture that shames young women operates. Despite the emphasis, in certain quarters, on sex positivity, our society possesses a deeply ingrained sex negativity that is difficult to escape no matter how open-minded we may think ourselves to be.

When I was watching “Chapter Forty-Seven,” I was reminded of when I lost my own virginity, even though it was in a completely different atmosphere than Jane. I’m an immigrant, I’m a woman of color and I’m sure the circumstances in which I had sex were political, in their own way, but when it comes down to it, I was just a 16-year-old girl and I really didn’t think it would be a big deal—I thought I could separate the physical from the emotional. I was under the impression that the only people who thought sex was a big deal were the religious and/or the prudish, and God knows I didn’t want to be a prude; it was second only to being a slut. But I was wrong about myself. I didn’t get out of bed for two days because I felt like a part of me was gone, never to return, and I felt tainted in some way, even though I had done nothing wrong. I wasn’t raised religiously, as Jane was, and yet, because of our purity culture, I was struck with a deep-rooted indignity in what I had done, and it would take years before the shame I felt about having sex—or, more specifically, wanting to have sex—would fade.

I make that distinction because I think it’s worth pointing out that women are allowed to have sex in our society… as long as they do it for the benefit of men. It’s more socially acceptable for a woman to give a blowjob than to receive oral sex; in Hollywood, for instance, a film is far likelier to be rated NC-17 if a woman is shown receiving oral sex than if a woman gives a blowjob. I have numerous female friends who don’t especially enjoy sex but feel obligated to continue doing it because the men in their lives enjoy it.

But the beautiful thing about Jane the Virgin—well, one of many beautiful things—is how it prioritizes the wants and needs of its female characters. Xiomara has an abortion simply because she doesn’t want to have Esteban’s child; Jane stands her ground on remaining a virgin until marriage, and it’s seen as wrong when other characters ridicule or oppose her decision. Even Petra, who’s far more morally ambiguous than Jane, is never shamed for her sexual behavior, because it’s not the fact that she has sex that’s the problem, but rather the circumstances surrounding it.

In a society in which the virgin-whore dichotomy imbues everything women do, we’re expected to have sex—and then the moment we do, we’re subjected to all sorts of denigrating labels and regarded as utterly worthless for that choice. As Alana Massey wrote recently in The Guardian, “Women who opt out of frequent sex or sex entirely are considered repressed, and women who opt in are considered worthy of disrespect.”

And that’s just the rub of things isn’t it? We’re damned if we do it, damned if we don’t, and honestly, I don’t have time for that rhetoric. Throughout “Chapter Forty-Seven,” Jane attempts to characterize her grandmother’s sister, Cecilia, for her novel, and she struggles with it because she can’t help but see her as a one-dimensional sexpot. Eventually, as she gains knowledge about her own sexuality, Jane is able to flesh out Cecilia as a real-life person, complete with idiosyncrasies and nuances and, yes, an active sex life. It doesn’t define Cecilia, just as it doesn’t define Jane, just as it doesn’t define me. It’s simply a part of who we are. Our decisions about our bodies belong deeply to ourselves.

If I could tell every young woman reading this one thing, it would be to prioritize themselves physically, emotionally and sexually. There’s nothing inherently pure and holy about abstaining from sex, but there’s also nothing dirty and corruptive about having it, either. As long as both parties are consenting adults, sex just is. It can be a beautiful method of deepening the emotional connection between two parties, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be. As for our Jane, as shown by the first half of the series’ third season, she’s grown to embrace her burgeoning sexuality with a husband that loves her for who she is. And that, my friends, is the most sex-positive thing of all.

The midseason finale of Jane the Virgin airs tonight at 9 on The CW. Read our weekly coverage of Season Three here.

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