What “Jane the Virgin” Gets Right About Abstinence

THE CW
THE CW

Christians tend to take the subject of virginity very seriously. So it’s a little weird to admit that The CW’s new show Jane the Virgin—based on a Spanish telenovela with a ridiculous premise (we’ll get to that later)—might be one of the best depictions of a life of abstinence I’ve seen in modern pop culture.

On first take, even the title is a groaner. Great. Another fictional character defined by what sexual “club” she’s in. Beyond TV, our culture loves to label and lump together anyone brave enough to admit their virginity, as if having that in common makes Tim Tebow and Lolo Jones basically the same person.

In Hollywood, virginity usually gets played for laughs; infamous examples range from The 40-Year-Old Virgin to American Pie. Or it’s a romantic obstacle, as on Nashville (last season’s flat guest character Sean Butler) or Grey’s Anatomy (April Kepner, who almost everyone disliked before she decamped from virgin territory). Virginity is almost invariably portrayed as an abnormality, even though the percentage of people not having sex in our society is actually growing.

Jane’s virginity is sometimes an obstacle, too, and no doubt will be the show’s biggest dilemma when it comes to her long-term character arc. In flashbacks, she struggles over whether or not to tell boyfriends that she’s “waiting.” And now, her reasons for staying a virgin remain the heart of the show and definitive to her character, rather than interesting secondary complications to the plot.

The motives for adult virginity often get overlooked in pop culture; perhaps it’s because they defy the social expectation (and reality) that most people will become sexually active before marriage, or perhaps it’s because virgins often struggle to find the words to explain something we’re self-conscious about. Discussions of virginity often rely on jargon-y defaults like “saving myself for marriage” or “because I’m a Christian.” When abstinent adults can’t offer a compelling explanation for why, at some point we’re going to have a hard time with the why not. No wonder most surveys indicate high numbers of self-defined Christians are having premarital sex.

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SOURCE: Christianity Today
Alicia Cohn

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