*This article was originally published on Urban Cusp.
When was the last time you saw a fictional TV character actively trying to remain celibate until marriage? The only example that comes to my mind is April Kepner (Sarah Drew) from Grey’s Anatomy. Until the end of Season 8, she was the typical “uptight virgin” who didn’t know how to loosen up. That is until she broke her vow and slept with Jackson (Jesse Williams) the night before her board exam. After the steamy “Moment of Truth” episode, she showed signs of remorse, thinking that God was mad at her. After admitting how much she enjoyed it, however, she continued to have unapologetic sex with Jackson, even after “re-virginizing” herself.
When it comes to topics of celibacy and abstinence, there aren’t many television shows to choose from. We’ve seen countless story lines involving passionate sex, emotional attachments, love triangles, and the occasional unplanned pregnancy or STD that follows. The only time that celibacy is portrayed on screen seems to be when it’s the butt of a joke. While I understand that most of America no longer ascribes to this dated lifestyle, these depictions are typically offensive and discouraging to viewers who do.
Despite the widespread belief that abstinence is an unrealistic, archaic practice, many believers from various religions have made very real and intentional commitments to God regarding their sex lives. It is for this reason that I was both thrilled and terrified when I heard about the CW’s new comedy, Jane the Virgin. After watching the trailer, I immediately assumed that the show would be yet another mockery of virginity and accidental pregnancies, a topic that I do not take lightly. Thankfully, I was dead wrong.
At a first glance, the premise seems like a melodramatic joke, and it is. Based on a Venezuelan telenovela, the show is about a virgin girl, Jane, who is accidentally inseminated with her boss’ sperm. Due to her moral convictions and the fact that this is her boss’ last chance to have a child, Jane decides to keep the baby. Needless to say, drama and hilarity ensue.
Surprisingly, the most normal aspect of the show is that Jane is waiting until marriage to have sex. And not only is she waiting; her boyfriend-turned fiancé, Michael (Brett Dier), fully respects her decision, never pressuring her to do anything against her will. He even encourages her to maintain her vow in moments of weakness, which is virtually unheard of on television, let alone in real life. Even more impressive is the way that Jane’s pledge to purity is introduced. Through a series of hilarious and problematic flashbacks, we learn that her decision to abstain from sex—which she made as a young girl, long before the age of enlightenment—is more for her grandmother than it is for God, a tension that intensifies as the plot unfolds.
Jane the Virgin raises key questions about the notion of purity, pre-mature abstinence pledges, and the agency that many young women yield to their elders in the process. It forces viewers, particularly those upholding similar vows, to consider why they’re holding out in the first place. Most importantly, the show addresses the role that religion plays in both motivating and shaming women to believe that their worth is determined by their V-Card, an unbiblical notion that has caused many people to resent God or leave the church all together. The show critiques these practices in a remarkably respectful way, however, by reflecting these views through well-developed characters.
Each character either in support of or in opposition to Jane’s commitment is flawed and funny enough to sympathize with. For example, though many may not agree with most of what Jane’s grandmother has to say regarding Jane’s sex life, viewers can at least understand where she’s coming from once provided with context. Instead of trying to romanticize celibacy—a feat that Christian media has failed to accomplish—Jane the Virgin displays the many complications that arise and draws attention to the fact that bad things happen to “good” people, prompting viewers to consider whether their life decisions are rooted in love for God or in fear of the consequences.
In a world that is becoming aggressively more progressive, shows like this remind us that abstinence is one of many respectable ways of life, and that choosing to abstain from sex doesn’t make you a self-righteous prude. Contrary to popular belief, virgins can be desirable, fierce, and in tune with their sexuality. Jane the Virgin successfully balances comedy and culture to make for an extreme, but enjoyable and oddly believable viewing experience. I highly recommend it to everyone in search of a fresh comedy that tackles the complexities of faith and sexuality.
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