Baneen Talpur discusses the popular television show and how it conquers sex related stereotypes that have plagued women for generations.
“Hold the flower in your hand Jane,” Jane’s grandma asks her. “Now crush it and bring it back together, you can’t right? This is what happens when you lose your virginity, you CANNOT GO BACK.” Jane is 10 years old when she makes this promise and it ends up affecting how she views sex for the rest of her life.
Jane the Virgin was revolutionary when it came to how women’s sexuality is viewed on television. The show did not portray women as sex objects there purely for the pleasure of men, it depicted the Villanueva women figuring out their sexuality with their own voice. The show shows us some very common yet taboo topics surrounding sex and for a rare time, through a woman’s viewpoint on what sex means to her.
Jane’s promise to her grandma affects how she views sex for the rest of her life. Her promise to stay a virgin until she is married meant that lots of men gave up on relationships with her. There were also elements of catholic guilt as Jane comes from a Catholic family. We learn soon though that it is not entirely her grandma that is the reason behind her decision. Jane’s mother Xiomara is a modern sexually liberated woman who got pregnant with Jane when she was 16 and while Jane knows her mother loves her, she feels she “derailed” her mother’s life and does not want to end up like her. All of that goes down the drain though when Jane gets accidentally artificially inseminated and ends up a pregnant virgin.
The show discusses sex in a very nuanced way. It addresses themes such as shame and how to overcome that, problems associated with it and guilt that women often have to deal with for liking or wanting sex. As the show progresses we see Jane’s sexuality go from fear, denial, temptation, negotiation, acceptance and finally liberation.
We get to see Abuela’s strict views on the matter emerge from her past when she was shamed on her wedding day in 1970s Venezuela by her sister that she had sex outside of marriage. Viewed as a major sin, Abuela was shunned and did not want that for Jane. Abuela’s strict views lead to Xiomara’s rebellion as Xiomara chooses to have sex with whoever she wants guilt-free. She engages in it casually and we see her character as a flirtatious, confident and brave woman who never shies away from the topic.
With her mother and grandma on opposite ends of the spectrum, Jane is stuck somewhere in between. Having lots of desire, romanticizing life and wanting to be loved but also haunted by the promise she made, every encounter that could become sexual turns sour reminding her that she is not married. The show perfectly captures how ingrained the idea of a “pure” woman is in religious culture and how it can affect someone’s sex life for years to come. Even when she finally did get married and could have sex, she was too “in her head” about it because the guilt still haunted her, years later. Many women from all over the world still have to deal with this type of thing where they have been policed their whole life about their sexuality and it takes a lot to overcome that guilt and shame. When Jane loses her virginity she feels like she has lost a part of her identity and faked her orgasm. It takes time for her and discussion with her partner to figure out what she likes in the bedroom. Sex has a huge mental component for many women and so Jane’s journey from being scared about it to being vocal and actively engaging in it is refreshing and liberating to see. Jane’s mother reassures her that she has not lost a part of who she is, she has gained access to a new dimension of herself. The series explores many aspects of desire from women also having sex dreams and enjoying fantasies to sexting and figuring out masturbating. This is seen when Jane who encourages Abuela who has been celibate for over thirty years is worried she may not be able to like sex again, to buy a sex toy. Viewing older people as human beings who are entitled to desire and pleasure was a fresh perspective to see on the show.
The show also should be commended for how it depicts LGBT relationships. The show was not shy in hiding how Jane found it difficult to come to terms with Adam, (her boyfriend at the time) being bisexual and addressed her insecurities being a straight woman who simply cannot give Adam “what a man could”. Adam’s character gave us a realistic insight into being bisexual that bisexual people are simply people who love without seeing gender and that each person that they love is different. Jane’s experimentation with figuring out whether she could like a woman, or another character, Petra, finding out that she is bisexual as an adult (which is also not unusual in real life), was revolutionary on television as we are expected to know who we love earlier in life. Gay relationships on the show are seen as just another relationship, it does not look like many other tv shows where the characters are there just to tick a diversity box, but add real value to the storyline.
The show also tackles difficult subjects such as abortion and getting a mastectomy. Xiomara always enjoyed what her body gave her, such as pleasure and confidence. When we see her get an abortion because she does not want to have kids or her pain when she has to get breast surgery, we get to see how hard it can be for a woman who relishes in her desire and how health issues can come in the way of that.
The show captures the full range of complexity in female sexuality, something that we seldom see on tv. Jane goes from a woman who strictly waits until marriage to have sex, to a woman who is willing to have flings, overcomes the idea that she is too innocent to have it and finds the courage to chase her desires guilt-free. Women can learn a lot from watching the show, women waiting until marriage to have sex is not wrong, it is a choice. Women having lots of casual sex is not wrong, it is a choice. Waiting until marriage does not mean that a woman is a prude, she may just want to find something deeper and that’s her right. Women who have lots of sex are not sluts, they have every right to access pleasure. Lots or none, we live in a hypersexualised society but with no actual realistic discussions about sex. We avoid the topic like the plague and are still riddled with shame instilled in women by the patriarchy. Jane the virgin faces almost every topic related to sex head-on, shame-free. Hats off to them for doing it.