"It's Not You. It's Jesus." How TV Reflects Our Odd Attitude Towards Chastity
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Ever since “90210’s” Donna Martin held on to hers for seven seasons, adult virginity — the state of having it and the act of losing it — has been a recurring plot point on TV dramas, and not just ones set in high school. The rules that apply to virginity in characters of a certain age are more or less the same ones that apply to Chekhov’s famous gun: If it appears in the first season, it will probably go off by the third, or the fourth, or the seventh, just as it did for Donna Martin. There are currently three fictional adults — or two adults and a self-identified “Girl” — grappling with their virginities with varying amounts of shame in big-name TV shows. (Shame-free virginity: not currently a fictional TV offering.)
“Grey’s Anatomy’s” April Kepner (Sarah Drew) just lost her virginity last week, and will be dealing with the fallout in this one, on tonight’s episode. April’s deflowering would have been a happy event — if the show hadn’t used the mind-bending powers of retroactive continuity to suddenly assert that she had been saving herself because of her religious beliefs. At the beginning of last season, the high-strung, cheery Kepner (a common characteristic of TV virgins is a type-A, neurotic personality) yelled at her colleagues, in an effort to quell their merciless teasing, “I am a 28-year-old virgin, namely because I wanted my first time to be special and then I waited too long, and partially because I’m pretty sure guys find me annoying.” She then spent the next year and a half flirting, making out with and never quite sleeping with a series of guys who weren’t right for her, without once mentioning chastity or a higher power.
Then last Thursday, she threw herself on fellow resident Jackson, assuring him — after he kept repeating to her, out loud, “You’re a virgin” — that having sex with him was really what she wanted to do. The next day, she seemed shell-shocked. When Jackson tried to apologize, she explained, “It’s not you. It’s Jesus. I was a virgin because I loved Jesus. And now Jesus hates me.” Ta-dah! April Kepner had been magically transformed from an accidental, circumstantial virgin into a religious one. In the process she’s gotten stuck in a fun house mirror of TV sex-shaming: Having felt ashamed for two seasons about not having had sex, she now gets to feel ashamed for a few more seasons about having had it.
At least “Girls’” Shoshanna Shapiro (the hilarious Zosia Mamet, who I sold short in my original review of “Girls”; having seen the full season, I retract my assertion that she’s the cast’s “weak link”) only has to share the first half of April’s plight. A devotee of “Sex and the City” and books with titles like “Listen Ladies,” the abashed Shoshanna thinks of her virginity as an embarrassment, and her friends, though sweet about it, basically agree. When Shoshanna tells Marnie (Allison Williams) that “I am almost 22 and I am a virgin. Everyone and their mother has had sex except for me,” Marnie doesn’t quite know what to say. She tries to comfort Shoshanna by asking if she’s ever given a blow job, which is “basically the same thing.” Shoshanna hasn’t. Marnie, at a loss, then shares a story about how she hit a puppy with her car. Puppy killer and virgin, semi-equivalent mortifications.
Despite interactions like these, the implacable Shoshanna doesn’t consider lying about her sexual status. On this Sunday’s episode she hits it off with a guy, brings him home, gets in bed with him, and in a perfectly typical “Girls” sex scene — a woman contorting herself in all sorts of emotional and physical positions to have sex she probably won’t even enjoy — tells him she’s never had sex before. “That’s not really my thing, virgins,” the guy replies, not that nicely. “OK, except for the fact that I haven’t had sex, I’m totally not a virgin,” Shoshanna fast-talks. “I’m like the least virgin-y virgin ever.” The guy doesn’t buy it, and though he is presented as a jerk, the message is clear: Her virginity is just as awkward as Shoshanna thinks it is.