‘Jane the Virgin’ Goes All the Way with Sensitivity — and Pleasure for Everyone


Last week’s episode of Jane the Virgin gave viewers the moment we’d been waiting for since the series premiered in 2014. Our plucky heroine Jane (Gina Rodriguez) finally had sex, and it was everything a fan of this warm, ebullient, and remarkably grounded show could hope for. As Jane is all too aware, patience is a virtue.

Jane’s first time was perfectly in keeping with the spirit of the show, and the way the writers worked it into the series was also a perfect metaphor for the act itself. After an impossible amount of buildup, she ends up losing it in a completely ordinary way: In her childhood bed, while her mother and grandmother are briefly out, with her longtime boyfriend and now husband, Michael (Brett Dier).

When it’s over — the show glosses over the act itself with a cheeky animated sequence — Jane goes to the kitchen to get a glass of water and looks at her reflection in the window above the sink. She doesn’t look any different. She goes back to the bedroom, where Michael has fallen asleep (welcome to married life, Jane!), and emails an assignment to her college professor. Life goes on.

Of course, it turns out Jane accidentally pressed “record” on her computer’s webcam right before getting down to business and mistakenly sent her professor a sex tape instead of a book proposal — this show is based on a telenovela, after all. But the episode highlighted Jane the Virgin’s savviest feat, and one of its most valuable qualities: It’s one of few current series that manages to effectively speak to both adult and adolescent viewers.

The show announced its intentions to appeal to viewers of all ages right from the get go, by exploring not only Jane’s story but also that of her mother, Xiomara (Andrea Navedo), and grandmother, Alba (Ivonne Coll). Some of the most significant lessons Jane has learned have come from the realization that the women she looks up to have not always done things by the book. (On the eve of Jane’s wedding, Alba admits that she was not a virgin when she got married, despite her insistence that Jane’s “flower” remain intact until marriage.)

And since Xiomara had Jane when she was a teenager, she has grown up alongside her daughter, a dynamic that recalls the singular relationship between the mother-daughter duo at the center of Gilmore Girls. For all the inevitable GG backlash prompted by its upcoming resurrection by Netflix — ugh, white women eating Pop-Tarts in small-town Connecticut, who cares — the show doesn’t get enough credit for its pioneering depiction of the relationship between a young single mother and her daughter. Like Rory and Lorelai (Alexis Bledel and Lauren Graham), Jane and Xiomara’s parallel storylines offer something different for viewers of varying ages.

But Jane the Virgin’s greatest feat in double-speak comes from the character of Jane herself, whose unique situation allows the series to be explicit about sex without veering too far into “adult” territory. The show’s delightfully absurd premise — a 23-year-old virgin gets knocked up via accidental artificial insemination — leaves it free to explore the sensitive terrain of losing one’s virginity without the kind of moral panic that can easily attend stories of teenage sexuality. According to the CDC, the average age American men and women lose their virginity is 17. Jane is already well into her twenties when she has sex for the first time — and she’s already given birth, for chrissake — which makes it a lot less icky to watch her and Michael get the hang of it.

The episode gives viewers a window onto Jane and Michael’s sex life that has thus far remained pretty firmly shut. Jane admits she faked her orgasm during their first time, so for the second try, they attempt some foreplay. We see Michael go down on Jane (well, we see the top half of her body and figure out what’s going on below), something he mentions they’ve done before. But during the show’s first two seasons, there’s no hint of this kind of non-penetrative sex between Jane and Michael; when we first see them in the show’s pilot episode, they’re making out on Jane’s bed, but she stops them before any items of clothing come off. It’s understood that they’ve done some “other stuff,” but no specifics were given — until now.

The show’s long game regarding sex appears to encourage healthy sexual relationships among young viewers. Only once we’re comfortable with these characters and feel that we know them intimately does Jane the Virgin peel the curtain back on their sex lives. By plotting Jane’s sexual maturity slowly and patiently, the show manifests one of its central messages — that sex is great when it’s with someone you love and trust, and that’s it’s not something you need to rush into. And rather than simply delivering platitudes about intimacy, the show tackled something far trickier by focusing on Jane’s pleasure — or lack thereof — and how to communicate what you want from your partner in bed.

The show’s premise may sound nutty on paper, but in practice it gives the show the freedom to speak in several registers at once.That’s particularly exciting at a time when so many of the most popular and critically acclaimed TV shows are meant to appeal to smaller, niche audiences. Jane, one of TV’s biggest current hits, recalls a time not so long ago when a show had to appeal to everyone, because there just weren’t nearly as many choices — or as many screens on which to watch them in any given home.

If the rabid online reaction of every new development on Westworld is any indication, viewers are still hungry for communion in this fractured, schizophrenic television landscape. Jane the Virgin demonstrates how a single show can appeal to a wide swath of disparate viewers who might hold very different values. Now that’s a show that can heal this fractured country! No pressure, Jane.