Jane the Virgin Has Sex and Then Doesn’t Talk About It
by Teal Christensen
At the end of the second season of Jane the Virgin, Jane Villanueva finally marries her longterm sweetheart, Michael Cordero. While this would be, for obvious reasons, a very significant moment in Jane’s life, it would also be a very significant moment in my life. Finally, I would see how this show that has rooted itself so deeply into my heart addresses the big, complicated thing that is Jane’s sexuality.
Before I get into a totally acceptable amount of detail about this episode’s plot and my personal thoughts and feelings about it, let me explain some of the things I was hoping the writers would do with this very important moment. First, I wanted Jane to continue to think of the first time she has sex as a monumental thing—that’s pretty integral to her character at this point. However, I also wanted the first time Jane has sex to be rather less than monumental. I wanted them to continue writing Michael as very thoughtful and considerate and just generally not caught up in his own masculinity. And last, but definitely not least, I wanted them to cautiously and realistically address how Jane’s personal decisions about sex and marriage, while valid in a vacuum, do perpetuate harmful notions about purity and women’s sexuality in general.
To be fair, I will concede that The Episode, Chapter 47, ultimately addressed (if not to the extent I would have liked) most of my concerns. Unfortunately, it also called into question a pretty dangerous idea about the nature of intimacy and communication.
For those who haven’t been following along, the reason why Jane and Michael’s first time happens in this episode, the third of the season, rather than the night of their wedding is because, in true telenovela style, Michael is shot and severely injured mere hours after getting married. The recovery process is slow and the couple have other things on their minds until Michael’s doctor unexpectedly clears him to resume all “normal activity” two weeks ahead of schedule. Their family gets unknowingly and obnoxiously in the way for a few hours, but the two finally have sex for the first time that same night. After, it’s pretty clear that something isn’t quite right with Jane, but it isn’t until she reveals to Lena, her best friend, that she faked her orgasm that we find out exactly what was wrong. Jane explains that she wanted everything to feel perfect to Michael and couldn’t think of what else to do in the moment. Against Lena’s better judgement, Jane ends up telling Michael what happened and they try again, unfortunately to no avail. Their pillowtalk conversation concludes with Michael asking Jane to keep from telling anyone the details of the problems they’re having.
This is where I see the major problem of the episode. Up until this point, details of her romantic and sexual encounters have been something Jane has easily shared with her mom, Xo, and Lena. She has never been particularly private about this part of her life and has often relied on her mom and friend’s insight when dealing with complications. Out of nowhere, Michael is asking her to depend entirely on him, someone who’s experience with sex and sexuality is so completely different than hers, to deal with a problem she has no obvious intention of taking lightly. Not only does this request cross a line in terms of Jane’s relationship with her mother, a relationship that has been so influential in her life, but it also crosses a line in terms of open communication and sex positivity.
Our culture is undeniably transforming in a way that subverts heteropatriarchy and celebrates feminine values. Sex positivity is born out of this shift and, therefore, depends integrally on feminine notions of communication, which encourage conversation that is intentional and empathic. For sex positivity to work, this sort of conversation has to take place both between partners and also just between people who are interested in talking about sex with each other. Because of how ignored, repressed, and systematically oppressed women’s sexualities have historically been, it is arguably even more important for this sort of communication to take place within the safe space that is women-only conversation. By talking explicitly about sex with other women, we are able to navigate territory that our stories have previously left unaddressed. We’re able to talk about physical and emotional safety and find the sort of affirmation that does not yet exist in other places. We can lessen the taboo, increase overall safety and comfort, and normalize less-than-movie-magical experiences. It’s vital solidarity that inter-woman conversations about sex provide and Michael’s request ultimately keeps Jane from that.
Despite how harmful it has the potential to be, I can imagine real situations in which it would have been realistic for Michael to make this sort of request of Jane. After all, despite our our highest hopes, he is not untouched by the patriarchy and his pride, of course, is of everyone’s utmost concern. Jane the Virgin is such a feminist, women-driven show, though, and while I can allow the men these occasional moments of weakness, I am disappointed that it was not simply a creative decision, an intentional learning-moment sort of patriarchal lapse that was resolved once one of the show’s many women characters recognizes how potentially harmful that sort of stipulation truly is. After all, the women on this show already talk about sex. To stop that, for any reason, but especially to protect the pride of someone they all genuinely respect and care about, is technically oppressive, and yet it’s passed off in the episode as a normal part of healthy sexual relationships.
The episode ends with Jane and Michael talking about their first time and about what went well and what didn’t and then having sex again and it going just swimmingly. It is a reasonable and healthy solution to their problem. But still, no one, not even Xo, who is such an important source of information for Jane and one of the most sex-positive characters on the show, comes close to questioning the validity of Michael’s request for secrecy.
It’s very possible that the writers of Jane the Virgin are not intentionally trying to let me down and, instead, intend to return to this warped notion of intimacy in a later episode and address it head on. Maybe, someday, Jane herself will address how uncomfortable the request originally made her and how important talking about sex with other women has since become in maintaining a healthy sexual relationship with Michael. After all, a girl (me) can dream (about T.V. shows that perpetuate realistic and healthy ideas about sex).