This post contains spoilers for "Chapter 47" of Jane the Virgin.
Nothing in Jane Gloriana Villanueva's life comes easily. Despite being a motivated student, a loving daughter, and a pretty fun friend, her life is a series of bad news popping up just as good news is supposed to be arriving. Jane the Virgin started, for instance, with her being accidentally artificially inseminated with the sperm of stranger and then (because of her religious and moral beliefs) choosing to have that man's baby despite being a virgin.
That decision, and the absurdity of a pregnant virgin, is what the show built Jane's character around. How would she handle it? What decision would she make? How would it affect her relationships, and her life, and her goals? Though Jane the Virgin is a comedy, it has never treated Jane's problems and experiences with anything less than the utmost sincerity.
Last night's episode, "Chapter 47," crossed out the two words after Jane's first name in the title. After two seasons of getting pregnant, having a baby, enrolling in an MFA program, dating three different men, and getting married, Jane couldn't remain a virgin any longer. Before the episode aired, Gina Rodriguez (who plays Jane) tweeted:
For two seasons and three episodes, the hype over Jane losing her virginity has been building. Virginity is a gendered concept, being something that pretty much only women are shamed for losing or begged to keep sacred. But it's the phrasing the show uses, and Jane identifies herself as a virgin, so it's the term we'll use. From the very first episode of the series, the question of what "virginity" should mean and to whom has hung heavy over every episode. In flashbacks we see Alma, Jane's grandmother, hand her a flower and tells her to crush it in her hands. When young Jane does, the grandmother tells her that the flower represents her virginity—that once she has sex, she can never be repaired, she will be ruined.
It's the kind of guilt-based persuasion used on young girls (but notably never young boys) throughout religious communities around the world. Rarely have television shows given the conversations between women around sex the kind of time and publicity that Jane the Virgin has. But even more rarely has any form of media shown how those kinds of conversations can taint the way women have sex later on in their relationships.
At age 16, being a virgin is often more a cause of circumstance and opportunity than actual choice. But Jane has never been a floundering teenager in this show. At the beginning of the series, she was 24 years old.
Jane's virginity has always been a choice, based on her own moral and religious code. She had several serious boyfriends she could have easily had sex with, but—like many women who carry religious beliefs close to their hearts—she wanted to wait until marriage, and she did.
When a character has sex for the first time on screen, the repercussions—if there are any—are generally around the woman's sexual status in a group. But Jane Villanueva isn't a teenager. She's a 26-year-old married woman with a child when she has sex.
“The show’s never been about Jane’s virginity. It’s been about Jane," Jennie Snyder Urman told Deadline last year. And it's that mindset that allowed Jane the Virgin to do something truly revolutionary.
In last night's episode, Jane and Michael have sex less than 15 minutes into the episode. This is primetime television, so nothing is shown. The screen is overlaid with a cute cartoon graphic. As the scene comes to an end Michael's voice can be heard saying, "Wow. You and me finishing at the same time. How do you feel?"
And from my couch, I laughed. To give Jane a perfect sexual experience on her first try seemed so unrealistic that it felt like a letdown. But when Jane's facial expression appeared back on screen, it told a different story. Jane says, "Good. I feel good. Thirsty though," and excuses herself to get some water.
Later—after a somewhat strange plot twist where she emails an accidental video of their first time to her professor—Jane confesses to her best friend that she faked it, she faked the orgasm because "I could tell he was about to finish and he was trying not to, and I knew it was going to take me a while."
In that one line, Jane the Virgin proves just how revolutionary it really is. It's already rare for anyone to discuss women's pleasure and lack of it, but to do it within the confines of a marriage between high school sweethearts is unheard of. It shows not only that Jane deeply wants to please and love her husband, but also that women are sometimes willing to do that to the detriment of their own enjoyment.
When asked about the show's political and social mission by Deadline, Snyder Urman said, "The hope is that by making a personal connection it just changes the politics and we start to think about the people behind it." In this episode, the politics center not on abortion or immigration, as they have previously, but on how women relate to their bodies and sex lives.
And in this episode that is supposed to be such a joyous release for Jane, Jane the Virgin instead hands us back all the guilt and the shame and complication that stands between women who have been shamed for sex, and their enjoyment of it. "I feel weird, like I lost something," Jane confesses to her mother, "Like part of my identity."
And she certainly did. For Jane Villanueva, her virginity was a huge part of how she self-identified, and certainly how the show identified her. Jane might not be a virgin anymore, but she's still what carries this show. What makes Jane the Virgin so great is that it knows better than to strip away a part of someone's identity and pretend like nothing happened.
Kelsey McKinney is a culture staff writer for Fusion.