La Virgen de Oklahoma: Jane the Virgin and Flashbacks to Abstinence-Only Education in Biology Class

Jane the Virgin

I thought about staying a virgin until marriage when I was thirteen years old because I started attending a Baptist church with my best friend. She was almost two years older than me so, I figured she was wiser and she seemed very certain about remaining chaste. Sexuality, in general, was very confusing for me. For one, I didn’t want to think about sexuality. I felt trapped in a body that was not growing into itself, I felt ashamed to be in my body because of the trauma encrypted into my body at the hands of a grown man when I was a child. I was afraid that being touched meant giving away a part of myself that I could never get back. Being a virgin and “saving yourself” was a conversation I heard in church a lot. It was always about being pure for your future husband and once he gave you a diamond ring and proposed, on your wedding night, you could give him your version of a diamond ring. The both of you could stop dry humping in front of God and get to real life intercourse as God applauds at your ability to wait.

Growing up with Spanish television channels, I was exposed to the outrageous and magnificent world of Telenovelas. From Dos Mujeres Un Camino, to Maria la del Barrio, to the most recent,  Teresa. These stories spoke to me because I love drama, especially ridiculous, intricate, interwoven drama with at times predictable tropes but an impeccable amount of tension to balance it all out. I started watching Jane the Virgin because the plot line sounded like the beginning of a Telenovela. Jane is a woman who is choosing to save her virginity until marriage, but a mix-up and major mistake made by her OB/GYN (accidental artificial insemination) causes Jane to end up pregnant.

Jane Villanueva as a child

Jane as a child with a list of her favorite things in the world

I was interested in seeing how Jane Gloriana Villanueva navigated in the world. I was interested in Jane as a character. Choosing to remain a virgin until marriage is just one of her principles and something she goes back and forth between after she gives birth. Jane has full agency of her body. She is multifaceted and flawed. She is funny and imaginative and there are a lot of dreamy people around her. A standard Telenovela trope is the love triangle and Jane is caught in between having feelings for two people. She is also a part of a loving family. She lives with her mother and Abuela (grandmother). Both of them are very supportive of the decisions Jane makes for herself whether they agree with her or not. Jane’s mother and Abuela aren’t afraid to talk about the uncomfortable. The Villanueva family is open to listening to each other and empathizing with one another.

Virginity Pledge

Virginity Pledge

As a child, Jane attended Catholic school and sex education meant abstinence-only education. When having the conversation about sex with her abuela, Jane’s abuela used the analogy of a flower equating to virginity in order to warn Jane of what happens when the flower gets crumpled up. Once your flower is crumpled, you can never get it back to how it was originally. Abuela warned Jane, her virginity was like this, she could never go back after losing it. These particular scenes reminded me of being a junior in my high school biology class in Oklahoma. A Sunday school teacher from the Baptist church I was attending less and less, dropped in to talk about sex. She handed us all a sheet of paper with a plea to sign it. She wanted us to make a commitment to save ourselves. She told us “true love waits.” She dug into her suitcase and cut a long piece of packing tape from its roll. She asked for a girl and a boy to volunteer. The Sunday school teacher (SST) took the piece of tape and proudly shouted and pointed at the female volunteer and then the piece of tape, “THIS is your virginity.” She took the piece of tape and stuck it onto the boy volunteer. The SST then ripped the tape off of the boy’s arm and announced, “Look at the tape! It is cloudy and no longer clear.” Then SST asked for another male volunteer, and then another and continued to run the tape along the arms of boys in class. “If you don’t save your virginity, you will be like this piece of tape, you cannot stick to your soulmate, and you are not complete.” The same girl stood in front of the class the entire time as the teacher showed her the horror of being a piece of tape.

I remember this lesson changed how I viewed myself and my body (thanks, SST!) I knew for sure, I wasn’t an object or a receptacle with a magical jewel in between my legs. I knew I was not completely over my traumas as a child and a brown girl. At fifteen, I was assaulted by three white boys who wanted to see what my nipples and my crotch looked like (their words, not mine). This experience shook me and I didn’t have anyone to talk to about it. I remained quiet about these experiences, but I started to write about them in my journal. I knew if I kept writing my poetry and into my journals about the dark places my brain went to when I thought about my body, I would eventually come to an understanding of what it meant to start loving myself in this body. Going to church and being “pure” was not my personal way to salvation.

The concept of virginity is heteronormative and sexist. I didn’t have these words to describe how I felt in high school, but something about seeing the girl volunteer in front of class in a state of obvious embarrassment made me angry. As a queer brown woman (words I did not have to navigate my identity then either), I knew I had these little butterflies in my belly for people other than just boys, and I knew this didn’t fit into the proper box of being a proper Christian teenage girl in Oklahoma.

I didn’t sign the pledge and I wrote to SST, I wrote something along the lines of “I am going to have sex when I decide it is right for me.” This was an important step for me because it made me realize I could take the control back. I could make these decisions. I could decide when I was comfortable enough to face what my body desired or wanted, without shame, without stigma. This is still an ongoing internal battle for me, but I have gotten much better at reclaiming this body and declaring it a beautiful brown temple.

Jane the Virgin does a wonderful job of showing the viewer that even though Jane’s decision is based around her upbringing and religion, ultimately it is her choice to do what she wants with her body. The show is very self-aware and it doesn’t make Jane “special” because she’s choosing not to have sex until she finds someone to marry. She isn’t perfect and she doesn’t have to be. She makes her choices based on who she is as a person. She is so much more than the title of the show.

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