Thank God Jane the Virgin Gets to Be Horny

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Jane and the object of her lust, Fabian. Photo: Scott Everett White/THe CW

At the end of Jane the Virgin’s “Chapter Sixty,” Jane decides to have a fling. She and her mother and grandmother are sitting on their living room sofa, paging through telenovela star Fabian’s book — a collection of stills from his Snapchat account. He’s mostly shirtless. He often stands underneath waterfalls, or poses with his arms flexed. He grins invitingly. “You may have to be married to have sex, abuela,” Jane tells her grandmother. “But I do not. And trust, I am going to hit this.”

This has been part of the new Jane, the Jane who’s coping with life after her husband’s death and trying to balance her life as a parent, daughter, co-parenting partner, and career author. Old Jane wouldn’t have sex until she got married, and wanted to save herself for exactly the right person. She had sexual feelings, and she was self-aware and self-confident enough to seek sexual happiness inside her marriage when things weren’t initially as satisfying as she’d hoped. Old Jane was Jane the Virgin — waiting for things to work out, holding on for life-changing forever love, staying faithful that her patience would be rewarded. New Jane still believes in a lot of those things. But she’s also a sexual being, something she now knows even more concretely than she did before her marriage. And she desperately needs to get some.

Jane the Virgin has been a revolutionary series in many respects. Its depiction of early parenthood is one of the most grounded, human portrayals of infancy and new motherhood TV’s ever given us. Its self-assured combination of English- and Spanish-language storytelling, its direct, unashamed progressive political stances, and its unusually effective genre mixing are all part of what will define the show’s unique legacy.

So, all of those things, and now Jane the Virgin adds to that list: Its female protagonist gets to be horny.

Jane’s hardly the first female character on television who’s been allowed to feel sexual desire. Samantha from Sex in the City comes immediately to mind, as do most of the Sex in the City cohort. The same is true for the women of Girls, and for Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s Rebecca Bunch. Many women from the Shondaland have been allowed to want sex, and characters like Cristina Yang are especially notable for the way they often prioritized sex over long-term emotional intimacy. Alicia Florrick received oral sex to the dulcet background tones of NPR, and Masters of Sex’s Virginia had several stretches of explicit, frank enjoyment of her own sexuality.

So often, though, women on television (and in fiction more broadly) are allowed to feel sexual desire only when it’s accompanied by emotional complication. Rebecca Bunch is hardly a model of an otherwise stable, self-possessed woman who just happens to really need to get laid. The same is true for all of the Shondaland women, for whom long-term emotional stability is just fundamentally at odds with their genre. Alicia’s sexuality is plain, but becomes less an end in itself and more a part of her complicated power dynamics. Virginia’s pleasure is regularly undermined by the inevitable emotional complication that follows.

And the alternative is that female sexuality becomes funny — think of how often a Samantha sex scene in Sex in the City is presented as humorous, or her rapacious appetite is played for laughs. Or sexual wantonness is the province of a funny side plot, because female sexual appetite is stuff of side characters, not protagonists. (Think, for instance, of Boo and Nick’s Great Orgasm Race from Orange Is the New Black, or even of Angela’s riotous, buttoned-up pursuit of a sexual relationship with Dwight on The Office).

Our female protagonists on television are increasingly allowed to have sex, and to enjoy it. Characters like Liza on Younger emerge from the bedroom, smiling and satisfied. Dear White People’s Sam has a great time with her boyfriend Gabe. Joan regularly enjoyed herself on Mad Men (while Bobbie Barrett’s much more direct sexual appetite was framed as threatening and aggressive). The women of The Good Fight generally get theirs, especially Lucca Quinn, whose happy engagement with sexual satisfaction is a point the show makes almost defiantly. Which is precisely my point. For the most part, female protagonists are allowed to enjoy having had sex, but not to spend much time and energy actively seeking it out. Pursuit of sexual fulfillment is often still cast as embarrassing, or funny, or overly threatening, or just trashy.

Meanwhile, over on Jane the Virgin, Jane just really needs to get laid, and she’d really prefer a chance to do so without getting involved in a serious relationship. It’s not just a passing desire, either. Two episodes in a row have now been dedicated to Jane’s reawakening sexual impulse, and the show’s narrator gives us a direct line into exactly what Jane thinks when she watches Fabian, her object of lust, plow through a plate of nachos. “Sex,” he tells us. “Sex, sex, sex, sex, sexy nachos, sex.” It’s not some underdeveloped sudden shift for the show, either. Jane’s always been a sexual being, even when she was trying hard to tamp down on that desire before marriage. And now, she explicitly frames her desire to have “a fling” as her own choice. It’s something she gets to decide for herself, even when she struggles with the guilt imposed on her from childhood and her own negotiation of cultural norms.

So Jane the Virgin dives in. The show’s unusually close narrative style, which often approaches something like the free, indirect discourse in a novel, means we get to watch camera angles drift as Jane’s attention does. They move away from Fabian’s face, sliding inevitably downward. His voice gets fuzzy and distant while the frame focuses in on bits of his anatomy. We are in Jane’s shoes. Her lust is the perspective we get on this story, so her frustrated desire is ours as well. The stance Jane the Virgin asks us to empathize with is Jane’s open, unabashed horniness. That’s what feels most radical about this plot, when it comes down to it. We’re not just condoning or passively watching as Jane has a fling. We’re put in the position of actively rooting for her sexual satisfaction.

As her relationship with Fabian progresses, Jane does work to humanize and complicate Fabian. It gets harder for Jane to simply objectify him once she knows more about who he is, how sweet and cheerful and open he can be. But what she wants out of the relationship does not change. She becomes open to the idea that he’s more than just a beefcake, but that doesn’t diminish her desire to eat him alive.

Jane’s sexuality has always been at the center of this series. It’s called Jane the Virgin, after all, even though in most ways, the title became a mismatch for the show long ago. But for this plot, I’m glad that title is still hanging around. There may be no more pointed and delightful underscoring of exactly how far Jane has come, and exactly how far Jane is willing to go, than watching the Narrator cross out “the Virgin” in an episode’s opening title card. In “Chapter Sixty-One,” he edits the title to read Jane the Horndog.

Here’s hoping you do figure out how to hit that, Jane. You’ve waited long enough, and so has the rest of TV.

Thank God Jane the Virgin Gets to Be Horny