This is what virginity looks like on television:
TV writer Willa Paskin has a good piece over at Salon about TV’s tortured virgins: “Shame-free virginity: not currently a fictional TV offering.” True, but what’s interesting about the three virgins she covers is how they react to the “shame” of being a virgin.
Two of TV’s most famous virgins are women: April Kepner (Sarah Drew) on Grey’s Anatomy and Shoshanna Shapiro (Zosia Mament) on Girls. Both are surrounded by friends who are always having sex and both are self-conscious about their virginity.
At the beginning of last season [of Grey’s], the high-strung, cheery Kepner (a common characteristic of TV virgins is a type-A, neurotic personality) yelled at her colleagues, in an effort to quell their merciless teasing, “I am a 28-year-old virgin, namely because I wanted my first time to be special and then I waited too long, and partially because I’m pretty sure guys find me annoying.” She then spent the next year and a half flirting, making out with and never quite sleeping with a series of guys who weren’t right for her, without once mentioning chastity or a higher power.
Then last Thursday, she threw herself on fellow resident Jackson, assuring him — after he kept repeating to her, out loud, “You’re a virgin” — that having sex with him was really what she wanted to do. The next day, she seemed shell-shocked. When Jackson tried to apologize, she explained, “It’s not you. It’s Jesus. I was a virgin because I loved Jesus. And now Jesus hates me.”
A devotee of “Sex and the City” and books with titles like “Listen Ladies,” the abashed Shoshanna thinks of her virginity as an embarrassment, and her friends, though sweet about it, basically agree. When Shoshanna tells Marnie (Allison Williams) that “I am almost 22 and I am a virgin. Everyone and their mother has had sex except for me,” Marnie doesn’t quite know what to say. She tries to comfort Shoshanna by asking if she’s ever given a blow job, which is “basically the same thing.” Shoshanna hasn’t. Marnie, at a loss, then shares a story about how she hit a puppy with her car. Puppy killer and virgin, semi-equivalent mortifications.
But there’s another more interesting virgin on TV that Paskin covers: Sherlock Holmes, who returns this Sunday to PBS for the second season of the show:
Sherlock, it seems, is a virgin. Adler reveals that Holmes’ arch-nemesis, Moriarty, calls him just that (as opposed to on “Girls” and “Grey’s,” only Holmes’ enemies laugh at him), and when Adler asks Sherlock if he’s ever had sex, Holmes, for maybe the first and only time, looks uncomfortable. Prior to Irene’s appearance, this question wouldn’t have mattered to him at all. Sherlock, as a rule, doesn’t care what anyone else thinks, let alone thinks of him, but in the presence of a woman he’s actually interested in, even the great Holmes becomes a smidge embarrassed.
But this flash of insecurity and emotion is only temporary.
Unlike April and Shoshanna, Sherlock does not allow his virginity—and his sex—to define him. For April and Shoshanna, sex is what they’re always thinking about; it’s what they psychologically organize their lives around; it’s who they are. Sherlock, by contrast, is a detective first and foremost. While the virginity of the April and Shoshanna is equated, on their respective television shows, with naivete and inexperience, the same cannot be said of the cosmopolitan and sharp-minded Holmes. His virginity is not a scarlet letter, but it takes on a monastic quality. Being a virgin for Sherlock is a much more dignified experience than it is for April and Shoshanna. Sex and women are distractions from his greater, heroic calling.