Glee and the Big V
High school has always provided great inspiration for movies and television. Grease, Popular, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Breakfast Club, Freaks and Geeks....the list of high-school-based movies and TV shows is pretty extensive. And then there's a new addition, Glee, set in a smallish town in the US, centered on the local high school's glee club, and chock full of as much singing, dancing and snappy one-liners as anyone could want. There's the fairly standard cast of characters; the good teacher and the bad teacher, the macho football coach and the fairly clueless guidance counsellor, the popular kids and the not-so-popular. The show is entertaining and all (I do love a musical) but I find it pretty hit and miss in terms of how the high school experience is portrayed. For example, the recent episode featuring three characters dealing with first-time sex - to a soundtrack entirely by Madonna, including, yep, Like a Virgin. (If you haven't seen it and want to, prepare for spoilers.)
While the show does a good job of portraying the mixed emotions that can go along with first-time sex, it also relies on some very unfortunate stereotypes. Mainly, that sex is a Very Big Deal for women, and definitely not such a big deal for men. No one ever says it out loud, but it's made pretty clear as well that sex, as far as these characters are concerned, equals vaginal intercourse. Emma, the guidance counsellor and oldest of the three virgins (the other two being students Rachel and Finn) does tell her partner that "foreplay will begin at 7:30 sharp", but aside from that, everyone seems to assume that sex is intercourse - nothing more, nothing less. In addition to the misconceptions about what sex is and what it might mean for different people, the women involved in these three scenarios are stereotyped, as pointed out on the blog The American Virgin: we have "Virgin Rachel, Prude Emma, and Whore Santana [Finn's partner]".
In the end, only Finn ends up actually having sex, although Rachel originally tells him that she had and thought it wasn't that big of a deal. (Which made a lot of sense to me - my own first experience with intercourse was just sort of meh, and definitely not a big deal.) Rachel and Emma get props for deciding that it isn't the right time for them, but I have a feeling that this will just give the show's producers an opportunity to drag out this whole virginity storyline even longer, and their virginity will remain integral to their character development.
On the whole, there were some good moments in the episode, moments that felt really authentic, but the stereotyping and the reminders of the significance first sex has for women got in the way of my enjoyment of those. Having any kind of sex for the first time isn't always a hugely life-changing event, no matter what your gender. Sex is so much more than vaginal intercourse, and people are so much more than whether they tick the box that says "virgin" or the one that says "non-virgin" on the giant census form of life - whatever those terms really mean, anyway. And hey, those of us who aren't straight have sex too - it would have been awesome at some point to hear from the one gay character about what virginity means to him.