As I near 25, I'm not sure if I'm the target audience for Grown-ish anymore, but I still watch it faithfully every week. On one hand, I feel it keeps me young; my old soul requires a regimen to keep with the times. On the other, I have a strong desire to support up-and-coming artists of color, like Yara Shahidi and Chloe x Halle, who are not only wildly talented, but also using their crafts to bring light to important topics. The show exhibits an earnest effort to incorporate stories that represent diverse walks of life. Naturally, being set on a college campus, Grown-ish discusses sexuality a great deal, investigating topics ranging from exploratory experiences, to defining consent, to LGBTQ+ issues.
A few weeks ago, I sat down eagerly to watch episode ten of season three and was thoroughly fascinated when the topic -- celibacy -- was revealed. The episode started out pretty typically, with Ana, a member of the show's central friend group, going on a date with a guy named Javi. Based on the flirtatious banter in the car when they pulled up to Ana's house, it's clear the date went well. At this point, any viewer invested in the story rejoices, because Ana has had a difficult run when it comes to finding love. Javi walks Ana to her door and is invited inside, presumably to hook up. However, just as things are heating up, Javi stops things and gently tells Ana that he made a recent decision to rededicate his life to Christ and to, subsequently, practice abstinence. Hearing Javi say those words, Ana blanched with surprise. I was just as shocked as she was. I squealed with interest and made my husband watch it with me from the beginning.
grown-ish Season 3, Episode 10 | Sneak Peek: Javi Surprises Ana | Freeform www.youtube.com
The source of my enthusiasm about the story that was unfolding was twofold. One reason I connected to these events was because my now husband and I, who I met in college, had decided first as individuals, then as a couple, to wait until marriage to have sex.
Practicing abstinence was probably the hardest and best decision I've ever made, and an important part of my story. While I share that story with my husband and some friends, it's not the mainstream narrative represented in the media which is the second reason I was so compelled by this plot. In my favorite shows, the most common picture of sexuality is generally one of liberal exploration; sex at is best is depicted to be with diverse partners, with frequent partners, and commonly occurring during adolescence. While this isn't always the case, virginity and sexlessness are often depicted as anomalous, involuntary, corny, and even an indication of inferiority.
Ana and Javi's storyline runs parallel to those of characters like Aaron, who holds the position that no self-respecting man would not have sex for six months. With that being the majority mentality of the show, I was eager to see how the show approached this alternative path. I wondered if the idea of a celibate lifestyle would be given equal dignity and respect as the other paths represented. I was increasingly pleasantly surprised as the show's events unfolded, and Ana and Javi's journey wasn't presented as this weird thing, wasn't overly idealized, and was treated as legitimate.
As someone who can relate to the ups and downs of celibacy, I noticed certain elements that Grown-ish got right about a journey of spiritually-motivated celibacy.
Sometimes You Fall Down and You Have to Get Back Up
I know some Christians I know were disappointed to see Ana and Javi tumble back in bed after having made the commitment to wait. However, while I sympathized with the guilt the characters felt after violating their expectations of themselves, I found the depiction to be refreshing in its realism, because no one is perfect.
Celibacy can be a process that involves failures along the way, followed by rallying and renewed commitment, but that shouldn't lead to feelings of defeat. Abstaining from sex is countercultural and can feel like going against the grain, but it comes down to is making sacrifices where necessary.
In the show, I love how you see Ana and Javi going through that process of falling off the wagon, solidifying their "why," reassessing their boundaries, and relying on their faith and community to give them strength going forward. The important part was that they allowed the lessons they learned from their failures to inform a new approach as they tried again.
Saying ‘No’ to Sex Requires Saying 'Yes' to Something Else
The truth is that avoiding sex isn't easy, especially on a college campus, where there are so many opportunities to partake and sex is often considered an important part of coming of age. For me, though I grew up in a household that valued saving sex for marriage, my parents' standards weren't enough to keep me on that path in college. Being on my own and faced with so many choices, I had to develop a conviction strong enough to stand on in times of temptation. I was motivated by a desire to please God and trust Him; I genuinely believed obeying Him was best for me.
While I was interested in sex and found dating fun, I formed a belief that sex is deeply sacred, and I desired to focus my dating life on building friendships, healing my emotional traumas, and discerning whether marriage would be a reasonable goal with a given person.
In the show, Javi says that he decided to put sex on the shelf to clear his head so he could hear God better. He and Ana hit a snag in their relationship early on when her convictions didn't align with his. After asking Javi where he got his strength from and later rekindling her own relationship with God, Ana found her "why" for being celibate -- being at peace with God and pursuing relationships that were based on more than sex -- and it gave her the strength she needed to move forward.
It Helps to Have a Community of Like-Minded People
A consistent theme in Ana and Javi's journey pursuing a celibate relationship is remaining rooted in community. Having access to and spending time with like-minded people plays a major role in fortifying their commitment to their faith and their celibacy journey, especially when they mess up. Another facet of having positive reinforcement was their friendship with one another and their shared values.
I can speak from personal experience when I say that remaining celibate is so much easier when you have a partner who shares your values and carries their own conviction about celibacy. It's difficult enough having physical boundaries when you're in love and longing to express that physically, without the added temptation of the other person low-key seducing you. It helps to be with someone who understands and knows how to help you meet your goals.
Some people also consider sex to be a vital component of a loving relationship, even before marriage, so it can cause some distress if you're not on the same page and one person feels their needs are not being met. When one person has to violate their own boundaries to meet the needs of the other, it can only lead to resentment.
There are a lot of misconceptions out there about what it means to make a faith-based decision to lead a celibate life. One that I've heard a lot is the perception that following Jesus makes you somehow disinterested in sex until marriage. The other is that celibacy is impossible. Neither is true.
To choose to abstain from sex is a daily commitment to live in that tension between acknowledging your existing sexuality, and that a desire for sex is natural and beneficial, and delaying gratification until your circumstances facilitate the best environment for you to thrive sexually, based on your convictions.
The beauty of art is that it can represent all walks of life. It's great to see celibacy included in the definition of what it can mean to be sexually liberated.
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