Last night’s Glee came with a lot of hype attached, both from the Parents Television Council, which was freaked out by the prospect of teenagers! Losing their virginity! On a mainstream television program! That’s discussed consistently from its first episode! and from gay advocates who were excited to see an emotionally developed plotline about gay teenagers having sex for the first time on a popular show.
If anything, I think the show sort of subverted both of those expectations, ending up chaste and sweet to the point of saccharine. All the characters who had sex for the first time decided to do so from a place of love and commitment. The show was very careful to equate Kurt and Blaine and Rachel and Finn, shooting both couples in essentially similar positions of repose, clasping hands the same way, and similarly clothed. In a way, I think it’s more useful to make the couples as similar as possible, rather than focusing on the mechanical differences between the way they’re going to get down. Given that conservative stereotypes about gay men in particular focus on the idea that gay people are promiscuous and emotionally detached, tenderness is more confrontational to those beliefs than actually shooting a sex scene.
Glee’s also had a sort of weirdly nasty attitude towards people who have reached adulthood without having sex along the way. That may not be the majority of Americans’ experience, but it does happen for people. And rather than the 40 Year Old Virgin approach, which involved some ribbing, but also a clumsy but good-faith effort to get the titular virgin laid and to explore his feelings and anxieties about sex, Glee’s tended to treat Emma, its main adult virgin, as if she’s pathological. Her OCD treatment happens almost entirely off-screen, and is framed as if it’s mostly in service of Will finally getting to have sex with her. By contrast, I thought the show did a really nice job with Coach Beiste last night: Dot Jones sold the hell out of what it must be like to have just given up on participating in part of the human experience.