Grown-ish Gave Us TV’s Most Complicated Virginity Conversation

Photo: Courtesy of Eric McCandless/Freeform.

It’s 2018, and society has finally started to realize something important: virginity is a construct. It’s fake, it’s made-up, it’s simply a tool often used to make women apologize for their sexuality. You can’t “lose it” or “give it” or have “half” of it, because you can’t do anything with an imaginary object. Yet, that doesn’t mean virginity doesn’t still have an effect on the world, because everyone hasn’t gotten this very important message yet. That much was proven during Wednesday night’s grown-ish, when Zoey Johnson’s (Yara Shahidi) new boyfriend Cash Mooney (Da'Vinchi) announces her virginity to the world. What follows was a surprisingly complicated exploration of what virginity really translates to and what kind of unsettling social currency it comes with.

The virginity issues comes up in “C.R.E.A.M. (Cash Rules Everything Around Me)” when Cash notices trolls are taking shots at Zoey’s sexual history in his Instagram comments. Since Zoey is tagged in the image, she’s obviously seen the rude things people are saying about her. Yet, she doesn’t care. Cash, on the other hand, does care intensely, and notifies the world his woman crush Wednesday is both a virgin and “pure” without her permission. As Zoey later reminds Cash, she told her new boyfriend that information confidentially.

Although the basketball player originally claims his egregious breach of trust was due to a moment of protective rage, Cash eventually admits he knew what he was doing. Simply put, Zoey’s “purity’ is good for his brand.

And, that’s what we’re really dealing with when it comes to conversations about “saving yourself.” It’s not about STI fears, pregnancy avoidance, or religious fervor, as are common excuses for the virginity obsession. It’s actually about proving no other man has planted his metaphorical or literal flag in his latest bae. In this scenario, a young woman serves as pristine, uncharted territory no one else has ever conquered. Weirdly, it’s similar to a sneakerhead unboxing a crisp new pair of Jordans to flaunt on the street. It’s like announcing, “No one has ever worn my kicks or touched my lady friend.” What a bizarre objectification of women.

“C.R.E.A.M.” recognizes this fact and then grapples with how perceived “purity” can up someone’s social status. The episode works hard to signal Cash is an athlete from a lower-income neighborhood and always had few avenues out. Cash’s background is so bleak, his father is attempting to auction off the future NBA player’s memorabilia now for fast cash to buy heroin or worse. Cash never though he could eclipse his background, but then basketball fame came knocking. With that fame came access to a new group of prospective partners.

“You fit inside what I want to be,” Cash tells an annoyed Zoey. “You’re … good on paper. I'm serious. You’re pretty, you’re smart, you come from a good family. And then you add the virgin thing?” The athlete never explains what dating a girl with “the virgin thing” does for his brand, but it’s easy to parse out. Cash knows what the world expects from a guy with his background and new ascendent status: stereotypes like rampant marijuana smoking, countless expensive cars, and a harem of video vixens constantly hanging around him.

Romancing a virgin like Zoey, on the other hand, paints an entirely different picture — the kind of picture a future baller like Cash, who laments his come-up from “the bottom,” desperately wants in people’s minds. It’s clear Cash is looking to create the kind of empire NBA superstar, multimillionaire, and known family man Stephen Curry has created over the years. The only thing is, every Steph Curry needs an Ayesha Curry to seal the deal. For Cash, Zoey can serve as his beautiful-but-still-family-friendly love interest. Together, Cash isn’t merely a future first-pick, he’s a legitimate brand in the making, the kind of brand all of America can appreciate.

Yes, really, this is what virginity can offer someone, since that kind of “purity” also speaks to race, class, and income. It’s not like wealthy, educated white women are synonymous with deeply offensive, outdated words like “fast,” “easy,” or “slutty.” Rather, those terms — which are inherently devoid of virginity — are usually applied to women from the most marginalized groups in society to remind everyone just how undesirable they are. That’s why the athlete admits he’s “not sure” if he would still want to be with Zoey if she weren’t a virgin.

Although it would have been great to see Zoey wrestle with Cash’s problematic views on branding-by-way-of-sexuality more, it’s heartening to see why she’s so upset with him in the first place. Instead of feeling pressured to have sex as soon as possible, the teenager is irritated her sexual history was sent out to anyone who downloaded the Instagram app onto their iPhone. It doesn’t matter the information was that Zoey has no sexual history to speak of; those are still her private details to only share when, and with whom, she so chooses.

I understand why Zoey forgives Cash for admitting to manipulating her virginity for his own gains — no 18-year-old can avoid the siren song of a cute boy with a sad story — but that doesn't mean I think these two are meant to be together forever. That's why I'm still convinced the real loves of her life are her female friends.

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