Safe sex: no need to blush as Glee pops its cherry

Tonight’s virginity-loss special is a paragon of careful good taste, says Jack Seale

“We’re in high school. We have urges. But whatever we do, I want to make sure you’re comfortable, so I can be comfortable.”

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The finger-clicking kids in Glee have always favoured romance over sex; emotions over exertions. Although at some point everyone’s kissed everyone else, their mouths are usually closed – full intercourse happens off screen and leads to shame, tears and babies that have to be adopted.

Tonight, though, Glee goes all the way, as two teen couples consider doing the dirty for the first time. The episode’s attracted a medium-sized storm of controversy in the States, mainly because one of those couples is gay.

Glee might be camp but it’s an avowedly mainstream show, with a huge following among teens and, indeed, pre-teens. So is this episode daring or even irresponsible?

Hardly. Any moral watchdogs complaining about The First Time are either taking an impractically dogmatic line on teen abstinence, or – more likely – they haven’t actually seen the episode, which premieres here on Sky1 tonight at 9pm and is among the more achingly responsible portrayals of virginity loss you’ll ever see.

The lines in italics above are spoken by Blaine (Darren Criss) to Kurt (Chris Colfer) – their relationship having been one of the main storylines of last year’s second season. Blaine’s playing the lead in the school production of West Side Story. When Blaine and his stage lover Rachel (Lea Michele) are told that their performances lack authentic passion, it emerges that they’re both virgins. 

As they and their respective partners wonder whether to do something about that, Glee focuses on sex in a thoughtful, loving environment to an almost comical degree. Fellow glee club member Tina tells Rachel: “Losing my virginity was a great experience for me. Because it was with someone I loved”, while both Kurt and Rachel’s boyfriend, Finn (Cory Monteith), insist on waiting for exactly the right moment.

That moment is at home, by appointment, in a nice warm room, with everyone sober and with their vests still on. The love scenes are virtually a parody of un-explicit TV sex – the episode even ends slyly on a shot of a crackling fireplace. When Finn tells Rachel he’s brought “protection”, she assures him she has, too.

The episode itself isn’t so safe that you can’t feel anything, though. The message – Glee always has a message, and here it’s about having enough personal courage both to progress into adulthood, and not to rush into it – is a worthy one. And by making Kurt and Blaine’s story just as prominent as Rachel and Finn’s, Glee strikes a subtle blow for gay equality on television.

Darren Criss commented on this earlier this year, while discussing Blaine and Kurt’s first screen kiss in series two. “The fact that it’s a young teen homosexual relationship is kinda superfluous,” Criss told RadioTimes.com. “That’s the beauty of what Glee’s been able to pull off. Never in my wildest dreams did I think a relationship like Kurt and Blaine could be as fresh and exciting to a mainstream American and world audience. 

“Ten years ago, forget it. No way. But they’ve done it right.”

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With The First Time, Glee – bright white smiles, cosy homilies, uplifting show tunes and all – doesn’t put a foot wrong.