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The Fosters highlights sexism when talking about virginity

Stef and Lena finally found out about Mariana losing her virginity and their response raised questions about how differently teen girls’ and teen boys’ virginity is treated.

Mariana lost her virginity to Wyatt a month ago, but her moms only found out via a discarded pregnancy test box in the bathroom. Since the night on the beach, Mariana has been riddled with guilt over cheating on her boyfriend, Mat. For Mariana, the desire not to be the only kid in the Foster home to still be a virgin (besides Jude) has been weighing on her since Jesus and Brandon teased her about it in Season 2. Teen pressure about what is and isn’t normal in terms of sexual experience led to her making a snap decision to sleep with Wyatt, and the way Stef and Lena handled the revelation was interesting, to say the least.

More: The Fosters tackled the struggle teen girls face to decide between being smart and pretty

While the moms gave Jesus and Brandon condoms so they would be safe, they apparently have not given their daughters the same protection, no questions asked. Mariana brought this up to her mothers and they were quick to point out they didn’t want the guys having sex, but if they were having it, they wanted them to be safe. While neither Callie nor Mariana have been sexually active in the past, the double standard is glaring.

Mariana losing her virginity is treated as a huge deal by the show, but not because she lost it. By having Mariana lose her virginity to Wyatt, it became much less about the experience and more about Mariana’s feelings of guilt over cheating on Mat and her sense of fear that she betrayed Callie by sleeping with her ex. This might be one the first missteps The Fosters has made. No matter how the show spins it, Mariana is drowning in shame because she had sex, while both Brandon and Jesus have gone through multiple sexual partners (some of whom they cheated on) without any angst surrounding their sexual activity — at least not from them, with the exception of Brandon dealing with being sexually assaulted by Mike’s adult girlfriend.

Adding to the problem was Stef’s reaction. She seemed so disappointed in Mariana that it added to Mariana’s shame. Thankfully, Lena pointed out the error Stef made, and in the end they had a sweet talk with Mariana about how each time she sleeps with someone it is an important decision because she is giving away a precious piece of herself. Did they tell the guys this, though? Because they should have.

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The idea that boys losing their virginity is no big deal while for teen girls it is basically the most important thing that will happen to them is a problem. It’s one that is perpetuated across all forms of media and it needs to stop. The moms are right that sex should not be treated with a flippant attitude, especially at such a young age, but the same standards should apply to their sons.

There was an underlying unease to Mariana’s conversations with her moms, heartwarming though the final group hug was. They certainly weren’t disappointed in her for having sex, but they did treat her differently than they treated Jesus and Brandon. Perhaps it is because they are women who have been in Mariana’s position. For young girls, sex can be an emotional minefield because so much emphasis is put on it. The idea that Mariana is giving away a “precious piece” of herself every time she has sex makes it seem as if she is not capable of hooking up or having meaningless sex for the sake of having sex. Sure, right now sex is a big deal, but is this really the idea they want Mariana carrying with her into adulthood? Mariana was much closer to the mark when she pointed out that her moms are feminists and should know better.

Mariana is so much more than her virginity. Losing it was a big deal and it was traumatic because of the unpleasant circumstances. She should know that every time afterwards won’t be so fraught, though. It’s not for her brothers and it won’t be for her. Just like with any other part of life, sex can produce drama, but it doesn’t have to. It doesn’t even have to particularly mean anything, especially for adults. At 15, Mariana should protect herself both physically and emotionally, but it would have been wonderful to hear the moms reassure her that not every experience would be like the one she had with Wyatt and to give the girl a box of condoms — not because they want her to have sex, but because, just like they wanted for their sons, they want her to be safe and prepared if she does.

More: How will Callie react to the news that Mariana and Wyatt slept together?

Even a show as progressive as The Fosters has a long way to go in the way it addresses teenagers and sex. Mariana choosing not to lose her virginity would have been a totally valid and worthwhile story to explore, just as Mariana losing her virginity and having her moms treat it with the same care before and afterwards as they did with their sons would have been great. Having the event shrouded in shame and then having the moms treat her choice to have sex so differently felt all too familiar in the world of teen television.

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