When Charmed debuted on The CW last fall, it rebooted the beloved original series, offering up a new, fresh take on this tale of three sisters who discover their destiny as witches and the prophesied “Charmed Ones.”
It also delivered something almost never seen on television – a main character who is still a virgin in her late twenties because of circumstance rather than deeply held moral convictions. The “unintentional virgin,” as some have dubbed it, is a relatively rare phenomenon in pop culture and most commonly used to comedic effect like in The 40 Year Old Virgin.
Grey’s Anatomy’s April Kepner (Sarah Drew) began as a mere late bloomer, but eventually her storyline took on religious undertones. Yet, according to the CDC, the percentage of teenagers having sexual intercourse before the age of 20 is steeply on the decline (a recent study shows the number decreased by 14% from 1988 to 2010).
Charmed creators Jessica O’Toole and Amy Rardin have tackled questions of virginity and sexuality before on Jane the Virgin, but in that case, Jane’s virginity was tied to her religious faith. Here, they had an opportunity to tell a new story. A story they say a lot of individuals in their writers’ room could relate to – and something they feel doesn’t get its due on television.
Enter Macy Vaughn (Madeleine Mantock), a witch who grew up separated from her two sisters under the loving eye of her single father. Macy is many things – a witch with telekinesis, a gifted scientist with distinguished graduate degrees, a logic-driven pragmatist, and a 28-year-old virgin.
“There are a lot of reasons that people aren’t ready to lose their virginity that don’t have anything to do with morality or religion, and it is one of those things that is less acceptable to talk about, which is why, if you’re one of those people you feel like a weirdo,” explains O’Toole. “We just wanted to show it in a way where it’s not super weird.”
Rardin adds, “It’s one of those things where you never plan on that happening. You’re the girl who’s good in school and then you get to college and maybe you don’t have a boyfriend. It’s not that you planned on not having sex, but you want a boyfriend first.”
Actress Madeleine Mantock says she was excited and “honored” to be able to tackle this storyline because of just how rare it is on television. “I was surprised at first,” she notes. “It is pretty rare for a character to be a virgin at that age, especially on a network that does so well with its draw of romance. It made total sense for the character though.”
O’Toole and Rardin say they have witnessed younger generations become more confident about discussing their bodies and sexuality in a way that was rather taboo in their adolescence. “It was either just complete rubes and then people who were really comfortable and thought they were sexy and confident,” says O’Toole of the spectrum of sexuality she saw on television and in films growing up. “We’re getting into a time where, for all kinds of reasons, all kinds of nuances are coming up as people are able to explore their identities and have more access to people they identify with.”
While many different iterations of sexuality are blossoming on television, Rardin says they wanted to be a part of counteracting the shame that society can lay on those who don’t lose their virginity (at least as narrowly defined by sexual intercourse) as a teenager. She says an “openness about being willing to talk about it” often feels missing from the cultural conversation at large. “When you’re older and you haven’t had sex, there’s a little bit of shame, there’s an embarrassment, and the more you talk about it, the easier it is to feel comfortable,” she notes.
Because of that they wanted her virginity to be something that didn’t define Macy or cause her a lot of hang-ups. It’s only a big deal because of the perception of outside voices. “It’s one of the things that she found society had a problem with more than she did,” explains O’Toole. “She’s dealing with this at a moment where guys are just learning how to be comfortable with women talking about those sort of things.” That notion shone through in the storytelling with Macy’s boyfriend Galvin (Ser’Darius Blain) taking the news of her magical powers in stride, but stumbling at this more intimate revelation.
Mantock took that lack of embarrassment to heart as well, wanting to be sure it came through in her portrayal. “There’s always value in telling stories or sides of stories we don’t usually hear. To get to do that from a place of empowerment, a character who is smart, fulfilled and loved, felt like we were doing something important,” she explains. “I also made sure that when we played the initial scenes there was not a shred of embarrassment about Macy being a virgin. Our audience picked up on that, and I felt really proud for trying to protect that choice.”
Virginity and sexuality were always going to be a part of what the creators lovingly call their “feminist witch show.” Early character discussions floated the possibility of Maggie (Sarah Jeffery) being the virgin as the youngest sister, who is still a teenager at 17. But ultimately, they felt Macy’s character and upbringing made more sense.
“Macy is somebody who didn’t grow up religious, which is what we did on Jane the Virgin, but who grew up living the life of the mind with just her dad and going to boarding school,” says O’Toole. “It seemed like something we hadn’t seen explored that much as far as a character who’s in her late twenties who’s not sexually repressed or unaware of her own desires, but just technically hasn’t lost her virginity.”
“Macy, as a character, doesn’t access her emotions very easily,” adds Rardin. “She’s a fairly closed off person, so letting someone into that space was something she wasn’t necessarily used to as well.”
In contrast, both Maggie and Mel (Melonie Diaz) are very comfortable and open about sexual experiences, something O’Toole and Rardin feel is an extension of their growing up in a “mini-matriarchy” with a sex-positive mother who discussed their bodies, contraception, and more. While Macy is more of a closed book, empath Maggie is sexually adventurous and overtly passionate.
“Maggie, who is a teenager, does have sex and is very open about it. So it’s not wanting to say that one way is right,” stresses O’Toole. “It’s wanting to depict a healthy female sexuality [no matter your choice]. Maggie and Mel were young women growing up where their mom encouraged them to be open about it in an age appropriate way from early on and showing them that openness and lack of shame. All of these things are healthy for people who are ready to have sex earlier and people who are not.”
In the March 3 episode, “Manic Pixie Nightmare,” Macy and Galvin finally take the next step in their relationship. It’s subtle and organic, closing on the two climbing the stairs together toward Macy’s room in tacit acknowledgment of what’s coming next. O’Toole and Rardin always wanted Macy to have this experience before the first season’s end, but it was equally important to them that it remain true to Macy’s character.
“When she finally does have sex, we wanted it to continue in that way where it’s not a huge, big deal,” stresses O’Toole, while Rardin adds, “We [never] wanted it to be painstaking for her. She just needed it to be the right time with the right person, and there it was. Macy’s a pragmatist and she knew it was time.”
The scene leading to this moment was honed over several drafts, landing on this final version where Macy’s invitation to her bed and Galvin’s seeking of consent is almost entirely non-verbal. “We really didn’t want to have a hemming and hawing and angsty episode about it because she is an adult,” says Rardin. “It doesn’t mean she doesn’t have feelings and fears. It’s just Macy’s a very matter-of-fact practical person and it was the right time…It was never her talking to her sisters, ‘Should I do it? Should I not?’ It was never that drama, angsty version.“
Mantock says she almost wishes there were, if not an angstier version, more discussion of virginity and what it meant to Macy in general. “I wished we’d had a little more time to explore the way we talk about virginity and the ‘loss’ of it, in particular. I think it places an unfair burden on people to infer they are losing something by choosing to engage in sex for the first time,” she elaborates. “I like to think that Macy gained an experience, not that she lost something.”
What made this the right time to make that gain? A host of factors – Galvin is about to embark on a quest on Macy’s behalf, possibly a dangerous, life-threatening one. In this moment, Macy feels closer to him than she ever has before. “It’s not just his willingness to do something for her, it’s the fact that she’s willing to let him” adds O’Toole, explaining how Macy had to let her personal walls come down to be ready for that level of intimacy.
O’Toole says the scene originally had “more bells and whistles,” but this final more subtle version emerged organically through their writing process. One thing that was crucial to them, however, was to strike the right balance between Galvin not making a bigger deal out of this moment than Macy feels it should be, but to still include a moment of enthusiastic consent. As they climb the stairs, Galvin raises his head as if to ask if she’s sure, and Macy nods and leads the way upstairs. As O’Toole puts it, “Prioritizing consent doesn’t need to be a big buzz kill.”
Mantock has felt so deeply connected to his aspect of her character and the response it’s merited from fans, she even worries that this development might change things. “I hope that our show can provide opportunities for everyone to feel represented and I hope that those viewers who were so excited by Macy’s virginity don’t feel cheated that we took it away,” she concludes.
The moment is far more closed door than most of Maggie and Mel’s sexual encounters on the series. The creators say that was purposeful, in keeping with Macy’s more private personality. “We like to think the characters would want it portrayed that way,” laughs O’Toole.
This is not the end of the road for Macy’s sexual journey and the three sisters’ discussion of sex and romance. O’Toole and Rardin say Macy will be open about talking about her experiences moving forward, but they also tease future episodes that will delve into how being a witch complicates sex when it comes to magical powers reacting in the heat of the moment (and afterwards).
But they hope they’ve helped to normalize “unintentional virginity” and free it from its shroud of shame in bringing it to the forefront of the series. Actress Madeleine Mantock has received a lot of notes from fans on social media expressing how meaningful they find her storyline. “Any time we tackle something like that even in a small way,” muses O’Toole. “It’s really gratifying to see that it does reach people and move them. That they feel seen.”
“Having this be a part of her life and not making a big deal about it, I think people have found it very empowering,” concludes Rardin.
And maybe that’s something akin to magic.