Photo: Iona Wolff/BAFTA/Getty Images.
Insecure actress Yvonne Orji is a 39-year-old virgin, unapologetically. The Nigerian-American actress has long been open about her decision to abstain from pre-marital sex as an extension of her Christian faith. Orji doubled down on this in her 2021 memoir, Bamboozled by Jesus: How God Tricked Me Into The Life of My Dreams, and in her comedy specials. Orji’s abstinence isn’t something she’s ever hidden from her fans, so why have recent discussions about the actor’s virginity caused such a stir online?  
In a September episode of the podcast Dear Chelsea by fellow actor and comedian Chelsea Handler, Orji confirmed that she is still a virgin at 39 years old. Orji responded to the probes into her personal life in the typical Orji way and joked that people should pray for the man she eventually marries. “Pray for him, whoever he is,” she joked, “there’s a lot of pent-up energy up in here with me.” Handler humorously responded, “You’re going to hit your sexual peak when you start having sex. So, yeah, you’re going to need a couple of men, probably.” To which the actor burst out in laughter and said, “Yvonne went from virgin to polyamory — like that would be a very interesting turn of events’’.
While the conversation between the pair was light-hearted — Chelsea even called her “the most original guest we’ve ever had on” — social media’s reaction towards Orji’s decision to abstain until marriage has varied between praise and mockery. Under a Facebook post by The Independent about Orji’s abstinence, commenters expressed their “concerns” for the actor’s future relationships. “Poor woman, she’s missed so much of self-discovery and life experience…”, said one Facebook user, and, “Clock is ticking. If she ever wants kids from this mythical marriage she is awaiting,” wrote another. Some comments claimed Orji’s expectations for a future partner were unrealistic, as one person wrote: “There never will be the right man! Not for her anyway! I think her expectations are too high!” However, many people also defended Orji’s decision to wait. As one Facebook user commented, “I know of several people who waited until marriage. Why is it a bad thing??! I have a lot of admiration for those who don’t give into the pressure of today’s societal norms!”
What’s clear, there is a lot of confusion about what sexual abstinence requires. By its definition, sexual abstinence is the decision to abstain from sex for a certain amount of time — in Orji’s case, this period lasts up until marriage, but some choose to do it for other defined periods. Celibacy, on the other hand, is the decision to withhold yourself not only from sex but also from marriage. The latter is often a lifetime decision. 
Orji’s decision to be abstinent, especially in later life, is considered rare in Western society — especially one that is increasingly secular (the 2021 census revealed that less than half of people identified as Christian in England). In a recent study by the British pharmaceutical company, Superdrug, of 1000 people surveyed 300 respondents did not engage in pre-marital sex, whilst the majority (700) did. It showed that almost 7 in 10 people who waited until marriage said it was their spouse’s first time too and 49% of those who waited until marriage did so for religious reasons. 
We only have to look towards films like Steve Carrell’s The 40-Year-Old Virgin — where a 40-year-old man is pressured by his friends to lose his virginity — to understand why the concept of virginity at a later age feels atypical in modern society. The 2010s “sex-positivity” boom encouraged a non-judgemental, open attitude towards sex and sexuality, with a heavy focus on shame-free pleasure. It allowed movements like Amber Rose’s Walk of No Shame in 2015 to thrive, which was partly aimed at removing the taboo attached to one-night stands. Over the last few decades, the sex-positivity movement helped remove long-held stigmas around pre-marital sex and encouraged conversations about women’s pleasure. It was considered the antithesis to the previous norm where waiting until marriage reinforced the polarising concept of virginity and a woman’s virtue. Most importantly, with the rise of the sex-positive movement came a greater emphasis on choice and consent — which includes a person’s decision to wait until marriage to have sex. However, virginity in later life hasn’t always been represented in conversations about sexual expression and choice. 
Like Orji, I am a Christian and the actor’s decision to stick to her faith’s teachings through abstinence is inspiring — and I give her extra props for doing this whilst working in an industry that mostly pushes the opposite agenda. Who can forget Orji’s portrayal of Molly Cater in the celebrated sitcom Insecure? The role involved acting out her character’s chaotic dating life, with explicit sex scenes, too. It must require a lot of discipline to stick to these principles in such a sex-focused setting. Speaking about the dichotomy of this character compared to her real life, Orji told The Breakfast Club in 2016, that in the first seasons of the show, she received guidance on how to perform the sex scenes. “This is my first time, like, all around,” she explained.
Although Orji isn’t shy about the challenges of abstaining, she has also discussed the benefits. In a 2019 episode of her co-hosted podcast Jesus and Jollof, the comedian opened up about the ending of her relationship with ex-boyfriend and American football player Emmanuel Acho. The 39-year-old claimed her friend pointed out that, “Y’all never had sex, so it was really easy for you to make a clean cut”. Many people who choose to abstain, equate deep emotional attachment with sexual intercourse and believe removing sexual intimacy from a casual dating life helps make separation from a romantic partner far simpler. 
This sentiment also resonates with others. TikToker @livithegingy who goes by the name “miss liv” shared that her 12-month abstinence journey has helped her to be “spiritually fulfilled”. Although she doesn’t mention that her choice is due to religious reasons, she did say it has made her feel less anxious than before she embarked on this journey. In her video, she mentioned that she didn’t know how to “break that spell” of being so emotionally tied to boys she had been involved with after they had done something to upset her. 
Yvonne Orji’s decision to speak candidly about her faith and abstinence has encouraged many other young Black people to do the same, whether on social media or within their friendship groups — and her openness has allowed for valid conversations about how little faith and abstinence plays in mainstream media and culture. 
“The Yvonne Orji situation is why I only talk about my abstinence journey on a need-to-know basis,” X user @SamuelAde_ tweeted. “I ain’t got time to be arguing or trying to convince people about choices and sacrifices I made to honor God.”
Speaking about why she is so open about her faith and abstinence, Orji told PEOPLE in 2017: “I’m open, because why not? I’m grounded in who I am”. The actor is acknowledged for her non-judgmental attitude towards those who don’t follow a similar path — even if society doesn’t do the same for her chosen path.  
“Yvonne Orji has never tried to preach about virginity to anyone, she has only talked about her own journey,” agrees X User ​​@Rimzzzeee , “I think it is quite mean-spirited to clown her for her own beliefs/choices that are not harming anyone. We talk about how people’s choices should not affect us. This is it.”  
Black women can’t seem to catch a break regardless of what we choose or don’t choose to do with our bodies. Lori Harvey’s history of serial dating celebrities, for example, has also been scrutinized, mocked, and judged. It begs the question, does society simply have a problem with Black women’s bodily autonomy?
While many respect Yvonne’s choice to wait until marriage — even if they are not abstinent themselves — it’s clear that there is still a long way to go before this personal decision is accepted and respected in wider society. I hope that we can get to a place in wider society where one’s choice to abstain from sex, whether for faith or other reasons, is something that is not just accepted but celebrated.
This article was originally published to Unbothered UK