By Jacqueline J. Holness
Tired of being the only virgin in her circle of friends, at age 17 Yvonne Orji determined that by the time she was 18, she would be sexually active. However, her plans changed after being invited to a Bible study on the campus of George Washington University, where she heard the testimony of then 25-year-old medical student Lindsay Marsh, a sexual purity advocate who was saving herself for marriage.
“I was bamboozled by Jesus. I said I was going to wait until I was 18, and he swooped in at 17,” Yvonne told the audience with laughter at a TEDx talk she gave about celibacy earlier this year. Yvonne is a Christian actress currently starring in HBO’s comedy series Insecure.
Vocal About Her Beliefs
At age 33, Yvonne is still waiting. “From the time I was 17 until now that I’m 33 going on 34, I’ve seen too much. I’ve seen the hand of God over the years in my life, and this one thing that he asks of me. I mean he asks many things of us. But this one thing [virginity] that is a roadblock for so many people, he’s been so faithful to me in the darkest of my days, it’s no biggie.”
While Yvonne is waiting, her character on Insecure is not waiting, and sexual themes are not shied away from on the risqué comedy series. How does Yvonne handle this?
“Before I even got into Hollywood, I had a conversation with God. I knew I was not going to Hollywood to not make it. So I asked what this was going to look like. I knew everything wasn’t going to be a Lifetime family special. If that is what God wanted for me, that was cool, but I asked was there another way and what does that look like. As an actor, you’re portraying a slice of life . . . But one of the parameters I have is no nudity.”
Yvonne’s testimony as a Christian and a virgin, which she uses to impact the broader Hollywood culture in which faith and sexual purity is not celebrated, has even affected the culture on the set of Insecure. Issa Rae, the show’s cocreator, noticed that Yvonne doesn’t curse. “She said, ‘Why do you say gosh or darn? I said, ‘Because I don’t curse in my real life.’ That was like the first season. And she was like, ‘Wow, OK, cool. Did not know that.’”
Creative in Her Work
Aside from this series, Yvonne is also developing her own half-hour sitcom, FirstGen, which is executive produced by media mogul Oprah Winfrey and actor David Oyelowo. Semibiographical, the show features a Nigerian girl who drops out of medical school for a stand-up comedy career and the shenanigans that ensue after her strict African mother discovers her plans. “This is my vision so it’s a very family-friendly show.”
Similar to her FirstGen character, Yvonne moved with her family from Nigeria to America as a child and has a master’s degree in public health, yet she opted for a career in comedy rather than in medicine. As the opening act for Chris Rock’s comedy tour this summer, Yvonne revealed that she sensed God guiding her to pursue comedy when she was a Miss Nigeria America pageant contestant years ago.
“I didn’t realize that you needed a talent for this pageant. I couldn’t sing. I stopped playing the piano after I learned ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb.’ That probably wasn’t going to cut it. So I prayed. It was the clearest that I’ve ever heard from God.”
Committed to Her Influence
In addition to her career, Yvonne is also committed to her charitable efforts. In 2008 and 2009, she spent six months working in post-conflict Liberia with Population Services International, which utilizes social marketing in the adoption of healthy behaviors. While in Liberia, Yvonne worked with youth to build a mentoring program as well as a weekly talk show aimed at stopping the spread of teen pregnancy and HIV/AIDS through education.
Although Yvonne’s life is full with her career and charity work, she is still looking forward to meeting and marrying her mate. Following the example of her mentor, who got married at 34 years old as a virgin, she hopes her stance on waiting is an example for others. Yvonne was encouraged when a young woman approached her in a store and told Yvonne that her small group listened to her TEDx talk. “I was like, ‘Wow,’ you really don’t know who you’re touching, but praise God!”
Jacqueline J. Holness, a member of Central Christian Church in Atlanta, is a correspondent for Courthouse News Service. Read more on her website (afterthealtarcall.com).