“Notes on faith” is theGrio’s inspirational, interdenominational series featuring Black thought leaders across faiths.
Last week, comedienne Yvonne Orji went viral for an interview back in September in which she confirmed that she is, by choice, a virgin at 39. Her story is not a new revelation; since rising to fame as a cast member of “Insecure,” Orji has remained transparent about her abstinence until marriage, yet her preference continues to spark conversations on all sides. From “The View” tablemates to podcasts hosted by sports stars, her disclosure revived conversations about sexual autonomy, consent, and labels placed on women who decide to be abstinent — or not — before marriage.
Whether one is a virgin or not, so much is projected onto the decision to wait until marriage. But amid the speculation, we need to think deeper, especially when considering how we make so much ado about this “taboo” topic.
The truth is, Orji is not alone. She is a member of a generation of folks, many of whom were members of movements like Worth the Wait and Pinky Promise, as outlined in ethicist Monique Moultrie’s book “Passionate and Pious: Religious Media and Black Women’s Sexuality.” Those movements, in turn, are merely re-articulations of a long-held practice among many Pentecostal Black Christians, one even faith leaders like COGIC-raised Bishop Carlton Pearson ascribed to, disclosing he was a virgin until just shy of his 40th birthday.
However, as faith leaders, it would be disingenuous for us to let Orji disclose her decision to wait without bearing witness and sharing our own testimony.
When we decided to court as a couple, we were intentional in maintaining sexual abstinence in our relationship while we dated, eventually marrying just before turning 40. Our decision to do so was our own. It wasn’t about how “good” we were or what our faith mandated. We agreed and valued the intentionality behind making this decision together. That said, we also didn’t want sharing our choice to be experienced as a judgment on anyone who decided to take a different approach in their partnerships. We understood that ours was a sacred choice we wanted to navigate and hold with support and love from the chosen community we invited in.
For us, we were empowered to do the homework needed to become deeply intimate physically, mentally and spiritually. Now that we are married, we continue on a path that significantly enriches our connection and helps us remain enthusiastically aware and attuned to our desires. We enjoy conversing with others about what worked for us; however, we don’t shun other approaches couples have found helpful.
To be clear: We have enjoyed and do not regret our decision. It has enabled us to confirm what we always sensed about each other while delighting in unlocking the wonderfully complex mysteries of love — in all its iterations.
For many, “The Black Church” is the cornerstone of the African-American community, where believers turn for support, spiritual formation, and connection. However, we can attest that many ministries do not explicitly address issues surrounding intimacy, anatomy, biology, sex, sexuality and everything in between. In our respective ministries, we have observed the pronounced anxieties and often illogical stigma centering on sharing information about sex, noting how this inflexible stance can very well cause more harm than liberation.
Let’s be real: sex is as natural as breathing. The birds do it. The bees do it. We are all products of sex, and we know our Divine Creator has intended sex to be part of both creation and joy. Are we ready to talk about that among the saints? What would get us ready?
Sexual arousal is an involuntary and ideally consensual occurrence among healthy, vibrant human beings. It is the mark of hormonal vitality and should be nurtured whether or not one is sexually abstinent.
However, in a two-part conversation between Rev. Alisha and social media commentator Larry Reid for his “Larry Reid Live” show, the largely churchgoing audience’s responses revealed how far the church needs to go when it comes to a healthy physical and spiritual understanding of sex and sexuality, with several major takeaways from Part One:
- “The saints” were triggered by frank conversations around anatomy and biology. The comments were on fire when pointing to how the body responds, especially learning about the stimulation of erogenous zones when engaging in worship.
- “Waiting” was not understood as an active learning process that encompassed innumerable experiences, including those that do not require intercourse.
- Viewers were disinterested in education about the various ways to experience pleasure while waiting to fully consummate a relationship.
- After the dust settled following the conversation, we were inundated with correspondence from people who wanted to learn more. We realized some saints are open and comfortable with the conversation about intentional homework about sexuality — or, at the very least, inquisitive.
Consequently, this revelation led to a less confrontational exchange in Part Two of the discussion on this topic. This gives us encouragement that we as a community can have constructive and healthy engagement around sexuality, even among the saints.
Within traditional theologies, notions of what is deemed moral or immoral distract us from fully understanding and accepting the nature of the human experience, developing ethics, or practicing healthy decision-making. It’s not until we see each other’s humanity, faults and all, that we can enhance a spiritual journey that calls us closer to the Divine. Personally, we have found the most intimacy we can experience with another is facilitated through the Divine Creator.
In conclusion, the Black church’s hesitations regarding discussions on sex and sensuality are rooted in a complex interplay of historical, cultural and theological factors. While the emphasis on abstinence until marriage is seen as a way to preserve moral values and strengthen the community, it is essential to recognize that attitudes and approaches within the Black church can vary widely. Open and respectful dialogues about sexuality within the context of faith can help bridge gaps, address concerns and promote healthier and more informed decisions among congregants.
We offer this prayer for those reflecting on setting intentionality around intimacy and wisdom:
We are grateful for the opportunity to choose our journeys, each honoring our bodies in ways that embrace them as divine temples.
May we be made aware of all the tools to be our highest and best selves.
May we be receptive to the knowledge and skills that make us prepared partners who understand full intimacy within ourselves and for our partners.
Lastly, may our love be crafted with ethics, intentionality, and care that aligns with love and celebration.
For those seeking a safe space for this personal homework, Revs. Alisha Lola Jones and Calvin Taylor Skinner are hosting an upcoming Facebook Live fireside chat titled “What Is Our Homework on Sex and Spirituality?” on Tuesday, November 21, from noon to 12:30 ET. This session promises to be an enlightening addition to the discourse, offering perspectives and insights that could be valuable for faith leaders and congregants alike. For more details, interested individuals can visit DrAlisha.com
Rev. Dr. Alisha Lola Jones is a faith leader helping people to find their groove in a fast-paced world, as a consultant for various arts and faith organizations and professor of music in contemporary societies at the University of Cambridge in Cambridge, England. She is an award-winning author of Flaming? The Peculiar Theopolitics of Fire and Desire in Black Male Gospel Performance (Oxford University Press). For more information, please visit DrAlisha.com.
Rev. Calvin Taylor Skinner is dedicated to empowering frontline communities in Knoxville, Tenn. and the United Kingdom. He uses Faith and Policy to address energy justice, criminal justice reform, voter education/mobilization, electoral politics, and global affairs. Along with his wife, Rev. Dr. Alisha Lola Jones, they lead InSight Initiative, a consulting firm focusing on capacity building and live events production.
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