Yewande Biala — ‘until I was 19 I thought orgasms were a myth’

Yewande Biala (Holly Wren / Channel 4)
Yewande Biala (Holly Wren / Channel 4)

Yewande Biala didn’t mean to be the face of the female orgasm. But when she confessed on a podcast that she’d never had one before, she suddenly found herself attracting a lot of attention.

“I was at an event and a girl walked up to me,” Biala remembers. “She was a sex influencer and podcaster and she was like, ‘Oh my god, I find it so crazy that you haven’t orgasmed, have you managed to do it yet?’ I just thought it was so insane that people knew this. I was like, ‘Oh my god, people still remember, how f****** embarrassing!’”

The 27-year-old star of 2019’s Love Island covers her face as she says it. Biala is a little blurry on the Zoom screen, but immaculately polished: hair long and glossy, grey hoodie artfully oversized. It’s a Thursday morning and we are talking about all things sex — and though she seems a little weary, that’s only to be expected.

After all, she’s been laying the most private details of her life bare for months now, all in aid of her new Channel 4 documentary Secrets of The Female Orgasm. Airing on August 31, it follows Biala as she attempts to achieve the elusive orgasm for the first time, using science, therapy and even sex parties to do it.

It’s a fascinating (and at times, uncomfortable) watch, and a long way from the rock-hard abs and rampant bed-hopping of Love Island. As the only dark-skinned black woman in 2019’s main cast, Biala became a fan favourite after calling out the microaggressions she experienced while on the show — including the “racialised renaming” around mispronouncing her name.

With 676k Instagram followers, she’s better known for posting immaculately-staged selfies than speaking out about sex. What does it mean to bare your soul in this way — especially for somebody who, as she puts it, was raised in a “really strict, religious” household? “Literally, there’s nothing anyone could ask me [now] that would make me feel awkward,” she laughs. “If this was last year, I would have been so embarrassed, but it just does not faze me.” She’s not lying: the first five minutes of our chat is all about her masturbatory habits, which she describes as “a work in progress”. Biala is one of a number of young stars who are beginning to explore their sexuality in the most Gen Z way possible — that is, on-screen.

Yewande researching masturbation techniques in her documentary (Spung Old TV)
Yewande researching masturbation techniques in her documentary (Spung Old TV)

The advent of the internet has made it easy for people to share and celebrate their experiences, especially ones that would previously have been considered taboo. TikTok overflows with influencers posting their way towards sexual self-acceptance; artists like Megan Thee Stallion and Cardi B celebrate all aspects of sex positivity in their lyrics (WAP, anyone?) and Billie Eilish makes headlines every time she talks about porn, her sexuality or even her relationships.

But the issue of anorgasmia (the inability to, or difficulty reaching orgasm) is something that still feels slightly hush-hush. In an age where sex positivity runs rampant, admitting that you can’t partake in the thing the rest of society seems to be enjoying must be scary — and indeed, Biala is adamant there’s nothing like what she’s making currently out there.

There is, I venture, Cara Delevingne’s BBC documentary, Planet Sex, in which she experiences multiple orgasms on-screen in her journey to discover more about the science of sex. Biala disagrees. “It was more [about] other people’s experiences within the LGBT community,” she says, “Whereas my documentary, it’s my own journey, because I’ve never had an orgasm.”

Banish thoughts of this being unusual: as many as one in eight women have never been able to climax at all. For Biala, a lot of it stems from the stigma her religious upbringing applied to all matters sexual, as well as the lacklustre sex education taught in schools: so lacklustre, in fact, that when she found out about the female orgasm at 19, she thought it was “a sexual myth”.

“I suppose from the education system’s perspective, they’re thinking about, ‘Oh, let’s protect these kids from STDs, STIs and pregnancies,’” she says. “But then no one ever thinks about, ‘Oh, maybe we should talk to them about shame and masturbation and enjoying sex.’”

This approach seems to have been supercharged by Biala’s upbringing in a religious Irish-Nigerian household (her family moved to Ireland when Biala was three). By her own admission, she never talked to her mother about sex — in fact, Biala’s mother grounded her for a year when she was 15, under the mistaken assumption that her daughter was sexually active.

“We didn’t speak about sex at all. And then when we did it was just more of like, ‘Don’t have sex,’ or ‘Don’t get pregnant.’ And that was it,” she says. “But I guess no one really wants to speak to their parents about sex. And I think especially when you’re Nigerian, and it’s like, the worst thing you can do before you’re married, then you definitely don’t want to speak about sex.”

Yewande attends a sex party for her documentary (Spung Old TV)
Yewande attends a sex party for her documentary (Spung Old TV)

This was compounded by her time at school, where masturbation was hugely peer-shamed. “I’m pretty sure people were masturbating at secondary school, but when anyone got asked about it, [it would be] like, ‘Oh, my God, that’s disgusting. Like, why would you ask me that?’ And you kind of internalised… well, at least I internalised a lot of it growing up.” More than 10 years after Biala left school, sex education still is a controversial topic: earlier this year, a group of Conservative MPs set the internet on fire when they accused schools of teaching “graphic lessons on oral sex, how to choke your partner safely and 72 genders”, which in turn sparked a government review into the way PSE was being taught in schools.

“I totally get it and how complicated it is,” Biala says pensively. “But I think you do kind of need to sit down and realise that… kids have iPads before they’re five years old. They have access to the internet, they have access to TikTok, they have access to forums. I think it’s so important that they’re getting taught the right information. Because if they’re not getting taught the right information, they will find the wrong information online.”

And to be fair, the documentary is an education of sorts. We see Biala attempt to masturbate manually — she says it feels like “rubbing dry meat”; with sex toys (“my clit is literally going to fall off”) and watch a sex therapist masturbate in front of her to show her how it’s done. Spoiler alert: there’s a lot of full-frontal genitalia, and it’s all very NSFW. It’s also very necessary. In one scene, Biala asks her Instagram followers if any of them have experienced the same thing; the result is an outpouring of support. “I feel so seen!” one writes to her; “You’re not alone,” says another.

Despite this, Biala squeals and protests when I go as far as calling her a poster girl for anorgasmia (she has not been formally diagnosed with the condition). “I think I could be the wrong person to have those conversations with, because I can’t even help myself,” she says. Ouch.

That said, she’s still determined to create change. “Just to have [the documentary] there, and for people to understand that these are issues that we should be talking about, and it’s totally normal: it being on TV is a stepping stone for that.”

And with a swish of her hair, she’s off.

Secrets of the Female Orgasm airs on Channel 4 at 10pm on August 31