Danielle Brooks started out her life in a very religious household. Her mother and father are a minister and a deacon, respectively, and she grew up singing in her church choir and participating in oratorical contests run by her congregation. And the church also shaped her early thoughts about sex. "I had this Bible study teacher, who scared the bejesus out of us about having sex," Danielle tells me. "She was like, 'Anyone that enters you, they become a part of you!' And I was like, 'I’m just not ready for this.'"
Now 26, Danielle is known for portraying women on-screen who have no problem talking openly about their sexuality—like her Orange Is the New Black character, Taystee, or her character Sofia in The Color Purple on Broadway. And these roles have made an impact on Danielle, who says she just recently started talking publicly about sex—including losing her virginity during college. "I just remember like being there and the light’s dim or whatever, and saying to him, 'Just be gentle,'" she laughs. "And then, once we got into it, you would have thought I’d had sex for years the way I was talking!"
Danielle's quick rise to fame has affected her relationships. "My last relationship felt so like me being used in a lot of ways," she says. "They just wanted to be a part of that fame." But, she says, her current partner is teaching her new things about love and intimacy. "I’m realizing it’s okay to allow yourself love, even when you're scared of it," she says. "And that sex can be more than just physical, or love can definitely be more than physical."
Below: Watch video from Danielle's days singing in the church choir.