Friday, October 08, 2010

Sex and Islam

You're listening now? Or maybe you are on the phone to the haram police frantically giving them this web address. A twitter convo (you know who you are) got me thinking about sex-ed and sex in the Muslim world, and just how messed up it can all get. And seeing as I have an 11 year old now, it's a topic that is on my radar right now anyway.

So what I want to say is 2 fold: first what should we be teaching our kids and why, second what should the average Muslim's attitude about sex be vs what it is now?

Let's start on the same page here. Let's start with the basic agreement that all aspects of our culture are saturated in sex. From the billboards you drive by on the way to school to the TV (even family programing)that you watch in the evenings, they are all full of sexual content. You don't have to go further than the Disney channels pre-teen programs to know that sex and dating are on the minds of even the youngest kids. The racy photos of Disney stars are proof that they know the dollar value of being sexy and are racing towards adulthood at break-neck speed. Lets also agree that none of this means sex is bad. Or that being sexy makes you a slut. Or that liking sex makes you a whore. Sex is like driving... If you do it before you are old enough and have your license it's bad, but after that no one faults you for it. And to extend the metaphor, you only drive your car... You follow the rules of the road and you will find that driving is useful and enjoyable, a vital part of being independent for many of us.

So, knowing that... When should we teach kids about sex? How? What exactly should we talk about? Well, I say let the kids lead. And they know all about how cool and fun sex can be from the world around them already by maybe 12 at the latest. So, I think you have to start talking to kids about the reproductive system and all the changes that will be happening in your body by about age 10. I would go even younger if you have reason to suspect that they may go through puberty early. There are plenty of great books out there that you could use, and it's important to know what you are talking about when you get into this discussion. Then, not all at once you can start talking to them about the other aspects of sex. Use the openings where you see them, maybe a scene in a movie is a good chance to say how even though watching sex isn't appropriate, when you are married these are things you will enjoy with your partner. I have been open with my kids about the birth process, and I think that falls into that category. It's a good chance to tell your kids who are old enough how pregnancy happens and what giving birth is really like. I seriously doubt that anyone ever fell into sin because they couldn't stop thinking about what their father told them about how babies are made. Really. And he same goes for birth control and STDs. We know from abstinence only education that kids aren't put off by not talking about sex. They just learn how to technically stay a virgin. Which is just more reason that we should be frank if you ask me. Yes, there is something called oral-sex and it feels great... But you can't do it until you are married. Yes, you can give a guy a hand-job in the school parking lot... But that is not OK. These conservative people have taught us that there is danger in omission. So I'm not for it.

I guess my main view is that I don't want my son's education to come from the porn industry. It's not a realistic view of a male female relationship, and I certainly don't want my son to think his wife will be like an actress in one of those movies. So it's my job to moderate all the wild fantasy in movies and locker rooms with a dose of the reality. But, I want them to know that there is exploration to be done too. Just not before they are married. And I don't think this conversation can wait until the engagement party, not in the world we live in.

As for the Muslim world and our view of sex... Unfortunately, I think it's pretty screwed up. Men are up all night watching porn on the dish and then they go to wives who are still being conditioned to think of sex as dirty and everyone suffers. Now I think sex is an issue in any marriage, something you have to work on. It takes a frankness and lack of shame to tell even your spouse what you want, what turns you on. And having this attitude that sex is dirty and shameful makes it hard to talk about those things even in the context of marriage. Men and women have a fundamentally different view of it to start with. We look at as a chance for deepening intimacy and men look at it as a recreational sport. But we can meet in the middle. IF and only IF we get rid of the idea that Islam discouraging sex outside of marriage and Islam discouraging sex are the same thing. They are not. Men are told to go to their wives as they wish, and advised not to just ride their wives like bulls but instead to play with them. So when did sex become dirty? And how are we daring to throw women who have been sheltered from anything sexual into marriages with men who have been viewing porn (and I think that pretty much all men) since puberty? Well, I think that in trying to discourage sex outside of marriage many parts of the Muslim community opted to just plain discourage sex. It was complicated to separate the two, to make rules... Or was it? I come back to the car analogy. No one would let a 12 year old drive. No one would let even a 30 old drive if they didn't have a license, but we don't discourage driving or prevent people from learning about it for fear that they will do it without a license. Where this analogy fails is that sex is private, no one knows but you if you are violating the license. So of course we are more likely to do it. That's where the consequences and the information comes in.

Teaching people about sex can really help them enjoy it when they do get married. Not teaching them doesn't really prevent the experimenting biology drives us to do, it just makes us ashamed of our sexuality. So in my mind the way forward for the Muslim world is to teach our children about sex. In the time of the prophet people would have known about it because they lived in close quarters and people in the past were just more frank and open about it. Definitely children would have seen birth and animals mating... So they knew more. Now we live in a more closed society that is bombarding you with only half the story about sex, the good part, and ignoring the complex reality of it. Balance people, balance in all things... So the more we have thrown at us, the more we have to balance it. You can't ignore it, not with any good result, and throwing out sex-ed is ignoring it. The key to having a good sex life and preventing pre-marital sex are the same to me. INFORMATION.

I might come back to refine this post later... But I just wanted to give you all something hot out of the mental oven so to speak. Some food for thought. OK, you can call the haram police now if you'd like. I think I'm ready to defend myself.


Um Abdullah said...

SubhanAllah, such great points. I was just talking about this with a convert friend of mine. She told a story about an african-american sister who married a pakistani. She was raised Muslim and was a virgin, so obviously looked forward to her wedding night. The guy basically insisted she remained entirely clothed and then her mother-in-law came into their room the next morning bright and early, saw her wearing a sexy nighty she got for the occasion and said she was not allowed to ever display her body like that, not even in front of her husband. Gosh! What is this madness?

I had some students last year at a madrassa, my bosses daughters. They were 7 and 9. Their mother was 9 months pregnant. I asked them how she was doing, were they excited about the baby, etc.? They looked shocked and said mommy's belly is big because she has been sick lately, going to the hospital a lot and such. I couldnt believe these children at this age did not even know what was happening to their mother. Then, the younger of them laughed, said she understands I am a new Muslim and that she needed to explain where babies come from (I had a one year old at the time...p.s.). She goes into this elaborate story about a big bird Allah sends from the sky who drops the baby from his mouth into the carseat and sets it outside the front door. and no one ever knows (not even mommy and daddy) when the bird is coming.

Can you believe this???? The 14 year old sister of them nearly lost her marbles when I asked her about it, exclaiming "Oh, my gosh! You didn't tell them my mom is pregnant did you???? Oh no. oh no!" like she was gonna get beat later or something.

This kind of ridiculousness is just NOT Islamic.

Um Abdullah said...

However, I would personally disagree with your estimate that ALL men look at porn regularly. I would even disagree that all men have looked at it in their lifetime. My husband, a very traditional Egyptian from the village, is one such example of a man I know for sure has never seen a porn in his life because i have had to explain various aspects of porn to him, and he always seems dumbfounded and shocked that people accept this kind of disgustingness. (He is also a sheikh, btw, but is a pretty down-to-earth guy that is otherwise very informed about these sorts of

Anonymous said...

I also have to disagree with your generalization, my husband is certainaly aware that porn exists however he's disgusted by the thought that anyone would accept to expose themselves like that.
Not every man watches porn.
I also think that it's the parents duty to educate their children on that matter but it's also up to them to decide when it's appropriate to do so

UmmLayla said...

Umm Abdullah, The story you are telling is what I have experienced, and what I think we should seek to avoid.

Anon, I think you know your kids, and of course you should determine the age at which they hear these things... But my concern is that it seems the people who opt out of sex ed aren't delaying it... They are never going to teach it.

Both of you, I think I wasn't clear due to my snarkiness!LOL I do think that with the lovely invention of global communications 99% of men have seen some form of pornography... But the exaggeration is the part about viewing it all the time. I know that's not true... But the temptation is strong, and the material is there.

Mona Z said...

Good post. I think sex ed is lacking in the middle east and now I read that Egypt was planning to scrap it all together. You wouldn't believe the misinformation that is out there. There's nothing wrong with knowledge!

Muslim Hippie said...

Absolutely love this post. The car analogy is brilliant! I couldn't agree more.

Thank you!!!!


The AmerArab Wife said...

I have met so many women in the Middle East (of various social classes and in different countries) whose predominant attitude toward or memory of their wedding night was fear of not knowing what to expect, because no one ever talked to them about it. On the other hand, my husband says the majority of Arab men he's known have watched porn and had sexual experiences prior to marriage, often under the "tutelage" of an older male relative. This brings a horrible imbalance into the sexual aspect of marriage that I doubt few couples ever overcome. I agree that parents should be the ones to teach their children about sex but at least when it comes to females, it doesn't seem that it happens very often.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this very good and corageous article. It's about time muslim parents thougt about how they want to inform and lead their kids through a society which offers free porn to any kid and teach them the loving, fulfilled and protected sexuality Islam offers in marriage.

nisa said...

Assalaamu alaikum sis

How do we read the book you wrote?

JazakAllah khair

Candice said...

Great post! I am totally with you on all points. Sex ed is so necessary! People need to know... They'll be the ones having it afterall! And Islam is so open about sex when done between husband and wife - it's a gift that is totally halal for us to take part in and like you say, women are left scared and uncomfortable and men are left with the idea that it should be like in pornos. There is a huge lack! Women should feel comfortable with the idea of pleasing their husbands and being pleased, and men should be able to explore a little with their wives!

Anonymous said...

Outstanding work! I appreciate your critical thinking around this project.Wonderful, this is more than I expected.

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