In a recent conversation with a friend from college on sex and sexuality in a Desi Muslim context, I came to many realizations.
It started with my friend lamenting about how her mother complained that she and her sisters were bad Muslims because they had too much fun and “Shaitan had gotten to them.”
We talked about how this negative, almost punitive approach to Islam was common in Desi Muslim culture and how this sometimes made the practice of Islam in our modern lives difficult.
It often pushed people away from Islam, because they were “not good enough.”
We disagreed with a lot of the ways that our upbringings approached many religious topics, and saw the practice of Islam in a more positive manner.
Somehow, our conversation turned to sex and sexuality as an example, and how those topics were seen negatively and were extreme taboos for most Desi Muslims. These were topics that were never discussed, and when they were, were associated with shame.
We discussed how these areas were more taboo for women in particular, and how repressive Desi Muslim culture was of female sexuality.
Following the conversation, I reflected on this even further. I had never really thought about how truly repressive Desi Muslim culture was of female sexuality. I realized how not only was sex and sexuality a taboo, but how culturally, we were expected to be asexual.
That obviously meant not engaging in sexual acts, but also meant as soon as we reached the age of puberty, and displayed any outward signs of sexuality, we had to cover it up all the time.
Any display of our bodies in any way that was sexual was unacceptable.
I will never forget in fourth grade when I had to tell one of my non-Muslim friends that I couldn’t wear shorts anymore because my mom had told me that I was too old to wear shorts.
When I told her that, she exclaimed: “How can you ever be too old to wear shorts?!” At the time, I did not even know what to say. It was simply an order from my mom, and I followed it.
While I do agree with modest dress, I wish I was told why, when I reached puberty, I was expected to dress more modestly whereas no changes were expected of my brothers.
I wish I had some understanding at the time of why dressing modestly was important.
Not only are we never told about what sex is, but we are also expected to be asexual in every part of our lives, including dressing modestly at home. We are never told the Islamic perspective towards sex and sexuality. It was through my own research and understanding later in life, that I learned that the Islamic perspective towards sex and sexuality is very positive.
That it is something beautiful and celebrated, within a given context, marriage.
Yet for most Desi Muslims, this is never talked about.
Especially growing up in the US, where people are exposed to sex from a very young age, I think it is even more important for youth to understand the Islamic perspective on sex and sexuality. It is important so that young Muslims have a healthy perspective towards this topic, as opposed to one of shame.
It is unrealistic to expect that people will easily be able to shift their views when magically, this act that has been deemed shameful and dirty their whole lives, becomes allowable when they get married.
This is even more so for women.
How can young women, who have been so repressed their entire lives, and have associated their sexuality with shame, all of a sudden be expected to have healthy sex lives?