We need to start talking about sex, sexual health and everything in between.
Now foreplay is Sunnah, but after this year, I am convinced that we are not doing enough in some parts of the Muslim community to discuss sexual health education. Or that sex is meant to be a consensual act of love, or that there are health protocols to stay healthy once one becomes sexually active.
I grew up as a first-generation, Muslim American, with parents who had strong cultural and Muslim values, but I found ways to self-educate.
My mother would attend my school’s optional parent viewing of the sexual health education videos beforehand to know what they were teaching me in the Southern United States, and allowed me to attend. In high school, I did the sex-ed gym class drill but it all still felt very distant. I wasn’t interested in sex and never had honest in depth discussions about it with friends or family. I had seen the basic condom on banana gimmick but after grade nine, while learning about the menstrual cycle in a science class, I found my own ways to learn and ask.
This was all before I had any tangible interest in sex, so the physical act was far from my periphery. I knew what condoms were, that hymens were “broken on virgins” (which I would later learn is a myth), and that Muslim girls shouldn’t use tampons.
Many Muslim youth face an identity crisis when it comes to sexuality, and largely as a fragmented diaspora that is racialized, we are both viewed as oppressed but also hyper-sexualized. It creates a taboo, almost a shame, about sex – even if it’s sex that is entirely halal between a married couple. Many Muslim women are left torn between a dichotomy of desexualized and hypersexualized narratives tossed at them. Growing up in North America, this dichotomy, being exposed to sex & sexuality, and facing social pressures, is inevitable.
Not addressing sex is teaching our girls (and boys) nothing. As a practicing Muslim at 22, I have come to terms with the fact that people engage in premarital sex and shunning it, or not discussing it, will not prevent that. For our girls, who I believe stay virginal longer due to fear mongering of purity and dualistic standards for their male counterparts, there is a need for education. Contrary to what many believe, sexual health education involves elements beyond intercourse, that are health and consent focused. Sex education does not translate to sudden intercourse; that is an autonomous and stand-alone choice for the individual, with or without the education to make informed decisions.
There are women and men in our communities who do not entirely know what sex entails and this proves to be dangerous. Many women on their wedding night are left hurt, assaulted, and confused because of a popular cultural expectation of women being obliged to please men. Women who are broken after their wedding night, forced to smile the next day for celebratory walimas and parties. In the hope of chastity, honor, and purity, we have dodged the necessary lessons that would keep our girls safe and educate our boys and girls on what healthy sexual relationships in Islam entail.