“The Tone-Up” amplifies the voices of Muslim women who have something exclusive about Muslim women to talk or rant about. In this instalment, Latheefa Adnan talks about hymens and taboos, emphasizing the need for Islamic Sex Education in Muslim Communities.
Trigger warning: Discussion of sexual abuse and gender abuse.
Nowadays, sexual stimuli is so commonplace and almost impossible to avoid. It is there on the billboards, in magazines, books or even in children’s cartoons. It is only sensible that we address the issue of sex and its prevalence in our society. Here, I say “simply address and talk about it”, because that is the bare minimum we should be willing to settle on! What I really want, is Islamic Sex Education as a norm in every Muslim Household and every Muslim school.
In part, I understand the resistance we tend to have with talking about sex. In no shape or form should we lose all modesty and spew filth publicly in front of children. We also should not encourage things like sex outside of marriage, masturbation or anything that Islam forbids. However, certain aspects of secular sex education can do just that, and it’s these encouragements that lead to the categorisation of Sex Ed as forbidden in Islam.
Interestingly, we see many examples of Sex Ed during the time of the Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him). Due to the resistance against Sex Ed, I will use the term Islamic Sex Ed, in hopes that people would not judge the concept as foreign and Non-Islamic, but that it has basis in Islam.
In this article, I want to highlight instances that show that there is a great need for Sex Ed in our communities. I concentrate on four major areas, which only begin to scratch at the entirety of its scope, application and necessity.
The Necessity of Islamic Sex Education as a Preventative Measure against Sexual Abuse
Even without citing statistics, we all know of the prevalence of child sexual abuse. It is unfortunately, too common for us to raise our kids in good conscience without taking at least one step to prevent it. One preventative step, is teaching young children the correct names of their genitals instead of pet names like pee-pee. The pet names differ from country to country, and even family to family, but they serve the same purpose everywhere. They attach shame and taboo to genitals and bodies. Yes, that is all they do.
The child’s inability to name their body parts correctly, or even their inability to say it due to the inferred shame parents have attached to them, leads to a great rift between children and parents. This is a breeding ground for predators, as they use children’s innocence and lack of knowledge to perpetuate their filthy actions.
The child who has been abused feels like s/he cannot articulate what has been done or what is going on. The lack of vocabulary surrounding the taboo mentioned above allows predators to succeed.
It is worth mentioning that the concept of teaching young children the correct names of their genitals is a radical idea even among many non-Muslim families. This is despite the fact that teaching kids about their genitals is important not only for prevention of sexual abuse but even for basic hygiene as well as knowing one’s body.
Is the Hymen a Marker of Virginity?
The issue of what and what doesn’t define virginity is oversimplified, reduced and painted as black and white. Legend has it that a woman is either a good virgin woman, or a bad non-virgin woman. The legend doesn’t end there. Women should prove that they are virgins by bleeding on their wedding night. There are many things wrong with this myth and mentality but let’s get into the basics first.
Hymen does not equal virginity. Contrary to the narrative that has been stressed through our lives, being a virgin means that a woman has not had sex with a man, yet. The bleed-test is not accurate for many reasons. First of all, many women don’t bleed the first time they have sex because their hymens could have torn earlier in their lives during exercise or bike accidents without them even knowing. It can also break due to the insertion of a tampon or a menstrual cup. Some women are even born without a hymen. Secondly, It is unfair to expect this from women who have been abused or raped. They have every right to withhold that information from people in their lives. Thirdly, it is also unfair to judge women who are converts or women who didn’t practise Islam before, by standards God has forgiven them for. Fourthly, on the other hand, a woman can have oral or anal sex with multiple men without having peno-vaginal intercourse. Hence, a woman bleeding or being a ‘technical’ virgin is also not a guarantee that she has never been with a man before. Lastly, why is this pressure only placed on women to prove that they have been celibate? Oh, wait, we all know why.
This myth is not only damaging and unfair to women’s mental health but it can also be damaging to women’s physical health. These pressures lead to the use of tools which are meant to be inserted into the vagina before sexual intercourse. These tools make the woman bleed and trick the man. God knows what’s in it. There are surgeries that can be done to make sure the woman bleeds during sex. In some parts of the world, women can even be killed for not bleeding on their wedding-night. Killed at worst, labelled-for-life at best, women do not deserve this unfair standards forced upon them.
Wedding Nights: The Necessity of Islamic Sex Education as Women’s Right
Is it not a huge disservice to our women when we let them enter marriages without informing them about sex at all?
If a woman is lucky enough to get a tip or two from a well-meaning family member or friend, then the worst is the claim, that first time sex will hurt like hell and you just have to endure it and that eventually it will get better. Not only do many women suffer unnecessarily, because it can easily be avoided, but many women go on to develop conditions like vaginismus, live their whole lives with painful sex, sexless marriages or the marriage dissolves because the couple cannot figure it out. Again here, we see how taboo and little awareness renders it almost impossible for people to reach out for help, be it from a close person or a healthcare professional. Moreover, lack of knowledge puts the woman at huge risk of spousal exploitation. A woman who doesn’t know her Islamic sexual rights, wouldn’t even know that she is being abused.
Women who have already been married, but have never had a chance to get proper sex education, could still be missing out on their marital sex lives even if they don’t face the worst problems. Women need to know how to explore their own sexuality in order to reach the full potential of their marital sex life. Simple tricks like using a vaginal lubricant could change a woman’s life immensely and they absolutely deserve it!
These are only a few instances where Islamic sex education is a required necessity in our communities. There are many more. The good news is the availability of resources (which will be added below) so that we don’t have to stay in this enforced ignorance.
All in all, I hope Islamic Sex education can be a step for the world I dream of. I dream of a better world where both modesty and sex education is the norm, a world where no more women and men are forced to silently suffer, a world that deals with problems related to sexual health by acknowledging the lack of awareness and cultural taboos attached to it. A world which encourages Islamic sex education.
Resources on Sex Education
1. Bent Rib by Huda Khattab
2. Closer than a Garment by Muhammed al-Jibaly
3. Come as you are by Emily Nagoski
When informing oneself using these resources, the reader is responsible to take what is within the bounds of Islam and reject the rest. The non-Muslim sources have been included due to the valuable information they provide that cannot be found elsewhere.