"Sex is haram." I firmly stated, looking at my defiant cousin with a heated gaze.
"Are you crazy? How do you think babies are made?"
I looked at her as though she was the devils spawn, and recited to her what my mother and aunts had embedded in my memory.
"You go to the doctor and they inject you with some kind of liquid that fertilizes your eggs."
My cousin laughed out loud, and it was her turn to look at me as if I had sprung three heads.
"You idiot. That's sperm, and that happens when you have SEX."
I shook my head, refusing to believe a word she was saying. No way. That was completely haram; my poor cousin was just falling prey to the lies and deceit portrayed by the television. I proceeded to change the subject, uncomfortable with what we were talking about.
As embarrassing as it is to admit, I was 14 years old with these naive beliefs.
See, I was an extremely conservative, sheltered and, well, gullible child. So when I asked my mother how on earth babies were made, she brushed it off telling me this tale -- much like the story of babies being brought by storks in a basket -- which my aunts affirmed whenever I asked. I instantly believed it, and knew the few glimpses I caught on TV of whatever actors were doing under those sheets was completely wrong. I believed it was harmful and Allah would never forgive me if I did whatever "it" was.
Because my mother had always opted me out of the sex education classes that were offered in my elementary school up until then, I knew very little about sex and my sexuality. The library was full of us Muslim kids who were opted out of FLE (Family Life Education), with the exception of a few other kids who came from conservative families. We would sit there and laugh about how ridiculous the classes were, glad to have a free pass out of the "sinful" lessons our parents had warned us about, not realizing at the time that FLE did not only talk about sex, but taught both boys and girls the importance of keeping our genitals clean and healthy, as well as giving general guidelines on things that were not common knowledge to most people.
Thankfully as I grew older I was enlightened on the topic, and much to my embarrassment, still received relentless taunting from my cousin for believing such a childish story. It is common now for my close girlfriends and I to go into deep discussions about love and sex, understanding that sex is in fact a major component of life, and it's perfectly normal for us to feel the urges we have, and discuss it freely. We all adamantly hold our belief in waiting until marriage for sex, but know it's completely normal.
This unfortunately, is not the case with everyone.
From female genital mutilation to honor killings, countless societies often take extreme measures to control women's sexuality and knowledge about sex, disguising the extremity of it with the defense of 'preserving her chastity' and simply following the guidelines of Islam. News flash: Islam is in fact very open about sex, and in no way condones the gruesome lifestyle and lack of sexual education found in many Muslim communities, set by insecure, patriarchal leaders.
The lack of education and discussion about sex and sexuality is a problematic issue recurring in my community and others. We were indirectly taught our whole lives to just shut up, keep our legs closed, and not ask questions, so when the pressures of external forces came about, many girls were left confused and often gave into it with little understanding of what they were doing. Girls are being taken advantage of because they are unaware and uneducated on matters relating to sex. Both my Muslim and non-Muslim friends often jumped into things they weren't ready for, usually resulting in terrible consequences. There isn't a foundation built to remind us of what exactly is okay, what isn't, and why.
This needs to change, and it needs to change fast. Making sex a taboo topic in the Muslim community is not only ludicrous, but also extremely dangerous. Because we live in a world where women are hyper-sexualized, it is crucial girls are taught to be comfortable with who they are, while also realizing sex is in fact a natural part of life and should be a positive experience. Too often newly married woman have retold horror stories of their 'first night,' a problem I believe stems from the lack of knowledge they received prior to having sex. It is time woman are taught their body developing isn't something to cower away from.
More lectures need to be given on the importance of sex and sexual health. More parents need to sit down with their kids and talk openly about this aspect of growing up and maturing.. We need to urge women to visit the gynecologist regularly, be aware of their sexuality, and quit being ashamed of what Allah blessed us with. The Prophet (SAW) himself urged his companions to be mindful of pleasing their wives, and vice versa for women, so why is it such a taboo topic in our community today? It is time we stood up to break the barriers around the conversation of sex, and become more open and accepting of our human nature.
Khadra Said has an intense passion for telling, writing, and hearing stories. She hopes to double major in English and International Studies, so she can fulfill her destiny -- which is, of course, saving the world. She currently resides in the DC metropolitan area, but plans to escape and travel the world as soon as she graduates. When she's not swamped with work, she enjoys writing short stories, reading, and taking long walks...to the fridge. Find her on Twitter at @khadrasaidwhat.