By Mariam Alhosani
Marriage is a significant milestone for many people around the world. In some cultures it signifies the solidification or legalization of a couple’s intimacy. In the Muslim and Arab world it usually signifies that a couple are now permitted to be intimate. With this notion comes a whole world of confusion for many young women and men. After being told to exist asexually for their entire young adulthood, they are now expected to dive deep into the world of sexuality with minimal knowledge and very little sources to turn to for guidance.
Sexual education is an extremely sensitive topic in the Muslim and Arab regions. It is surrounded by so much red tape and warning signs that it has led to dysfunctional and unrealistic ideas about intercourse and sexual health. Disgruntled young adults turning to pornography, unhappy marriages and the disregard of useful sexual information are all results of labeling sexual education as taboo.
Refraining from teaching sexual education in schools or through proper organisations is just pushing many young adults to self-educate online. A recent study conducted by the National Union of Students in the UK found that 60 per cent of the students they surveyed citied pornography as a resource for their sexual education. Even though many of them citied understanding that the scenarios portrayed in pornographic movies are unrealistic, they still considered pornography as their primary source for information. The concepts that porn movies show, from violence during sex, to sex without mutual consent or to unsafe sex all create an unstable base of a young adult’s sexual knowledge.
The GCC Statistical Center published a report on Marriage and Divorce in GCC countries that shows an increase in divorce rates in the past several years. In 2015, there were approximately 5,000 divorce cases and a 56.7 per cent decline in marriage contracts in the UAE. Bahrain, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar all reported similar statistics that highlight the increase of divorces and decrease of marriages . While the reasons for divorce are not always transparent to the courts, the nature of marriages in the region, where many couples have a short period to get to know each other, can lead to intimacy issues and sexual frustration. In addition, if young couples were more aware of what to expect after marriage, there would be more room for open communication on their thoughts and emotions concerning their sexual relationship.
Dr. Fawzieh Al-Dorai, a Kuwaiti psychologist specialised in couples’ therapy with a master’s degree in sexual education and a PhD in the treatment of sexual problems, better known for her tv shows “Seerat El Hob” and “Dr.Foz & Friends”, has spent years resisting cultural boundaries and fighting for the accessibility of sexual education. Through her program, she discussed many intimacy related topics with a long line of callers that frequently gave fake names and were filled with shame while asking about legitimate sexual concerns. She has been criticised and ridiculed on Youtube, Instagram and other social media platforms for being blunt and direct, and has been accused of encouraging young adults to pursue sex. She offers useful information in an informal way, which causes a lot of people to cringe while listening to her and lose sight of the message she is trying to get through. Educating ourselves with useful information from experts like Dr. Fawzieh, regardless of how uncomfortable we might feel, is essential in shifting our views on sexual health.
Implementing institutional sexual education won’t happen overnight, and the only way it will be considered is if we begin to normalise the conversation. Parents and caregivers need to invest the time in educating themselves and learn how to have conversations with their offspring on sexual matters. Specialists and councilors that know the benefits of sexual education need to push harder for government approved workshops and curriculums that can be introduced into schools and institutions that deal with young adults and newly married couples.
The more empowered with knowledge people are, the less likely they will fall victim to sexual abuse, sexual harassment or sexually transmitted diseases. Being more aware of sexual health and body image will help improve relationships and marriages that can be overwhelmed with confusion and misinformation.
Sexual education can be done in a way that is culturally sensitive and within the guidelines of Islamic teachings. The Quran has many verses on intercourse and its guidelines, which is a form of sexual education that has been provided to Muslims for centuries. In modern Muslim and Arab societies, we need to be able to discuss these existential, crucial matters without shame and without guilt.
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Mariam Al Hosani is an Emirati storyteller living between the UAE and Germany.