By Dr. Shahid Athar M.D.
“If you tell kids about sex, they’ll do it. If you tell them about VD, they’ll go out and get it. Incredible as may seem, most oppositions to sex education in this country are based on the assumption that knowledge is harmful. But research in this area reveals that ignorance and unresolved curiosity, not knowledge, are harmful. Our failure to tell children what they want and need to know is one reason we have the highest rates of out-of-wedlock teens pregnancy and abortion of any highly developed country in the world.” – What Kids Need to Know, Psychology Today, October 1986. Dr. Sol Gordon, Professor Emeritus, Syracuse University, and an expert on sex education
“Say: Are they equal those who know, and those who do not know?” (Quran 39:9).
“Blessed are the women of the Helpers. Their modesty did not stand in the way of their seeking knowledge about their religion” (Bukhari and Muslim).
Although the Quran has placed so much emphasis on acquiring knowledge, and in the days of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) Muslim men and women were never too shy to ask him questions including those related to private affairs such as sexual life, for Muslim parents of today, sex is a dirty word. They feel uncomfortable in discussing sex education with their children, but do not mind the same being taught at their children’s school by secular or non-Muslim teachers (of even the opposite sex), by their peers of either sex, and by the media and television. An average child is exposed to 9000 sexual scenes per year.
These parents should know that sex is not always a dirty word. It is an important aspect of our life. God Who cares for all the aspects of our life, and not just the way of worshipping Him, discusses reproduction, creation, family life, menstruation and even ejaculation in the Quran. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), who was sent to us as an example, discussed many aspects of sexual life including sexual positions with his Companions.
The main reason Muslim parents do not or cannot discuss sex education with their children is because of the their cultural upbringing, not their religious training. They are often brought up in a state of ignorance in regard to sex issues. As a result, they may not be comfortable with their own sexuality or its expression. They leave Islamic education to Islamic Sunday schools and sex education to American public schools and the media.
What Is Sex Education And Who Should Give It?
Is sex education about knowing the anatomy and physiology of the human body or about the act of sex or about reproduction and family life or about prevention of sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancy? Is giving sex ed equivalent to permission in engaging in sex? One sex educator at my son’s school told the parents, “I am not planning to tell your children whether or not they should engage in sex or how to do it but in case they decide to do it, they should know how to prevent sexually transmitted diseases (STD), venereal diseases (VD), acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) and pregnancy.”
The problem with this is that at the present time sex ed as taught in the public schools is incomplete. It does not cover morality associated with sex, sexual dysfunctions and deviations and the institution of marriage.
One of the basic questions is, “Do children need sex education?” Do you teach a baby duck how to swim or just put it in the water and let it swim? After all, for thousands of years men and women have been having sex without any formal education. In many traditional civilizations, sex education starts after marriage and with trial and error. Some couples learn it faster than others and do it better than others due to difference in sexual perception and expression of one partner. In my opinion having a dozen children is not necessarily proof of their love. An appropriate and healthy sex education is crucial to the fulfilment of a happy marriage.
With regard to the question who should teach sex ed, I believe everyone has to play his or her role. Parents have to assume a more responsible role. A father has a duty to be able to answer his son’s questions and a mother has the same duty to her daughter. We can hardly influence the sex ed taught in public schools or by the media, but we can supplement that with an ethical and moral dimension adding family love and responsibility. Apart from these players, some role can be played by Sunday school teachers, the family physician, the paediatrician and the clergy. Within a family, the older sister has a duty towards the younger one and the elder brother has a duty towards younger ones.
Sex Education In American Schools
Sex education is given in every American school, public or private, from grades 2 to 12. The projected 1990 cost to the nation was $2 billion per year. Teachers are told to give technical aspects of sex ed without telling the students about moral values or how to make the right decisions. After describing the male and female anatomy and reproduction, the main emphasis is on the prevention of venereal diseases and teenage pregnancy. With the rise of AIDS, the focus is on ‘Safe Sex’ which means having condoms available each time you decide to have sex with someone you don’t know. With the help of our tax dollars, about 76 schools in the country have started dispensing free condoms and contraceptives to those who go to school health clinics. Very soon there will be vending machines in school hallways where ‘children’ can get a condom each time they feel like having sex.
The role of parents is minimized by American sex educators and sometimes ridiculed. In one of the sex ed movies I was made to watch a film called, “Am I Normal?” as a parent at my son’s school. Whenever the young boy asks his father a question about sex, the father, shown as a bum and a slob, shuns him and changes the topic. Finally the boy learns it from a stranger and then is shown going into a movie theater with his girlfriend.
Sex education as promoted by some Western educators is devoid of morality is in many ways unacceptable to our value system. The examples of the teachings of one such educator are:
a. Nudity in homes (in shower or bedroom) is a good and healthy way to introduce sexuality to smaller (under 5) children, giving them an opportunity to ask questions. At the same time, in the same book, he also states that 75% of all child molestation and incest (500,000 per year) occur by a close relative (parent, step-parent or another family member).
b. A child’s playing with genitals of another child is a permissible ‘naive exploration’ and not a reason for scolding or punishment. He is also aware that boys as young as 12 have raped girls as young as 8. We don’t know when this ‘naive exploration’ becomes a sex act.
c. Children caught reading dirty magazines should not be made to feel guilty, but parents should use it as a chance to get some useful points across to him or her about sexual attitudes, values and sex exploitation, Like charity, pornography should start at home!
d. If your daughter or son is already sexually active, instead of telling them to stop, the parent’s moral duty is to protect their health and career by providing them information and means for contraception and avoiding VD. Maybe this its true for rebellious teens and their submissive parents!
Educators like the one referred to above do not believe that giving sexual information means giving the OK for sex. I just wonder as to why some folks after being told the shape, colour, smell and taste of a new fruit, and pleasures derived from eating it, would not like to try it? These educators say that even if your child does not ask any questions about sex, parents should initiate the discussion using i.e. a neighbours pregnancy, a pet’s behaviour, advertisement, popular music or a TV show. I wonder why these educators are obsessed with loading children with sexual information whether they want it or not.
The More They Know It – The More They Do It
Sex education in American schools has not helped decrease the teenager incidence of VD or teenage pregnancy. This is because it has not changed their sex habits. According to Marion Wright Elderman, President of the Children’ Defense Fund, in a recent report, out of every twenty teens, ten are sexually active but only four use conceptions, two get pregnant and one gives birth. In 1982, a John Hopkins study found one out of every five 15 year olds, and one in three 16 year olds are sexually active. The incidence increased to 43% in 17 year olds. The Louis Harris poll in 1986 found that 57% of the nations 17 year olds, 46% of 16 year olds, 29% 15 year old were sexually active. Now it is estimated that about 80% of girls entering college had sexual intercourse at least once. Going to church does not help either. 1438 teenagers, mostly white, attending conservative evangelical church were sent questions about their sex life. 26% of 16 year olds, 35% of 17 year olds, and 43% of 18 year olds said they had sexual intercourse at least once. 33% that responded also said sex outside of marriage was morally acceptable.
Hazards of Early Sex
The health hazards of early sex includes sexual trauma, increase in incidence of cervical cancer, sexually transmitted disease and teenage pregnancy. We will take up each individually. A variety of injuries are possible and do happen when sex organs are not ready for sex in terms of full maturation. Some of these injuries have a long lasting effect. Cervical cancer has been thought to be related to sex at an early age and with multiple partners. Dr. Nelson and his associates in their article on epidemiology of cervical cancer call it a sexually transmitted disease.
About one million or more teenage girls become pregnant every year, at a rate of 3000 per day, 80% of whom are unmarried. Out of this I million, about 500,000, decide to keep their baby, and 450,000 are aborted. 100,000 decide to deliver and give the baby up for adoption. In 1950 the incidence of birth from unmarried teenagers was only 13.9%, but in 1985 it increased to 59%. It is a myth that teenage pregnancy is a problem of the black and poor. To the contrary 2/3 teens getting pregnant now are white, suburban and above the poverty income level. The pregnancy rate (without marriage) in 54,000 enlisted Navy women is 40% as compared to 17% in the general population.
What is the life of those who have teenage pregnancy? Only 50% complete high school and more than 50% of them are on welfare. They themselves become child abusers and their children, when grown up, have 82% incidence of teenage pregnancy. 8.6 billion dollars are spent every year for the financial and health care support of teenage mothers., The sexual revolution of the 60’s has affected another dimension of health care. In 1985 alone, 10 million cases of chlamydia, 2 million cases of gonorrhoea, I million venereal warts, 0.5 million genital herpes and 90,000 syphilis were diagnosed. The plague of AIDS is adding a new twist to our fears. 200,000 cases have been diagnosed in the US alone, out of which 50% have already died. The disease is growing at a rate of one case every 14 minutes and so far there is no effective treatment. Father Bruce Ritter in New York, who operates shelters for runaway children, says the biggest threat to the nation’s 1 million runaways is the threat of AIDS now.
Why do children get involved in sex?
There are many reasons why children get involved in sex. The most common is peer pressure. Their common response is “since everybody is doing it.” One of the reasons is their desire for sexual competence with adults and a way to get ahead. Another common reason is their lack of self-esteem which they want to improve by becoming a father or mother. Sometimes it is due to a lack of other alternatives to divert their sexual energies. It could also be due to a lack of love and appreciation at home. Detachment from home can lead to attachment elsewhere. Sexual pressure on them is everywhere, at school from their peers, from the TV where about 20,000 sexual scenes are broadcasted in advertisement, soap operas, prime time shows and MTV. Music affects our sexual mood. It does so by activating melatonin, the hormone from the pineal gland in the brain which is turned on by darkness and turned off by flashing lights. It is the same gland which has been thought to trigger puberty and affects the reproductive cycle and sex mood.
What is the true role of parents?
American educators are putting the blame for their failures (i.e. teenage pregnancy) on the parents. In fact in Wisconsin and many other states the grandparents of a baby born to a teenager are responsible for the financial support of the child. Remember parents are not needed if their teenage daughter needs contraceptives or abortion. Faced with such hypocrisy, the parents job is to instill in their teenagers mind what is not taught in sex ed classes, i.e. reason not to engage in sex, reason not to get pregnant, etc. At the same time, they should divert their energies to some productive activities like community work, sports, character growth, or Sunday schools. Another role of parents is to help their children make the right decisions.
In Islam anything which leads to wrong is also considered wrong. Therefore parents should control the music children are listening to or the TV program they are watching, the magazines they are reading, and the clothes (which may provoke desire in the opposite sex) they are wearing. While group social activity should be permitted with supervision, dating should not be allowed. When American teenagers start dating, sex is on their mind.
In fact during a recent survey, 25% of college freshman boys responded by saying that if they have paid for the food and the girl does not go all the way, they have a right to force her to have sex. Many of the rapes occur at the end of the date and are not reported. Anything which breaks down sexual inhibition and loss of self-control i.e. alcohol, drugs, parking, petting or just being together for two members of the opposite sex in a secluded place should not be allowed for Muslim teenagers. Kissing and petting is preparing the body for sex. The body can be brought to a point of no return.
In summary Muslim parents should teach their children that they are different from non-Muslims in their value system and way of life. Having a feeling and love in your heart for someone of the opposite sex is different and beyond control, while expression of the same through sex is entirely different and should be under control. Muslim children should be told that they don’t drink alcohol, eat pork, take drugs, and they don’t have to engage in pre-marital sex either.
Islamic Concept of Sexuality
Islam recognizes the power of sexual need, but the subject is discussed in the Quran and the saying of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) in a serious manner, in regard to marital and family life. Parents should familiarize themselves with this body of knowledge.
Sayings of prophet Mohammed
1. “When one of you have sex with your wife, it is a rewarded act of charity.” The companions were surprised and said, “But we do it purely out of our desire. How can it be counted as charity?” The Prophet replied, “If you had done it with a forbidden woman, it would have been counted as a sin, but if you do it in legitimacy, it is counted as charity.”
2. “Let not one of you fall upon his wife like a beast falls. It is more appropriate to send a message before the act.”
3. “Do not divulge the secrets of your sex life with your wife to another person nor describe her physical feature to anyone.”
Concept of Adultery in Islam
God says in the Quran, “Do not go near to adultery. Surely it is a shameful deed and evil, opening roads (to other evils)” (17:32). “Say, ‘Verily, my Lord has prohibited the shameful deeds, be it open or secret, sins and trespasses against the truth and reason”‘ (7:33). “Women impure are for men impure, and men impure are for women impure and women of purity are for men of purity, and men of purity are for women of purity” (24:26). Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), has said in many place that adultery is one of the three major sins. However the most interesting story is that of a young man who went to the Prophet and asked for permission to fornicate because he could not control himself. The Prophet dealt with him with reasoning and asked him if he would approve of someone else having illegal sex with his mother, sister, daughter or wife. Each time the man said ‘no’. Then the Prophet replied that the woman with whom you plan to have sex is also somebody’s mother, sister, daughter or wife. The man understood and repented. The Prophet prayed for his forgiveness.
Adultery is a crime not against one person but against the whole of society. It is a violation of marital contract. 50% of all first time marriages in this country result in divorce in two years and the main reason for divorce is the adultery of one of the partners. Adultery, which includes both pre-marital and extra marital sex, is an epidemic in this society. Nobody seems to listen to the Bible which says frequently, “Thou shall not commit adultery.” The Quranic approach is, “Do not approach adultery.”
What does it mean that not only is illegal sex prohibited, but anything which leads to illegal sex is also illegal? These things include dating, provocative dress, nudity, obscenity and pornography. The dress code both for men and women is to protect them from temptation and desires by on lookers who may lose self-control and fall into sin. “Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that will make for greater purity, and God is well acquainted with all they do. And say to the believing woman that they should lower their gaze, and guard their modesty” (24:30-3 1).
Concept of Marriage in Islam
Islam recognizes the strong sexual urge and desire for reproduction. Thus Islam encourages marriage as a legal sexual means and as a shield from immorality (sex without commitment). In Islam the marriage of a man and woman is not just a financial and legal living arrangement, not even just for reproduction, but providing a total commitment to each other, a contract witnessed by God. Love and joy of companionship is a part of the commitment. A married couple assumes a new social status and responsibility for himself, his wife and his children and for the community. The Quran says, “Among His signs is that He created consorts for you from among yourself, so that you may find tranquillity with them, and (He) set love and compassion between you. Verily in this are signs for people who reflect” (30:21).
Sayings of prophet Mohammed
“Marriage is my tradition. He who rejects my tradition is not of me” (Bukhari, Muslim).
“Marriage is half of religion. The other half is being God-fearing” (Tabarani, Hakim).
In Islam there is no fixed rule as to the age of marriage. It is becoming fashionable for young Muslim men not to marry until they have completed their education, have a job, or reached age 26-30 or more. Similarly young Muslim girls say they want to marry after age 24. Why? When asked, they say, “I am not ready for it.” Not ready for what? Don’t they have normal sexual desire? If the answer is yes, then they have only one of the two choices a) marry or b) postpone sex (abstinence until they marry). The Quran says, “Let those who find not the where withal for marriage, to keep them selves chaste till God find them the means from His Grace” (24:33).
The Prophet said, “Those of you who own the means should marry, otherwise should keep fasting for it curbs desires” (Ibn Massoud). The Western reason for delaying marriage is different than ours. When I suggested this to one of my sexually active young female patients, she bluntly said, “I don’t want to sleep with the same guy every night.”
Role Of Muslim Parents And Muslim Organizations
I am not proposing that all Muslim youth be married at age 16. But I must say that youth should accept the biological instinct and make decisions which will help to develop a more satisfied life devoted to having a career rather than spending time in chasing (or dreaming about) the opposite sex. Parents should help their sons and daughters in selection of their mate using Islamic practice as a criteria and not race, colour or wealth. They should encourage them to know each other in a supervised setting. The community organization has several roles to play.
a) To provide a platform for boys and girls to see and know each other without any intimacy.
b) Offer premarital educational courses to boys and girls over 18 separately to prepare them for the role of father and husband and of mother and wife. The father has a special role, mentioned by Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), “One who is given by God, a child, he should give it a beautiful name, should give him or her education, and training and when he or she attains puberty, he should see to it that he or she is married. If the father does not arrange their marriage after puberty, and the boy or girl is involved in sin, the responsibility of that sin will lie with the father”
Marriage of Muslim girls in the USA
Marriage of Muslim girls in this country is becoming a problem. I was not surprised to read the letter of a Muslim father in a national magazine. He complained that in spite of his doing his best in teaching Islam to his children, his college-going daughter announced that she is going to marry a non-Muslim boy whom she met in college.
As a social scientist I am more interested in the analysis of the events. To be more specific, why would a Muslim girl prefer a non-Muslim boy over a Muslim? The following reasons come to mind:
- She is opposed to and scared of arranged marriages. She should be told that not all arranged marriages are bad ones and that 50% of all love marriages end up in a divorce in this country. Arranged marriages can be successful if approved by both the boy and girl. That is, they need to be a party to the arrangement. I am myself opposed to the blind arranged marriage.
- Muslim boys are not available to her to make a choice. While parents have no objection or cannot do anything about non-Muslim boys with whom she talks or socializes at school or college for forty hours a week, she is not allowed to talk to a Muslim boy in the mosque or in a social gathering. If she does, they frown at her or even accuse her of having a loss character. As a Muslim boy put it, “If I grow up knowing only non-Muslim girls, why do my parents expect me to marry a Muslim one?”
- Some Muslim boys do not care for Muslim girls. On the pretext of missionary work after marriage, they get involved with non-Muslim girls because of their easy availability. Muslim parents who also live with an inferiority complex do not mind their son marrying an American girl of European background but they would object if he marries a Muslim girl of a different school of Islamic thought (Shiah/Sunni) or different tribe like Punjabi, Sunni, Pathan, Arab vs. non-Arab, Afro-American vs. immigrant, or different class, Syed vs. non-Syed. Both the parents and the body should be reminded that the criteria for choosing a spouse that was given by the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was not wealth nor color but Islamic piety.
- She may have been told that early marriage, that is, age 18 or less, is taboo and that she should wait until the age of 23 or 25. According to statistics, 80% of American girls, while waiting to get settled in life and married, engage freely in sex with multiple boyfriends. However, this option is not available to Muslim girls. Every year nearly one million teenage girls in this country who think that they are not ready for marriage, get pregnant. By the age of 24 when a Muslim girl decides that she is ready for marriage, it may be too large for her. If she reviews the matrimonial ad section in Islamic magazines, she will quickly notice that the boys of the age group of 25 to 30 are looking for girls from 18 to 20 year age group. They may wrongfully assume that an older girl may not be a virgin.
Thus, unless these issues are addressed, many Muslim girls in the US may end up marrying a non-Muslim or remain unmarried.
Curriculum For Islamic Sex Education
Islamic sex ed should be taught at home starting at an early age. Before giving education about anatomy and physiology, the belief in the Creator should be well established. As Dostoevsky put it, “Without God, everything is possible,” meaning that the lack of belief or awareness of God gives an OK for wrongdoing.
A father should teach his son and a mother should teach her daughter. In the absence of a willing parent, the next best choice should be a Muslim male teacher (preferably a physician) for boys and a Muslim female teacher (preferably a physician) for a girl at the Islamic Sunday school.
The curriculum should be tailored according to age of the child and classes be held separately. Only pertinent answers to a question should be given. By this I mean that if a five year old asks how he or she got into mommie’s stomach, there is no need to describe the whole act of intercourse. Similarly it is not necessary to tell a fourteen year old how to put on condoms. This might be taught in premarital class just before his or her marriage. A curriculum for sex ed should Include:
a. Sexual growth and development
* Time table for puberty
* Physical changes during puberty
* Need for family life
b. Physiology of reproductive system
* For girls- the organ, menstruation, premenstrual syndrome
* For boys- the organ, the sex drive
c. Conception, development of fetus and birth
d. Sexually transmitted disease (VD/AIDS) (emphasize the Islamic aspect)
e. Mental, emotional and social aspects of puberty
f Social, moral and religious ethics
g. How to avoid peer pressure
Sex Education after Marriage
This essay is not intended to be a sex manual for married couples, although I may write such someday. I just wanted to remind the reader of a short verse in the Quran and then elaborate. The verse is, “They are your garments, and you are their garments” (2:187).
Husbands and wives are described as garments for each other. A garment is very close to our body, so they should be close to each other. A garment protects and shields our modesty, so they should do the same to each other. Garments are put on anytime we like, so should they be available to each other anytime. A garment adds to our beauty, so they should praise and beautify each other.
For husbands I should say that sex is an expression of love and one without the other is incomplete. One of your jobs is to educate your wife in matters of sex especially in your likes and dislikes and do not compare her to other women.
For wives I want to say that a man’s sexual needs are different than a women’s. Instead of being a passive recipient of sex, try to be an active partner. He is exposed to many temptations outside the home. Be available to please him and do not give him a reason to make a choice between you and hellfire.
From the book: Sex Education: An Islamic Perspective (Edited by Shahid Athar , M.D.)
Shahid Athar M.D. is Clinical Associate Professor of Internal Medicine and Endocrinology, Indiana University School of Medicine Indianapolis, Indiana, and a writer on Islam.
- Public Display of Affection and Having Sex in Bathroom
- Permissibility of Oral Sex – 2
- Islam’s Stance on Oral Sex
- Your Parents Are Special
- Oral Sex with One’s Wife – Is Ghusl Obligatory
- The True Islamic Morals
- Comprehensive Information on Permissibility of Oral Sex
- Hearing Azaan while Having Sex
- Permissibility of Oral Sex – 1
- I am Free to Do What I Want