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Sex and Intimacy in Islam

Ailsa Keppie  |  Apr 15 2021

Sex and Intimacy in Islam

I want to preface this piece by saying I identify as a cis-gendered, white woman and  I converted to Islam in my 20’s and spent 18 years practicing fundamental Islam. I  wore a burka and spent years living in an Islamic country. I have since renounced Islam and now embrace a spiritual path that is more inclusive of other viewpoints and practices. However, I retain sincere respect for the religion of Islam and for those Muslims who choose this path to God. My views on sex and Islam are my own and I am in no way trying to represent the religion or have judgments about it. 

I originally converted to Islam after a few years of prolific sexual exploration with little guidance or wisdom. I felt disillusioned with relationships, with men, and even with myself. I was burnt out and tired of chasing the next sensational sexual adventure in an attempt to feel more fulfilled. Nothing could fill the emptiness I felt and the lack of closeness or trust in my relationships. Looking back I can understand that I had a very childish, idealistic view of how intimacy works. 

I was introduced simultaneously to both the religion of Islam and an extremely narcissistic Muslim man. This turned out to be a particularly intoxicating pairing. I didn’t realize how much I wanted and needed a structure to tell me how to live, after my haphazard explorations with love and relationships which had turned into a veritable graveyard of disasters. 

The man I met, took me to an Islamic bookstore and as I listened to the recitation of the Quran that was playing in the background, I began to cry. I was so moved by the beauty of the tones that I instantly knew I’d ‘found’ what I was looking for. The man and the religion became inseparable for me and I spent the first few years avidly studying Islam and committing to my new role as a Muslim woman, wife, and mother. 

I loved the fact that the Quran and sunnah (the teachings of the prophet Mohammed) covered every aspect of life, from washing your hands to eating, to sex. There was a prayer that was specific to sexual intercourse and it seemed only fitting to pray before engaging in such a special act of intimacy. 

This prayer, at least from the fundamentalist perspective, focusing on the possible outcome of the intercourse, namely children. Subtly indoctrinating the idea that sex was for creating babies and not necessarily for pleasure. Although from my own experience and knowledge, sex between married persons of the opposite gender, was considered a good way to bond and create a harmonious household. 

It was also my experience that as women, we took the responsibility for the men’s desire. We wore loose-fitting clothes and covered our bodies so we would not tempt men to ‘impure’ thoughts. One of my friends shared with me that every time her husband was going to leave the house to shop or pray, she would make sure she ‘pleasured him’ with some kind of sexual interaction so that he would not leave the house in a state of need. 

If our husband had been away on business, we would take extra time to make ourselves beautiful for them upon their return. Sex was used as a way to control behaviors in some ways, whether from the wife or the husband. 

You may wonder how Islam considered ideas like sex before marriage or same-sex relationships. From my perspective in practicing fundamental Islam, there was no room for deviating from the ‘normal behavior’ of humans to mate with someone of the opposite gender and to consecrate an intimate relationship within the bounds of marriage. ‘Deviations’ from this were grounds for prayers and supplications to Allah to ‘save’ the person from this affliction. It was, in part, these rigid ideas that made it impossible for me to continue calling myself a Muslim. 

It is hard to say whether a religion with such doctrines as Islam could ever become flexible enough to include the many variations of being human that we are now exploring in the world today. The inherent structures, sacred texts, and many scholarly writings are so fixed in these ideologies that we may struggle to find a way to keep the beauty, peace, and patience inherent in Islam without shattering the religion to its foundations. 

I see the modern challenge to be creating new structures or ‘unstructures’ that support the sovereignty, love, and ‘rightness’ of everyone, no matter what gender or sexuality we find within ourselves. I personally gained a lot from embracing and learning the doctrines of Islam as it gave me time to reflect on who I really was inside rather than reacting to the outside stimuli of excitement and sexual adventures. But having spent this time moving inward, I again emerged to study and immerse myself in the sea of my desires, now with more wisdom and autonomy. 

My work as a Somatic Sex Educator is one of the most fulfilling aspects of my current life. I am immensely grateful to Islam, to my experience of sex and intimacy in many forms, and for the freedom to now be who I am. 

Cover photo by Pexels


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