In all my years of being married – and there have been a lot of them – I’ve often pondered this one question about intimacy, building trust and one’s wedding night: How can a Muslim woman (I can only speak from a woman’s perspective) who has followed the teachings of her faith and has kept a respectable distance from the non-mahram boys/men she has met in her life be comfortable engaging in sex with her husband on her wedding night?
Or to put it more plainly, if a Muslim woman has been taught to steer clear of men until she gets married, how can she be expected to go from zero to 60 (all systems go) on her wedding night?
My friends, let me explain why this question has nagged me for years, and why I think that young Muslim men and women of today (who have more or less walked the straight and narrow) have a way better shot at a better wedding night (and marital sexual) experience than I (and probably others of my generation) ever did.
I’ve been married a long time, more than two decades, and am a first generation Muslim American with a Desi (South Asian) background. That's about all the identifying details I’m comfortable sharing. Oh, and I love my husband – he’s the best guy.
In the informal, anecdotal research I’ve done over the years, I think it’s safe to say that my generation of women and men are probably some of the last to get married in a pretty traditional, arranged-marriage fashion. Now, we weren’t as old school as our parents in that we were shown a picture and told this was the person we were to marry. My likes and dislikes in what I was looking for in a life partner were definitely considered.
Image source: Unsplash
My parents vetted potential prospects, traditional “biodata” was exchanged, the guy’s family did the approaching (never the girl’s family), and when someone seemed like a good match, my folks presented the person to me. Often, if both potential spouses were able to meet, they did so with their families under the guise of having tea together or something. It was as supremely awkward as you can imagine.
I recall aunties checking me out at different weddings and events I attended with my family and either approaching me in the buffet line to ask a line of questions that I knew was a pre-marriage vetting interview, or they would seek out my mom and commence the process. One time I was hanging out with my cousin at a wedding (I was in college, she in high school), and this lady and her son came up to us and began small talk. They were focused on my cousin, but upon finding she was in high school, they pivoted and started talking to me.
Yeah, those memories stay with you 🙂
Even though I was born and raised in the U.S., attended co-ed public schools and universities my entire life (oops, now that is the last identifiable info I’ll share!) and was comfortable interacting with guys on a halal-friendly basis, I knew an arranged marriage was in the cards for me. It was a done deal, no questions asked.
Image source: Pexels
So let’s fast forward to my wedding. An appropriate husband match had been proposed to my family and me, my parents thought it was a great match, I took my time in deciding and praying over it and ultimately said yes. Some time after that, it was finally our wedding. Now outside of family life lectures, health classes and some fairly innocent chit chat amongst girlfriends, no one had really talked about sex and all its beautiful complexities with me.
And in the years since, I’ve asked plenty of girlfriends and cousins of my generation, and many of them said they did have some variations of these discussions with either their sisters, “cool” aunts, close girlfriends or someone. But not me. Everything about sex and anyone seeing and touching me made me extremely nervous. Like I had been taught no, no, no my entire life, and now it was expected I should go, go go.
I remember visiting the OBGYN for my first pap smear and to talk about birth control a few months before I was married, and even that made me so dang uncomfortable.
We had one of those big fat Desi weddings that went until 2-3 in the morning, and it was probably 4 a.m. until my husband and I were finally left alone. So, without saying more, it was not a night of love and rockets. I’m pretty sure my anxiety and exhaustion leapt off my body and permeated the room. And what I’ll forever be grateful for is that my husband didn’t push anything. It was his wedding night too, his first time too, but he didn’t rush things at all. He did everything possible to be kind and sweet and leave me alone.
Everything about sex and anyone seeing and touching me made me extremely nervous. Like I had been taught no, no, no my entire life, and now it was expected I should go, go go. How. HOW?
We had our walima
the next day. (This is a sunnah
wedding event to celebrate the marriage; in an Islamic marriage, the two must-have things are the nikkah and walima.) No sex that night either. It took a few more nights until I was reluctantly ready to do the deed. Admittedly, I don’t remember it as being that much fun. (And admittedly, I fretted on and off for years afterwards wondering if we had done something wrong, as I had heard that having a walima without having had intercourse wasn’t valid. But that’s simply not true
I have to give mad props to my husband, who dealt with my nervousness and insecurities around sex in our early time together. I feel bad that I couldn’t find my ease and my groove sooner, as I wanted him (as well as myself) to enjoy this part of our relationship but couldn’t get myself relaxed enough (in the beginning) to make the whole experience better.
Things got better for sure, but it took time, patience and a lot of dismantling of anxieties in my own head. There was nothing traumatic or anything of significance that made me this way. But I do think my upbringing contributed to it.
A Recipe for a Better Wedding Night
Image source: Pexels; photo by Fatima Medine.
And so, back to my original question: If a Muslim woman has been taught to steer clear of men until she gets married, how can she be expected to go from zero to 60 (all systems go) on her wedding night?
I’ll tell you one thing – I’m glad that the old arranged marriage system of how we used to get married is not the primary way Muslim men and women find spouses. Let me be clear: I think fundamental aspects of that method are still great and sound. Families are involved, friends and family suggest potential matches for eligible women and men, potential spouses meet to get to know each other with the intention of seeing if the other person can become a life partner.
But what I love now among the Muslim couples I see coming together, what I want for my own kids, is an emphasis on halal courtship
and that “getting to know each other pre-marriage” period, where potential spouses discuss things
before deciding if they want to get married.
If a certain level of comfort can be established between a Muslim woman and man prior to getting married (and for sure there are ways to do that in a halal manner), I promise that will go a long way in helping them be comfortable and enjoy physical intimacy with each other after they are married. Maybe that wedding night will be a banger (so to speak haha), maybe you’ll take it slow. It’s all ok as long as you approach it together.
Image source: Pexels; photo by Yusron El Jihan.
And when it comes to sex and helping young women be comfortable with it, I urge mothers and daughters, sisters and aunts and whomever is a trusted female figure in your life to have frank and open discussions about women’s and men’s bodies, our natural processes, about how one can be comfortable with it all, about desire and cultivating friendship and love, which will naturally, Insha’Allah, make intimacy all that much more better.
If you’re a mom, make sure YOU have the birds and bees talk with your children (yes, daughters and sons, or encourage Dad to do so with his sons if you’d like). Don’t leave it up to health class. And then keep having those discussions wherever the moment seems right. Sex is meant to be a beautiful, enjoyable experience between spouses, and there are numerous resources out there to help women learn and become comfortable with intimacy in a halal way. Start by checking out the work of The Village Auntie
If I could get a do-over of our first year together, I’d take it in a heartbeat. My husband deserved better. I deserved better. But also, Alhamdullilah, that we figured things out together. I mean it’s been more than two decades, and we’re still happy. 🙂