I recently read an article on The Tempest titled, “I never thought I’d have to get an abortion as a Muslim woman- until the day I did”. The article physically hurt me. Reading this poor girl’s story, was one I wasn’t prepared for. I can’t imagine what the comment section looks like on that post. The judgement, the anger at this sister. I pass my love to this poor sister. We failed her. The Muslim community failed her. In her article, she talks about emotional abuse, manipulation, and about the lack of knowledge of sex and protection.
This summer, I met with my colleagues in the Health & Wellness Center at my University. They were going over their plans for the year and asking for how they could be supportive to our spaces. The conversation than shifted to what could we do to better reach all of our diverse communities. I told my colleagues that of all diverse groups on campus, mine probably has the least amount of knowledge in regards to sexual health and wellness. Muslims don’t talk about sex. And when they do, it’s always under the assumption that everyone’s first sexual encounter will happen in marriage. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. I had a sex ed. class with students two years ago. A program set for two hours, lasted over four. The questions just about anatomy lasted over an hour. Our community is sorely behind. I fear for my students.
In addition to lack of basic knowledge in regards to how sex works; other topics such as reproduction, sexual abuse, and STIs are also sorely lacking. After talking with my partners in other offices I knew in addition to have a sex ed. class again this year; we probably needed more. Most offices keep some forms of contraception in their spaces. Ours has not. It has never even been a conversation. I went back and forth in my head and heart about this subject. Would students and parents call for my removal, if they found out? Would they protest my space? Would they hate me? Would they claim I was advocating for wild sex? Would they even let me explain?
While I know that in an ideal world, an ideal setting, people would wait to have sex. Until marriage, or at least until they are in a fully aware and committed relationship. Personally, and religiously, I believe that people should wait until marriage to have sex. For me, sex is more than just physical, it’s spiritual. You give a piece of yourself to someone that you can never get back. However, I work on a college campus; with eighteen through twenty-two year olds. I know this isn’t real life. And to act like it is, is to walk through life blind. To say “things happen” is putting it lightly. I know for many Muslim students the shame and stigma is so high. So high, in fact, that many walk into sexual situations confused and lost. Letting their partners make all the choices for them. Or looking up answers to questions on the internet. Or asking their friends, who know little more than they do.
I’ve heard horror stories from my students. Women, blamed for their partner’s sexual desires or blamed for their sins. Of men, who have never used a condom, because they don’t know how They contract STIs and keep them a secret. Getting sicker by the day. Suffering in silence. Of men and women, who are so ignorant about how sex and relationships work, that their wedding night and beyond are ruined before they even begin. Of people who feel such shame for their sexual desires and preferences that they carry unnecessary guilt like an albatross around their necks.
I don’t know how many of my students have had to go to the clinic on their own. How many have had to make decisions, similar to the sister in the article. Had to make a choice and then hide it. Suffer in silence. I don’t know how many now have HIV or AIDS. I apologize to those who I wasn’t there for. I apologize to the parents who are going to be mad at me. For teaching their children about things they rather not hear. I apologize to those who will hate me for this. To those who will comment on this post angry and self-righteous. But I rather send these students home at the end of the year. As mentally and physically well, as their parents sent them to me. I refuse to walk around with blinders. I have two children of my own. And while I will tell them all that was taught to me. I will advise them to pray, to fast, to reflect. To avoid a situation when they can. However, I will also tell them how to be safe. Because they are human. We are all human. And we as humans, we fail. Over and over we fail. And while my children may fail, I want them to know that their failure doesn’t mean their demise. That is the same thing I want for your child. And if that means I have to give them access to condoms, I guess I will be that person.