If you imagine The Hunger Games to be hard, I can assure you that trying to lose your virginity as a Muslim woman is harder. The same sense of fear hangs in the air and you’re constantly looking around corners for your enemy. It just so happens that the enemy could be any member of the Muslim community that may report back to your parents that you were seen with a boy. Should that happen, you’re dead and the game is over. Not literally, but metaphorically. Your mother will cry, she’ll ask the heavens what she did to deserve a daughter who would do this to her and your father will suggest you all move to a new city. He’ll even suggest moving countries until your mother talks him out of it, deciding it’s okay to stay, but you’ll have to stay at home for the next fifteen years until it’s all forgotten. (P.S, it will never be forgotten, the Muslim community doesn’t forget shit).
At least that’s the common narrative when I talk to my Muslim friends about how they lost their virginity. It is always clouded in secrecy and paired with the strategic planning of a covert ops mission. To add to that, it’s mostly an uncomfortable experience that is always painful and often traumatic. For most women, losing their virginity didn’t happen in candlelight, but rather, uncomfortable and awkward situations with undeserving boys. If you insist on holding chastity over half the population and damn them with a scarlet letter the minute anyone breaks a hymen, it’s understandable that a certain amount of tension is applied to the act. That tension is magnified in Muslim communities where archaic cultural traditions, paired with a refusal to discuss sexuality, creates a debilitating silence around the topic. It’s a silence that will later creep into our future sexual relationships with men when we don’t know how to even talk about something that has always been unsaid, let alone discuss our wants and needs.
Yet despite the silence and the stigma, we still did it anyway. Sometimes in rebellion and sometimes in love. We came into womanhood under the cloak of invisibility, bourgeoning with a new awareness and a sense of self that was kept tightly under wraps. We discovered our sexuality behind locked doors and Googled porn sites. We came to understand the geographies of our bodies using candlesticks, toothbrush handles and frozen hot dogs. Beneath bedtime covers and silent shame we felt and touched and prodded and poked, desperately looking for the button that would flick the switch and ease the ache deep in our bellies.
Even when we gave up our chastity belts for the boys we loved, it was done quietly. I came home from a two week break with my secret boyfriend, blooming into womanhood while trying to hide the new awareness of my body. I wish I had been able to talk to my mother about it. I wish I could have told her that it was one of the most beautiful nights of my life. That it wasn’t painful and I was never rushed or pressured. That we waited a year just to be sure. That my heart burst with a new love and how love tasted different after that. Richer. Fuller. More entire. I wish I could have asked her what to do with my body when I felt heat pulse through it and didn’t know how to play with it safely. Instead, I had Google, which I have learnt is far less reliable than my mother on these matters.
It was only years later, as a twenty-eight-year-old woman, that she could finally ask me the question and we could stop playing the elaborate virginity game. We’ve been playing it for too long now, acting out our roles as untouched girls waiting for marriage. I have thirty-year-old friends still playing that game, maintaining the pretence because cultural constraints don’t leave much room for anything else, and it is cultural and not religious. I hope someday soon we will stop using religion as the mat under which we brush the things we’re too scared to say. Islam promotes sexual relationships and female pleasure, albeit under the sanctity of marriage, but the reality is, there are Muslim women all over the world not getting married any time soon and young men and women who will break every rule in the name of love, or lust. Ignoring that fact will not change it and we’d do well to remember that discovering the ways in which you can pleasure yourself is not forbidden, but I’m yet to find any group of aunties in the local mosque discussing female pleasure. We are still hiding it, wrapping sexuality up in disgrace and silence and calling it ‘faith.’ We are still playing in the Virginity Games when the participants all know the real truth and the problem here is that in this game, nobody wins.
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