Maryam Azzam | Supplement Coordinator
Featured Image: Creating safe environments for discussions about sensitive topics is critical to a healthy relationship with boundaries. | Courtesy of Shutterstock
Growing up in a Muslim household, school, and community, sex was rarely a topic of discussion, if ever. Even to this day, at 18-years-old, I have yet to have “the talk” with my parents. The cultural taboo surrounding the subject does not allow for healthy discussions about sex-related topics.
However, the stigma does not end at sex. It surrounds matters even remotely related, including themes like harassment and boundaries. This is not just a “Muslim thing.” This issue is evident in many traditional cultures.
As I attended an Islamic elementary school, I was presented with the same dilemma in health class. The discussion was barely held at surface-level. Classes were separated by gender and then we, the class of girls, were given the basic rundown of what menstruation is. The teacher then called it a day. That was the only health class we ever had.
The issue of cultural stigmatization of sex stems from generations of reinforcement that premarital sex is forbidden, which is absolutely fine if that’s what you believe, as it is a widely-upheld religious belief. However, these conversations should go far beyond just sexual intercourse as there is so much more depth to the subject.
Nevertheless, any questions voiced get shut down because one should keep quiet on such a prohibited matter.
As a woman, it is that much harder to learn and understand these issues because there is a culturally-perpetuated concept that women should keep to themselves. It may not be an intentional idea, but it is systemically reinforced nonetheless. It is found in the little things we barely recognize — letting your son stay out later than your daughter, the men of the house not contributing to chores. It is the “boys will be boys” mantra, in disguise.
More often than not, sex is an ignored dialogue across generations. This sheltering technique has proven more negative than all else. In ignoring a topic, it becomes uncomfortable to discuss at all even when there is a true need for it. Establishing healthy boundaries, even amongst friends, becomes difficult if all your life you were taught to adapt to those around you — you shrink so others may have their space.
As harmful as it is for women in the community, it is also destructive for men. In never learning the basic fundamentals of sex, consent, boundaries, and similar themes, a lack of understanding is often used as a defence for ignorant behaviour. Ignorant behaviour, if not changed, can lead to toxic tendencies in which one may not recognize that their actions are compromising another’s boundaries.
With such taboo surrounding the topic, women who are survivors of sexual assault rarely come forward, creating one of the biggest swept-under-the-rug issues in our culture. If we are never taught how to discuss the issue in a healthy manner, we won’t discuss it at all. This has to change.
Support is a crucial aspect to recovery, and education is a critical element in dismantling rape culture as well as replacing it with one of consent.