The virginity paradox I face as a British Muslim

There is a definite internal conflict that comes with being brought up as British Muslim. This is especially true when it comes to sex before marriage.

I grew up with my mum forcing me to cover my eyes every time a long kissing scene came up on Eastenders. I also grew up with the notion that if I had sex before marriage I would go to hell. Sex was bad, sex was wrong. But these values cracked during my teens when I was surrounded by others who took a more casual attitude. I was between two cultures, and sex became something I was perpetually in two minds about.

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My family didn’t want me to fall down the slippery slope of catching boys’ attentions and responding to it. I was not allowed to wear skirts and dresses, attend sleepovers, or even talk to boys growing up because of this. If I had sex before marriage, not only would I be punished by God, I would also be labeled a jendeh (which means whore in Farsi). I distinctly remember walking along the seafront with my mum a week before I was to move to London and start university. She said she wanted to talk to me about something serious. That something was this: “There are bad boys out there that will want to do stuff with you, things that are wrong, and that you should say no. It’s against Islam and God. Also, no good Muslim man will want to marry you if you do anything with these boys.” The damage was, therefore, threefold in losing one’s virginity before marriage. She cemented what was always suggested through throwaway comments and restrictions whilst growing up.

“My cousin in Iran had to get a painful doctor’s examination confirming she was a virgin”

The emphasis on preserving one’s virginity before marriage is only really applicable to girls, in my culture at least, and not technically Islam. My cousin in Iran had to get a painful doctor’s examination confirming she was a virgin, just in case her sheets weren’t bloodied on the wedding night. Her fiance’s mother requested the sheet and the doctor’s note was insurance. I’m aware that this buys into the notion of women as objects – once the hymen is broken, they have been used and are no longer wanted. The feminist in me hates this notion and hates all the connotations of women as objects that need to be shiny and new. We are human beings, not objects which can be thrown away with use. It always irritated me that whilst I was battling my parents about going to sleepovers when I was 14 (they assumed I was secretly going to see boys, which wasn’t the reality), my brother had his girlfriend in the house, chatting away to my mum. Upon seeing this it should have been clear to me that the rules set in place in my household were social, and not due to religion.

However, having said that, the feminist in me also hates that if you don’t want to have sex anytime soon, you’re considered frigid. It is considered “weird” to be a virgin past the age of 21. I’ve had people tell me to “get it over with” (unsolicited advice). A friend’s boyfriend once drunkenly took me aside to give me relationship advice because as a virgin I could not truly “understand” relationships. Being persuaded to have sex because you’re “getting on” is another favourite. People are always giving you unwanted advice. Myself, and others I have spoken to in similar situations, notice the pitiful looks we get when we reveal we’re virgins in our 20s. It’s actually not that difficult to have sex, so the looks are doubly insulting, as though it being a choice is not an option.

“A friend’s boyfriend once drunkenly took me aside to give me relationship advice because as a virgin I could not truly “understand” relationships”

The constant pulling and tugging from others has taken a real toil on my sense of self. I don’t quite know what I’m waiting for but also feel highly uncomfortable at the prospect of losing it to someone before marriage. Words from my mum have settled deep into my consciousness.I know I can’t be alone, although it feels like it. This is surely a common issue that derives from living in the West with a Muslim family? I believe in God and have a Muslim upbringing but surround myself with people who do not and therefore cannot relate to the guilt I feel in living as I do (by not truly practicing the religion but still fearing God’s wrath).

I often feel the idea of waiting before marriage works if one wants to get married in their early 20s, supposing they can find someone to marry that early. It can be lonely knowing you have the “virgin mark” stamped on your head, and that after three dates the jig will probably be up. So, instead, you only get to date two and make excuses about how you think the person was only interested in sex anyway. From here it is easy to start to think maybe it is best to, as many have kindly put it, “get it over with”. That’s when my anxiety would creep in. Is it worth going to hell for the Tinder date that will most likely go nowhere? Will this act send me to hell? Or am I restricting myself for no reason?

I wish I could give a neat conclusion to the matter, but there isn’t one. The mind will continue its debate. The cycle will continue.

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