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Parenting Series | Part VII: Sex & Sexuality – An Islamic Perspective


Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V | | Part V(b) | Part VI | Part VII | Part VIII | Part IX

Continuing from last week’s article, insha’Allah we will discuss the next two commonly asked questions:

4. How do babies get into their mother’s stomachs?

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I divided “How do babies get in mommy’s tummy?” and “what is sex and sexuality?” into two different questions because the first question deals with the mechanics of the matter and the second with the emotions of it. It is far easier to explain where babies come from than what is sex and sexuality.

For this question, be mindful of their age and experiences. For instance, a 5 year old obviously shouldn’t be told of the exact process. That can probably wait until they’re 10 or perhaps earlier for children in public schools.

I must say that this process was not too hard for me, alhamdullilah, for a number of reasons:

  • My children were reading Qur’an with meanings, and we would often discuss verses about creation/procreation.
  • They were homeschooled, so they were relatively protected compared to children in public schools. Nevertheless, I will not overestimate the level of protection of homeschooled children. Where there is curiosity there are always many ways to satisfy it.
  • Their friends were monitored. However, don’t count on that either. Even good friends can offer too much information sometimes.

If children are reading Qur’an and learning its meanings, they undoubtedly come crossayahs like:

“…We created you from dust, then from a small seed, then from a clot, then from a lump of flesh…” (22:5)

The answer to the question can be divided into steps depending on the child’s age and circumstances and can range from:

  • Allah lets the baby grow in Mama’s tummy.
  • Small seeds/dots/sperms (whatever term you might want to use) come from the father and he passes them to the mother, it goes inside the mother and gets connected to the egg and becomes a tiny clot that grows into a baby.

If they are young, they may not ask “how does mommy get the seed”, and it does not have to be explained thoroughly when they are younger. Remember, don’t volunteer too much information, but if your child asks and you feel s/he is too young (less than 8 years, for instance), tell him/her gently while maintaining your smile (you might want to hold their hands), “I think you are too small to learn this right now. Can we talk about this when you are a little bit older?”

Children, especially at a younger age, feel empowered when they are given the green light from their parents. If s/he agrees then make him/her promise you, “If you ever become too curious then ask me. If anyone else ever tries to tell you, stop them and ask me instead. I promise I will tell you right away.”

Children feel trusted by their parents and feel obliged to keep their promise. Normally, when younger, they don’t like to disappoint their parents. This kind of agreement is more like a “club oath” for them, and they feel happy and confident that their parents are relying on them for keeping their promise.

NOT for every child: This approach has worked with a number of parents, especially when children were homeschooled. Again, if my children had been attending a school, ESPECIALLY a public school, I would not have taken this route. I would have told them even if it was at a seemingly too young age rather than take the risk of having someone else educate my children.

Also, this may not work with every child. Some children are very curious. A parent should know his/her child’s nature and personality. If you have a curious child, I would highly recommend telling the child the first time they question. Curious minds can’t hold curiosities for too long. It is better to answer their questions at a younger age than take the risk of delaying answers and giving others an opportunity to do our job.

  • Finally, tell them in your own words: “Husband and wife have to join their private parts in order to transfer the seed/sperm into wife’s body.” They may ask, “Why is it like that?” Tell them calmly and politely (without getting irritated at their questions), “Because that is how Allah has made the process of procreation.” Move the topic along by showing them a few verses that express the permissibility of uncovering our private parts in front of our spouses (23:5-6), (70:29-30).

Give them time to absorb the information and encourage them to ask any questions they might be thinking of in their minds but might be feeling to shy to ask.

Next, explain the biological process of procreation. Remember, the calmer and less solemn you sound, the better it is for children’s level of comfort and understanding. They might be grossed out and express their disgust, which is perfectly acceptable, but remind them, “Though you feel disgusted right now, a time will come when your emotions will change and there is nothing wrong with this action as long as it is practiced in wedlock and never unlawfully.”

5. What is Sex? (a number of questions go under this category) Why do people want to have GF/BF? What is adultery (zina)? Why do people commit adultery? Questions under this category are abundant.

This is perhaps the most difficult question to reply to, because the information required of us to provide to our children starts when they are around ten years old (depending on the child again) and continues until they are well into their married lives.

It is extremely essential to explain to our pre-teens/teens the emotional and sensual sides of sex to keep them from confusion, to give them a proper understanding of their sexuality, to make them aware of the positives and negatives of the carnal desires, and to prepare them to tackle their sensuality.

To start off, they can be told:

Sex is not limited to mating, but it is a desire Allah has put in mankind like the desires of food and water. This is a special desire that has to do with both your heart and your body (explain in more detail later on). However, just as there are limits to what we can consume, there are also limits to how we let out our sexual desires. This desire doesn’t really come to us until we reach the pre-teen or teenage years or perhaps even later than that.

How does the desire for sex develop: The desire for sex will usually start off with thinking about the opposite gender in a “curious” way – you start noticing the differences between boys and girls. You’ll find yourself linking both an ‘intellectual’ characteristic with a physical and emotional reaction. For example, a girl will admire a boy’s athletic prowess but with the added emotional reaction of “I wonder how his muscles feel” and “He must be so nice to spend time with!” A guy will think, “She’s very funny,” and include with that “She’s very pretty, and she has such nice looking lips…”

Sexual desires are perfectly natural: It is perfectly natural to notice and be attracted to a person’s physical looks/ body. BUT this is where we teach our kids that in Islam, while such a desire is not “wrong” per se, it is wrong to act upon them. This is where we start teaching about lowering the gaze, avoiding mingling with the other gender, fasting, etc. (This will be discussed in more detail in the next part insha’Allah).

“Trigger” points for males and females: In addition to the natural evolution of a human’s body and mind that leads them to thinking about the opposite gender, there are other triggers of desire (or awareness that leads to desire).

In girls, these “triggers” include romance novels and movies (especially “chick flicks”), magazines, discussions with friends, observing others engaging in intimacy (such as a BF/GF couple hugging, making out, etc.), and reading/ hearing/ seeing descriptions of sexual acts or of emotional scenes that are indicative of and/or leading to something sexual. Girls are greatly sensitive and receptive to strong emotions, which is why some girls, when asked why they want to have a boyfriend/ male companion, will usually say something along the lines of “companionship” rather than “physical touching/ intimacy.”

Boys, on the other hand, are much more visual and physical. Thus, their “triggers” come in the form of images – whether that image is a girl at school whose “assets” are beginning to show, posters and pictures of indecently dressed women, or crude movie scenes.

In both males and females, the emergence of this sexual awareness and feelings often leads to a desire to touch their own private parts or engage in physical intimacy (hugging, kissing, touching) with others.

“No matter how these instinctive desires are activated, once it happens, don’t be afraid or think that you’re an evil/ bad person. It is natural and sooner or later this desire will flourish within you. However, what choices you make at that time, in obedience to Allah or in disobedience to Him, will truly define you.”

Religious Expectations:

Take this opportunity to be specific about the rulings of Islam. Explain in explicit and clear terms the limitations by Allah ’azza wa jall. For example, you can say:

Firstly, keep in mind that before anyone else your accountability is to Allah. Allah has forbidden much of what you see around you, in schools and out in public. Don’t let Satan sway you away by the pull of your desires.”

Remember there is no other sin that has more severe punishment in Islam than adultery:

الزَّانِيَةُ وَالزَّانِي فَاجْلِدُوا كُلَّ وَاحِدٍ مِنْهُمَا مِائَةَ جَلْدَةٍ ۖ وَلَا تَأْخُذْكُمْ بِهِمَا رَأْفَةٌ فِي دِينِ اللَّهِ إِنْ كُنْتُمْ تُؤْمِنُونَ بِاللَّهِ وَالْيَوْمِ الْآخِرِ ۖ وَلْيَشْهَدْ عَذَابَهُمَا طَائِفَةٌ مِنَ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ {2} الزَّانِي لَا يَنْكِحُ إِلَّا زَانِيَةً أَوْ مُشْرِكَةً وَالزَّانِيَةُ لَا يَنْكِحُهَا إِلَّا زَانٍ أَوْ مُشْرِكٌ ۚ وَحُرِّمَ ذَٰلِكَ عَلَى الْمُؤْمِنِينَ

The woman and the man guilty of illegal sexual intercourse, flog each of them with a hundred stripes. Let not pity withhold you in their case, in a punishment prescribed by Allah, if you believe in Allah and the Last Day. And let a party of the believers witness their punishment…””

Expound over the verses and hadeeth related to this subject with your children. Discuss and explain. Let them grasp the meanings. Tone it down if you wish, though I didn’t. Insha’Allah, it will not cause any psychological or emotional damages to the children.

Explain to them that our religion allows us only marital intimacy. Indeed, that is the most pure and blessed way of satisfying our carnal desires.

Family Expectations:

Though at schools our children are encouraged to develop their own values, studies show that high parental expectations [when well communicated] are associated with postponing sex.[i]

Parents, lay out your expectations in clear words. Make sure communication is open between you and your pre-teens/teens. Don’t rely on a religious leader of the community, do it yourself. Make sure you explicitly advise them to stay away from sex, sexual acts (oral/anal sex, homosexuality, kissing- we will discuss these in the next part,insha’Allah).

Studies shows that daughters were less likely to be sexually active when their mothers reported more discussions related to the negative consequences of premarital sex and to delaying sexual intercourse for moral reasons.”[ii]

Be Reasonable: Parents, please keep in mind that daughters don’t have to marry only doctors or engineers and sons don’t have to wait until they have an MS with an excellent job, a big house, and the latest car to get married. Please be reasonable in your expectations when talking to your teenagers.

Medical Facts:

Talk to them about contraceptives and their purpose, including condoms, their use and the failure rate.

Talk about STDs and STIs. It is best to do a Google search for STD statistics and “STD support group” and share the information with your pre-teens/teens. Read the confessions together. Discuss what wrong choices people have made. How and what could they have done differently to protect themselves.

Read about the rampant increase in diseases and health hazards of premarital sex and sexual acts. Read about:

  • The compelling link between oral sex and oral cancer.
  • Gardasil and HPV.
  • New STIs every year in young people.
  • Chlamydia: the most common bacterial STD in US and the infertility damages it can cause.
  • STDs and depression.
  • Condoms provide varying degrees of protection, from only 80-85% for HIV to 0% for HPV.
  • 20% higher rate of STDs during anal sex.

The number of related topics is endless.

There are also “STD Educational support Groups” and it might be a good idea to actually attend a few meetings with your pre-ten/teen. Google search to find one in your local area.

Insha’Allah next week we will discuss how to talk to our pre-teens/teens about:

  • Masturbation, Wet dreams, Oran/Anal sex, Homosexuality, Other sexual activities
  • Are Carnal Desires Evil?
  • Virtues of Chastity.
  • A Few Tips on How to Keep Away from Fawahish (Indecencies).

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Saba Syed (aka Umm Reem) is the author of International award winning novel, "An Acquaintance." Saba has a BA degree in Islamic Studies. She studied Arabic Language & Literature at Qatar University and at Cairo Institute in Egypt. She also received her Ijaazah in Quranic Hafs recitation in Egypt from Shaikh Muhammad al-Hamazawi. She had been actively involved with Islamic community since 1995 through her MSA, and then as a founding member of TDC, and other community organizations. in 2002, she organized and hosted the very first "Musim Women's Conference" in Houston, TX. Since then, she's been passionately working towards empowering Muslim women through the correct and untainted teachings of Islam. She is a pastoral counselor for marriage & family, women and youth issues. She has hosted several Islamic lectures and weekly halaqas in different communities all over U.S and overseas, also hosted special workshops regarding parenting, Islamic sex-ed, female sexuality, and marital intimacy.



  1. Saba

    June 1, 2011 at 12:49 PM

    jazakallahu khayir!

  2. Olivia

    June 1, 2011 at 3:08 PM

    very well-written and good advice, Umm Reem.

  3. Excellent advice. I fear only 5% or less

    June 1, 2011 at 10:08 PM

    Excellent advice.

    I fear only 5% or less get this kind of detailed explanation.

    The only thing most Muslim kids know is that BF GF is haram, and some have the decency to look away at shamelessly dressed people. As for the Islamic basis/ the ayat/ Hadith/ Morals/ social benefits/ the proper limits/ homosexuality rules, nothing is taught from the parents (let alone local imams.)

    You mentioned you homeschool/ed your kids. Brave choice, but the right one.
    The more i think of it, the more I feel public school (at least uptill around 11year olds) is a joke.

    What is learnt in 11 years can easily be learnt in 5 if proper attention is given to a child. Far too long is spent on the same concepts.
    Socially, instead of developing skills, public school stunts and corrupts a child – becoming a sheep in the system.

    Anyway, MashaAllah good article. Keep it coming.

  4. Ameera Khan

    June 2, 2011 at 4:10 AM

    Just awesome. Masha’Allah… I don’t have words for how helpful and cool this series is… I’m glad this is all going into the MM archive so that I can refer back to it when I need it Insha’Allah. :)

  5. n

    June 2, 2011 at 6:02 AM

    i feel the same way as ameera. thankyou so much. jazakallahu khairun for sharing this in detial. i have younger children rite now and my oldest is a very curious intelligent person mash’alah. i am sure this will come in handy at some point.

    I have two questions…with some of this stuff…the question the child might ask is: do you and baba do this too? what in the world should i say then?

    and what if he decides to go share this with freinds or family? how should i handle that.

    • Umm Reem

      June 6, 2011 at 1:00 AM


      wa iyyaki :)

      One of the editors, while editing my article, suggested that when talking about this issue, we should say, ‘husband and wife’ rather than ‘mother and father’. I totally agree with it but some point children will put the two together and question. It is best that they question us than someone else.

      I have heard a lot of girls complain when they learned about this at school, they were angry with their parents, some were grossed out by their parents because there was no one to give them an “explanation” and they couldn’t reach out to their parents to ask.

      Both of my elder two asked me the same question. First time I was caught totally off guard but the second time I was better prepared, alhamdullialh!

      If they do, ask them “how do you think you were born?” Initially it is okay if they link intercourse to pro-creation only, other details can be explained later as they grow older, or once this information sinks in well. Next, explain to them that this is the system that Allah has made, and He has allowed it and there is nothing wrong with it as long as it is done within halal realm.

      As for sharing with family and friends, that must be addressed very clearly that we don’t talk about this issue with others not even with the siblings because these are matters of haya and they can only be discussed with parents or the ones parents allow, like doctors etc.
      Address this issue a few times, firmly and clearly.

  6. Abu Yusuf

    June 5, 2011 at 11:19 PM

    For example, a girl will admire a boy’s athletic prowess but with the added emotional reaction of “I wonder how his muscles feel”

    I never heard of women wondering how muscles feel. Women care about a man’s personality, wealth, power, fame, face, manners, everything else but muscles.

    • Umm Reem

      June 16, 2011 at 12:43 AM

      Yes they do, maybe not in most cases but girls do care about boys looks too.

      Besides, the “trigger points” part was a joint effort, I wanted more than one perspective and this particular statement came from a younger girl!

      • be

        June 24, 2011 at 11:58 PM

        Salam alaikum Umm Reem,

        Thank you for you series on sex-ed very helpful mashaAllah!
        I have only one question; from what I read It seems that you consider oral sex haram( or am I wrong?) would you please give some references if so; cause I got to read the opposite view (on islamonline)?

        Jazak Allahukheir for a job well done!

  7. Pingback: Sexual Activities Beyond The “Norm”: What Should We Teach Our Teens |

  8. shaheen

    July 22, 2011 at 11:51 PM

    sorry for going off topic here, but i just read MM that Umm Reem is living in Qatar . If u r still in Qatar, i would like to get in touch with u , need some advice. I hope u wont mind it.

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  15. Umm Adam

    February 8, 2017 at 6:40 PM

    Salaams. Jzk for this series.
    My 9 year old asked me today how babies get in mums tummy and i didnt know how to reply. Thank fully her younger sister came in to the room at that point so i descreatly told her it was a conversation for us older girls and so i would talk to her about it later.
    Since then have been dreading the conversation as i didnt know how to explain it but coming across this online has helped a great deal.
    May Allah swt reward you for your efforts

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