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Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Intimacy: Erroneous Western Cultural Beliefs about Female Sexuality


For mature audience only:

Intimacy Matters with Haleh Banani, Umm Reem Saba Syed and Hena Zuberi | Part 3:

Video for Part 3:


Faulty cultural beliefs are not just limited to the East, unfortunately, there are many European cultural beliefs and paradigms that have caused the same damage about female sexuality.

Hena: What is the androcentric model of sexuality and how does it not adequately represent the experience of women?

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Saba Syed: Androcentric concepts of sex and failure to recognize female sexual desires—specifically female climax— was quite common in Europe and then in the United States. Beliefs like:

  • Intercourse is pleasurable only for men and merely a duty incumbent upon women.
  • Good women with noble character don’t ask for sex, they don’t desire intimacy
  • Only prostitutes actually enjoy intimacy

And especially

  • Women are incapable of reaching climax

These fallacious ideas were quite rampant up until 1950s. There is an excellent article in New York Times (chapter one of the book by Rachel Maine from John Hopkin University) “The Job Nobody Wanted”.

Basically it discusses how Western society was so androcentric that the ability of women reaching climax was termed “hysteria”— a disease of womb from the time of Hippocrates, the Greek physician. Only in 1952 American Psychiatric Association dropped this term and acknowledge the desire and the ability of reaching climax as a normal function of women’s sexuality!

Hena: In your experience what type of damage have you noticed in a marriage because of these androcentric concepts? How are these concepts harmful psychologically?

Haleh: Women may feel that something is wrong with them for wanting physical intimacy. For example a sister in a halaqa asked the female instructor about wanting to get intimate more than her husband and she was completely shamed. The sister turned beet red because the instructor was so appalled at her question. Sometimes there is tremendous guilt and shame associated to wanting physical intimacy. This guilt eventually erodes women’s self-esteem.

Another way it damages marriages is that it prevents women from initiating physical intimacy – they don’t approach their husbands – they are shy to express their desires and remember initiation from the wife is one of the top 5 needs of men.

What happens when women simply see physical intimacy as a duty?

Haleh: When talking about duty of a wife we need to first discuss the psychology behind obligations versus desire.  When you feel you should do something out of obligation you either won’t do it or if you do then you will not be completely present or responsive during the act. If your heart is not into it you will avoid physical intimacy or just go through the motion. When you desire it you will be engaged and want to take part in it.

Hena: It is almost how we think of a religious obligation like salah, do it out of sense of obligation, we can do it with khushu and wanting it.  So when we are enjoying salah, we increase the amount and the quality, its not just going through the motions –

What would you say are pointers in having a quality physical relationship?

Haleh: Couples need to understand that Intimacy needs to be enjoyable for both of them. If both husband and wife enjoy it then they are more likely to engage in it.

If it’s frustrating, uneventful, or worse painful for women they will avoid it at all cost.
In a healthy relationship:

  • Men don’t demand intimacy from their wives –
  • They don’t threaten them with angels cursing them all night
  • They romance their wives in such a way that she will be a willing & happy participant.

Also, in a fulfilling marriage:

  • Women are mindful during the act
  • They are present mentally
  • They are present emotionally
  • They participate physically
  • They do not think about their to do list!

Fake Orgasm is never Encouraged:

Although it’s common for women to fake their climax it’s not encouraged for a healthy physical relationship because it will give the wrong message to the husband.  Truthfulness is not only in speech but in actions.

How do you think overall these androcentric paradigms are harmful Islamically and have affected marriages?

Saba: There are different paradigms to this.

On one side we have those women who were raised with these ideas and actually programmed their minds to believe that they are not supposed to have sexual desires or enjoy intimacy.  So they end up dealing with intimacy with an aversion, they don’t anticipate it, they don’t participate, they don’t even dress up for their husbands. In some cultures, it is considered ‘ayb (shameful) to dress up for the husband, and wearing lingerie is equivalent to prostitution.  So obviously with these kind of mindsets and attitude, intimacy becomes a source of frustration.

On the other side, there are those who were not necessarily raised with these beliefs, or they overcame these beliefs but people around them haven’t.  SO these beliefs are always thrown at their faces making them feel ashamed or too “masculine” for having a high desire or even a normal desire for intimacy.

We have to understand that these androcentric beliefs that intimacy is pleasurable for men and a duty for women is not even Islamic because Islam doesn’t ordain an act enjoyable for one spouse and not for the other. In Islam, the act of intimacy is pleasurable for men and pleasurable for women, it is a duty of a wife as much as it is a duty of a husband.

Our Muslim brothers, on the other hand, knowing that it is their right and having the need for intimacy become overly demanding, and sometimes unjust to their wives because they feel it’s the wife’s duty to comply and it’s his right to seek pleasure.  So there is an obvious imbalance caused by these faulty cultural beliefs, which are destroying marriages.

It is interesting though that there are sisters who didn’t grow up with these fallacious beliefs or they were able to correct their perception about sexuality but their husbands didn’t or their husbands had these androcentric ideas that good wives don’t ask for intimacy or climax is only a man’s need not a woman’s.

SO the husband has these misconceptions, and in that relationships, the wife really suffers, because again not much has been said about women’s sexual needs–not emotional– sexual needs. There is not much recognition, there’s hardly any acknowledgment and also because women are naturally shy(er) so they feel hesitant in approaching a male shaikh with specific details. So in the process, it is assumed that such issues don’t exist among women because they never complain about it.

Hena: It is not true because MM has opened up an opportunity for those sisters and we have received several comments about such situations:

A typical comment left on

“I never knew till some 4 years of marriage that there is something called ‘orgasm’ for females. When I realized and discussed with my husband, he too was surprised. Till this day he isn’t keen on satisfying me though I do my best to be proactive and attractive before making love. I also approached for divorce, but due to family pressure I had to retract. Though he fails every time to satisfy me in bed, he expects his food, clothes etc. to be ready on time. If not, he really gets mad. But he is Allah fearing, well behaved and a good person. He has fulfilled basic needs like clothing, accommodation etc . I am grateful to him for his spending on us. May Allah reward him for his goodness and guide him for his ignorance. Aameen.

I simply cannot explain the emptiness it leaves when he just sleeps calmly leaving me aroused once he is done. He feels hurt when I say I too want to be satisfied. I have taken it as Allah’s will to continue in this relationship for the sake of Allah, kids and family…

for this Duniya was not meant to be Jannah. I will try my best till my death to keep him happy in bed, though at times I wonder if my days in this duniya will ever come to an end.. It is far better to remain a spinster than to live in a hollow, lonely and unsatisfied marriage.”

Females do have strong sexual appetite. There might surely be ups and downs in that depending on the circumstances, hormonal levels etc.

Our request to our brothers in faith…Don’t be selfish no matter how tired you are. If you want to be satisfied every single time of making love, make sure so does your wife too. Remember before she is your wife, she is a Muslimah. And it is your duty to fulfil the right of another Muslim’. Your wife will never be emotionally attached to you if you do not satisfy her with your own love and willingness in bed.

May Allah grant us all righteous, loving spouses. May He keep us chaste.

Part 1: Everything you ever wanted to Know about Intimacy

Part 2: More of Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Intimacy


























Keep supporting MuslimMatters for the sake of Allah

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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. Adis

    April 15, 2015 at 9:47 PM

    In Freudian terms it i has to to do with so called madonna/whole complex- you can’t love and be sexual with women . only men who internalise traditional masculinity strongly suffer from this complex.
    But I am afraid that traditional Islamic teachings are not much better . For example read here:–the-role-of-patriarchal-hadith/d/35451

  2. Dyyf

    April 16, 2015 at 10:04 AM

    This article is mistitled. The title gives you the impression that the West has erroneous cultural beliefs about female sexuality; but apart from a few short paragraphs about 1950s adrocentric norms (and those cannot be denied) it is all about the heavy androcentric norms in Muslim cultures.

    It’s almost as if the author wishes to not be seen as “bashing” Islamic communities by titling and beginning her article about how bad the West is and then going onto the serious topic of the problem in the Islamic communities.

    • M.Mahmud

      April 16, 2015 at 1:15 PM

      What it shows is how we mistakenly followed the backward and incorrect ways of what the West was not too long ago.

      • Kristy

        May 19, 2015 at 2:31 AM

        Good grief! you are referring to western thoughts on sexuality that are over 60+ years ago! My grandmother’s generation! Don’t you guys ever lead in your own cultures or is the blame the west game always your fallback excuse?

    • Ava

      April 22, 2015 at 3:54 PM

      I also was confused by the title, preparing to read a title bashing western beliefs and practices today around sexuality; I expected to be disappointed, reading an anti-western and sensationalistic article. However, this a great and informative article shedding might on incorrect beliefs and assumptions, regardless of “east” or “west.” Please consider changing the title. Thank you, Ava

  3. Ali Ahmed

    April 16, 2015 at 8:16 PM

    This is a very important topic that needs to be discussed more in our communities. There was an excellent post on this subject on reddit just a few days ago, in response to a young Muslim sister. Here’s what it said:

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems your trouble is that you feel troubled by your sexual desires. Perhaps you’ve come across statements from scholars about how women are less sexual than men.

    This is a great myth and one that has its roots in traditions outside the Muslim one. I’m not saying you’re not going to find it in Islamic writings, Allah knows it permeates our works. You have to realize that Muslim scholars (both modern and classical) are as much a product of their culture and surroundings as everyone else. As Imam Malik used to say to his students “We accept and we reject parts of what everyone says—except the inhabitant of this grave” and he would motion towards the grave of the Prophet ﷺ. No scholar, no matter how great, is immune from mistakes. And yes, some of that has indeed carried over into thoughts on female sexuality. The interesting thing is that those scholars who had more exposure to women were well aware that this is a myth. The famous scholar of the 5th century AH, Ibn Hazm wrote this:

    I hear many people say, “Complete subjugation to the passions is found only among men, and not among women.” I never cease to wonder at this assertion. My own unwavering opinion is, that men and women are exactly equal in their inclination towards these two things. The man does not exist who, having been offered the love of a pretty woman a long time, and there being no obstacle to prevent him, will not fall into Satan’s net, will not be seduced by sin, and will not be excited by desire and led astray by lust. Similarly there is no woman who, if invited by a man in the same circumstances, will not surrender to him in the end; it is the absolute law and inescapable decree of destiny.

    Ibn Hazm grew up in the palaces of Spain, surrounded by women for the initial period of his life. I’m almost positive he’s the only scholar of his caliber who has had that much interaction with women. That’s clearly evident in how he writes about them. He did not believe in many of the myths that other scholars did. He says if it were not for the prohibition on exposing sins, he would have written about the conversations women have amongst themselves. Conversations, according to him, which would completely stun men who think that women do not have strong sexual desires. He’s also very frank in how man and women act:

    And I will describe something to you that you see with your own eyes: and that is that I have never seen a woman in any place who senses that a man is looking at or listening to her, except that she begins to gesture in a way that she not normally gesture, and begins to make remarks the likes of which she was not making before, and you would see her pay more attention to how she articulates her words and how she varies her postures – in an obvious and non-subtle manner. Men do the same thing if they sense the presence of women

    The point of this all being…..there’s absolutely no reason you should think that your desire for sex is less than a man’s or that it is a deficiency in you if you have strong sexual desires. Honestly, although you say you think you have a sex drive higher than most Muslim women, I really doubt that’s true. It’s just that our culture and society (both our Muslim community and the broader America culture) are far more accepting of males than females expressing their desire. The result is that many women think they’re the weird one for having strong urges. Trust me, there are literally thousands of Muslim women like you thinking the same thing “I have an above average sexual drive, how am I going to find a husband who understands that and accepts it?”

    However, for argument’s sake, let’s say it is true, and your sex drive is way higher than any other Muslim woman. Well…….what’s the problem with that? Allah ﷻ has not made desire haram. He’s delineated a proper way of fulfilling that desire and everything inside it is not only permissible, it is rewarded. Someone with less desire is not at all more pious than someone who has very strong urges. Ibn Hazm actually talks about this exactly:

    But I have observed that many men err gravely as to the true meaning of the word “righteousness.” Its correct interpretation is as follows. The “righteous” woman is one who, when duly restrained, restrains herself; when temptations are kept out of her way, she keeps herself under control. The “wicked” woman on the other hand is one who, when duly restrained, does not restrain herself, and when barred from all facilities for committing licence, nevertheless herself contrives by some ruse or other to discover the means of behaving badly. The “righteous” man is he who has no traffic with adulterers, and does not expose himself to sights exciting the passions; who does not raise his eyes to look upon ravishing shapes and forms. The “wicked” man however is he who consorts with depraved people, who allows his gaze to wander freely and stares avidly at beautiful faces, who seeks out harmful spectacles and delights in deadly privacies. The “righteous” man and the “righteous” woman are like a fire that lies hidden within the ashes, and does not burn any who is within range of it unless it be stirred into flame.

    A righteous person will have that fire burning inside of them but they only feed the fuel in a halal manner (i.e., marriage). As for becoming aroused or attracted to people, if that is beyond your control, then Allah ﷻ will not take you to task for something you have no power over.

    The strongest proof that Islam does not consider women to be any less sexual than men is the had punishment for zina. It’s identical for men and women. Note how the punishment is not identical for married and unmarried people. The hadd punishment is stoning for married people and lashes for those who are unmarried. Why? Not that being unmarried is a legitimate excuse, but it is more understandable than someone who is married, has a halal way of having sex, and still commits haram. Similarly, there’s a hadith about how there are three people whom Allah ﷻ will not speak to, nor purify, not even look at on the Day of Judgement. Of these three is an old man who commits zina. Again, it’s not that being young is a legitimate excuse, but it is more understandable for a young person to commit zina than an elderly man. And yet, you don’t find any ahadith about it being worse for women to commit zina than men or that the hadd is higher on women than men. It is identical.

    I know people are going to point out that Allah ﷻ emphasizes hoor for men and not so much for women and thus this is an indication that women desire sex less than men. I absolutely agree that men and women are different in some regards: And the male is not like the female (Qur’an 3:36). However, this is not an evidence that women are less sexual than men. The best explanation I’ve heard for the difference in emphasis is that, since the Qur’an is directed at all mankind for all time, Allah ﷻ mentions those things which are relevant to us the most. If you were to take a group of a hundred guys and ask them if they could have anything in the world they wanted, pretty much all one hundred of them would say something sexual. If you were to take a group of a hundred women and ask them the same thing, you would get a hundred different responses. It’s not that women desire sex less than men, it’s that they have much more variety in what they want. Therefore, by mentioning hoor to men, Allah ﷻ is mentioning the first thing that 99.9% of men desire. For women, what they want is so varied that it doesn’t make sense to emphasize one particular thing. Regardless, as Allah ﷻ says for men and women: They will have whatever they wish therein (50:35).

    As far as bringing it up with a potential spouse, yeah, I understand why it would make you feel uncomfortable. But realize he probably wants to bring it up as well and feels just as uncomfortable as you about it. If it’s something you want to discuss before marriage, one of you two is going to have to take the plunge. I can’t speak for every guy, but I would venture to guess that most would not be repelled by a sister that brought it up first. I mean, come on, let’s be realistic, we’re Muslim. We’ve waited 20+ years to have sex after we’re married. The guy’s thinking about it, the girl’s thinking about it, and there’s no reason to be ashamed about wanting to discuss if the two are on the same page. I mean, you definitely don’t want to marry a guy who thinks sex is icky (I don’t know, maybe a guy like that exists). And if a guy thinks you’re a “slut” for thinking about sex, well, he’s probably a guy you don’t want to spend the rest of your life with anyway.

    Sorry, this became a lot longer than I intended. This idea that women want romance and cuddles and that men are the only ones who want sex is detrimental to a healthy marriage and a healthy community as a whole. What I’m saying is, you’re not messed up for thinking so much about sex all the time. It’s called being 20 yrs old. It’s great that you don’t watch porn but maybe try to ease off the masturbation as well. I know some scholars consider it makruh and not haram but if possible, why not stay out of the gray area?

    Actually, interesting coincidence, but someone posted an article on r/islam yesterday that I liked so I looked up the author and she had another article talking about just this topic. Here’s the article for those who are interested. Spot on, just like the other one.

    Finally, to reiterate, realize that being a scholar does not automatically make a person an expert on all areas. Insha’Allah we will get more people who do combine expertise in these areas with Islamic education. Two people you might want to keep an eye on in that regards are Haleh Banani and Hooman Keshavarzi. Both are doing great work in the area.

    And Allah (swt) knows best.


    • ummu khayr

      April 17, 2015 at 2:04 AM

      masya Allah very well said
      now I don’t feel so abnormal anymore
      I heard about Ibn Hazm before but I never read his works, now I am interested to look for them

      • Lari

        April 18, 2015 at 12:07 AM

        You are not abnormal in any way. Just like Ali Ahmed has said, most of us probably feel this way. I always thought myself ‘higher drive than most’.

    • Ava

      April 22, 2015 at 4:00 PM

      Great and informative response! I learned much about Islam here. Thank you. Respectfully, Ava

    • KB

      April 28, 2015 at 1:35 AM

      Thank you sooooooo much for your comment. You really hit the nail on the head. Like another sister mentioned, it makes me feel “more normal” lol.

  4. Y

    April 18, 2015 at 8:09 AM

  5. Umm Maeve

    April 18, 2015 at 7:22 PM

    I never view sex as dirty or slutty. Sex is beautiful and sacred experience to embrace as long as you’re doing it in halaal manner. If Allah permits, I too want 70 husbands in Jannah (hahaha just trolling :-) *waiting for angry responses :p*)

    But the problem with the West now is hyperexposure of sexualized images. Gone are the days when they believed only sluts experience orgasm.

  6. KB

    April 25, 2015 at 2:27 AM

    I am veyr grateful for these articles. As a teenage girl I feel the need to learn about intimacy THE RIGHT WAY, from clean and Islamic sources. This is harder than you think. someone always pops up with “Astaghfirullah how can we discuss this on a Muslim website. This is disgusting. Keep all this information behind closed doors.” etc. but BELIEVE ME…If a girl with a high sex drive like I do doesn’t learn pertinent information from reputable sources, she WILL get it somewhere else.
    Jazakallah khair.

  7. Kristy

    May 3, 2015 at 8:02 PM

    re: western society and the androcentric model of sexuality:
    “These fallacious ideas were quite rampant up until 1950s.”
    Respectfully, are you aware that the 1950s were about 2+ generations, or 60 years ago?
    Unless you are lemmings, why do muslims follow the west and then blame the west for muslims following them? Your sexual problems may be the least of your societal problems.

  8. Deborah Aulefer

    May 12, 2015 at 10:02 AM

    Sex is healthy and to be celebrated between two, responsible and mature people. There is nothing shameful about it. Stringent interpretations of religion, and stringent legal systems throughout history have twisted a pleasurable act of bonding into something evil, which it is not. Good article- interesting reading.

  9. Pingback: » Intimacy for Muslim Couples: The Anti-Climax

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