By Nedda Alammar
May 13, 2013
I recently read a sterile article about sex called "What Muslim Women Really Want in the Bedroom." Given that I am a Muslim woman and have no idea what I want in the bedroom, a weakness I attribute to my Arab mentality of how shameful it would be to ask for too much, I was hoping for more of a Cosmo -style "how to" than a "here, look at the books and all the sex shops for Muslim women wanting a 'how to.''" The conversation is starting, the journalist explained. So, the conversation in my head began -- what do Muslim women really want in the bedroom? Given my unjustified anger over a non-salacious article appearing in a respectable publication, I had to wonder, is it what do we want, or more what can we even want?
Ok, obviously, women can want anything. I know this. I grew up in New Jersey. However, the Arab world is an entirely different ballgame. They don't even go to ballgames. Society has enough rules -- why torture ourselves with more? And so the world of sex is nonexistent, taboo even. Which makes the whole thing even hotter?
When I first visited the Middle East as a 30-year-old woman on the verge of an identity crisis -- am I too Jersey for Jordan? -- I thought my American openness would relieve me and my relatives from cultural restraint, thus helping them reveal to me all their forbidden escapades -- their loves, desires, and dreams. Ah, finally they are free! All thanks to me!
But instead, I almost got married off to my cousin because I sat next to him once and our arms touched.
Talk about rules.
Every society has them. While we in America are lucky we can talk about sex so openly and wear boobylicious tops so we can make sure we have it, I have to wonder, if in a country where so much is allowed, can we honestly say we know more about sex and that Muslim women know less? Should we be jumping for joy when we hear of a Muslim woman in the vibrator business?
Well, only if she sells quality ones, I suppose.
"All American people care about is sex!" my mother would tell me growing up. "It is the Arab who cares about romance, with all of the bedding with the veils and lace..." While my mother's notion of romance strangely resembled the sale bin at Homegoods and her wardrobe the dressing window of Fredericks of Hollywood, I knew from an early age that sex and the Muslim do not go together... unlike feathered sequins g-strings, which my mother still tries to have me wear because it is the key to sexy everything.
But doesn't sex make people feel sexy?
Luckily. growing up in New Jersey afforded me a plethora of opportunities for self-discovery: make out sessions behind the food stand at the neighborhood pool/'country club'; rides home from guys with puffy athletic jackets that were also leathery. I strove to take all of the experience my country offered me, because I was raised in an Arab-Muslim home where my parents hardly ever touched each other. While my mother regularly berated my father for having nothing to offer and my father would leave the house to read in the bookstore where he wouldn't have to offer anything except a dollar for a coffee, I knew that such undying love transpired from a different culture -- certainly not mine.
Yet, after too many rides to food stands, I now wonder if I, the West incarnate, really surpassed the boundaries of sex that my culture implied. My first boyfriend looked like Ham burglar and often farted during sex.
"At least you are not a virgin," an Arab guy friend said to me.
"Good?" I replied incredulously. "I wish I was a virgin." At least then I wouldn't have had sex with the Ham burglar.
But that is neither here nor there.
What is here is that sex is not out in the open in the Muslim world; neither is dating (in many countries, you can add bare arms and kneecaps to that list). But that doesn't mean such extremities don't exist. Muslim women are not these caged creatures wrapped up in garb with only a lack of experience underneath. It's more like a Gucci pantsuit.
So, maybe the act of sex is not so foreign to Muslim women, especially not the ones selling vibrators and running online sex shops. But rather, the idea of actually talking about it is. If such a change in attitude were to take place, it could lead to a greater understanding of finding constant pleasure in sex. (Although most men talk about sex, and they still don't seem to understand it at all. Just ask the Ham burglar.)
Yet, Muslim women openly writing and selling and talking about ways to embrace sexuality is new. And really exciting. And something that maybe we think of as 'catching up' to us and the rest of Western world. What I've learned after thirty years of Ham burglars and lots of reality TV in between is that as much as you change your lifestyle, you can never really change the culture from which you came. Just watch "Breaking Amish." Those poor kids are train wrecks.
Hopefully, Muslim women in the Arab world won't trade in their Hijabs for halter tops and wear less lipstick because they are showing their knees. Hopefully, Americans won't expect them to. Because understanding a different culture is about seeing their issues from their perspective, not from ours. And while it's easy to stereotype a culture of people, all that does is further divide us as a whole. And that is about as un-American as you can get.