Explaining My Research

It’s been a few days since the infographic came out. People have had some questions on it so I thought I would explain my research a little (and save people having to read my entire dissertation). I’m hoping to get it published in the near future, insha’Allah, but some of this information is relevant right now. Although, the issue is not being covered in the media as much anymore, this is an issue that is and will be relevant for Muslims for a long time.

Muslim Youth Need Sex Education

Yes they do.Why? Because Muslim youth are having sex. I surveyed 403 Muslims in Canada and the US between the ages of 17 and 35. More than half (221) reported they had engaged in sex. I did not ask for any particular time frame. I was simply asking if they had ever had sex. Of those 221, two-thirds (148) said they had done so before marriage. Before anyone thinks that most of those 148 people were men, I found these proportions were the same for men and women – two-thirds of the women and two-thirds of the men had sex before marriage.

Even when looking at those who had not engaged in sex before marriage, half of those Muslims reported that they had considered doing so.

It’s clear that sex is relevant to Muslim youth. Previous research on the sexual education of Muslim youth (done mostly in New Zealand or the UK) has found Muslim parents DO want their children to have sexual education, but not until they are getting married. Knowing that Muslims are having sex before marriage means that having them wait until they are getting married to provide them with this education is too late, and dangerous. They clearly need to know about issues of consent, violence in relationships, and healthy sexual decision making long before that time.

The Greatest Source of Sex Ed is the Media and Parents are the Least Likely Source

I asked my participants to rate, on a scale from 0 – 4, how much sexual education they received from the media, their friends, and their parents. Media received the highest rating and was statistically significantly higher than the rating given to parents as a source of education.

This isn’t unique to Muslims, but it highlights the problem that plagues all young people – parents aren’t talking about issues of sex and sexual health so the school systems need to provide this education. My research simply points out that Muslim youth are no different than their non-Muslim counterparts in this regard.

Lack of Sexual Knowledge -> Fear of Negative Sexual Self-Judgement -> Unhealthy Relationships

The main focus of my dissertation was sexual guilt and sexual anxiety of young Muslim adults. Previous research has found belief in sexual myths and lack of sexual knowledge to be related to higher levels of sexual guilt. Sexual guilt is a fear of negatively judging oneself for either engaging in or possibly engaging in sexual activity.

Previous research has also found a sexual guilt to be related to greater sexual dissatisfaction, higher frequency of sexual problems, and dissatisfaction with a current sexual relationship, which in turn has been found to be related to decreased relationship and marital satisfaction.

Lack of sexual knowledge can therefore result in negative feelings about sexual activity which will have an impact on sexual and romantic relationships.

Conclusion

My conclusion is the same as before – young Muslims need sexual health education, just as their non-Muslim counterparts do.

References:

Brezsnyak, M.,& Whisman, M.A. (2004). Sexual desire and relationship functioning: The effects of marital satisfaction and power. Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, 30, 199-217. doi: 10.1080/00926230490262393

Cado, S., & Leitenberg, H. (1990). Guilt reactions to sexual fantasies during intercourse. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 19, 49-63. doi: 10.1007/BF01541825

Darling, C.A., Davidson, J.K., & Passello, L.C. (1992). The mystique of first intercourse among college youth: The role of partners, contraceptive practices, and psychological reactions. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 21, 97-117. doi: 10.1007/BF01536984

Mendelsohn, M. J., & Mosher, D. L. (1979). Effects of sex guilt and premarital sexual permissiveness on role-played sex education and moral attitudes. Journal of Sex Research, 15, 174-183. doi:10.1080/00224497909551039

Trudel, G., & Goldfarb, M.R., (2010). Marital and sexual functioning and dysfunctioning, depression and anxiety. Sexologies, 19, 137-142. doi: 10.1016/j.sexol.2009.12.009

Witting, K., Santtila, P., Alanko, K., Harlaar, N., Jern, P., Johansson, A.,… Sandnabba, K. (2008). Female sexual function and its associations with number of children, pregnancy, and relationship satisfaction. Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, 34, 89 – 106. doi: 10.1080/00926230701636163

My Research is an Infographic!

Working with the wonderful women at Outburst! some of my research findings from my doctoral work were put into an infographic to make the results more accessible than they are right now in the huge dissertation document. It’s great to see the information get out there and be shared. Research on sex and Muslims in Canada and the US is virtually non-existent. I’d love to be able to continue doing more research on this, iA, if I am able to get the resources I need to do so.

In the meantime, here is the infographic. A blog post explaining this will follow shortly.

I’m inspired to get this research published now!

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Infographic designed by Meriem Benlamri.

Sexual Education in Ontario

As many may know, Ontario has introduced a new sexual education curriculum. To be specific it is called The Ontario Health and Physical Education Curriculum and will include many issues related to health, including sexual issues. A copy of the grades 1 – 8 curriculum can be read here and the 9 – 12 curriculum can be read here.  As many may also know this new curriculum has caused a lot of controversy.  There has been a lot of misinformation being spread about the curriculum and various attempts have been made to clarify some myths floating around. This week parents against the curriculum have been protesting it by keeping their children out of school for the week. Unfortunately, it seems that Muslim parents are at the forefront of these protests (though they are certainly not the only ones against it). As a Muslim, this upsets me. As a Muslim who grew up in Canada, went through the Canadian school system, and had to negotiate with and navigate my way through Canadian experiences it saddens and angers me. It upsets me to see Muslim parents wanting to deny their children, what I see as, the educational tools that will help them navigate their lives in healthier, safer, and more respectful ways.

I get it. Being an immigrant parent in Canada is NOT easy. That’s why I am not interested in demonizing these parents nor calling names. Being a parent is a scary thing at the best of times. Parents want what they think is best for their child. And, of course, all parents use their own experiences as a reference point for informing their own parental practices and deciding what is best. Being an immigrant parent and raising children in a cultural context very different from the one in which the parents grew up has to be incredibly scary. Many parents may fear that their children will grow up to be people they don’t recognize, people they can’t relate to, people they don’t understand. I’m not even a parent yet, but even the thought of my (hopefully) future children not being able to at least understand Urdu or Punjabi (my mother tongues) freaks me out! So I empathize with these parents because I recognize that they are fearful.

BUT that does not justify keeping children ignorant, because, and let’s be very clear here, children will face sexual and relationship decisions their WHOLE lives. And I mean whole lives. Because sexual education is not just about sexual intercourse. (And the fact that many parents appear to believe that shows how much sexual education is needed!) It is about issues that we face our whole lives.

Let’s take the very important issue of consent. Have you ever picked up someone else’s child only to have them start crying hysterically? Well, that child was telling you that they do not give you their consent to be picked up. That child needs to have their request (as loud as it may be) respected because when you respect that request you teach that child their consent is required for you to touch them. (If you have a chance please check out the cutest protest ever (video) on the issue of consent and bodily autonomy of children.)

Or how about children’s natural curiosity and learning processes? Children begin to have a curiosity of their own and others’ bodies well before they even begin school. They begin to explore their bodies at very young ages. They may see body parts on others that don’t match their own. They may see them at home or at school. And they are curious and rightly so. Curiosity leads to learning. When we reprimand children for being curious about their own bodies, we are teaching them bodily shame. Instead, children need to have a healthy relationship with their own bodies and respect for the autonomy of others’ bodies.

These are just two, out of many, examples of why sexual education is relevant to all age groups.

In the end, my message to Muslim parents who oppose this curriculum is this: Remember that your children may be under your care for now, but they are individuals who will have their own lives to live, insha’Allah. They will face difficult relationship and sexual situations and decisions in life, both while they are children and as adults, which you will not have any control over nor will you be present for. These may be at school, at a friend’s home, online, at the mosque (as this awful case from Chicago demonstrates can happen), etc. But you can be sure they will face them. This sexual health curriculum will provide them with the tools needed to make healthy decisions that feel right to them or negotiate the situation with some confidence. Please don’t deny them that education, those resources, and those tools.

Inspired to Blog

I’ve decided it’s time to get back into blogging. It’s been a long while, being “distracted” by things like grad school and work. I’m still working, and kind of, sort of feel like I’m still in grad, what with being a post-doc, but I’m figuring out ways to fit blogging back into my life. I enjoyed blogging when I wrote for Muslimah Media Watch, back in the day. And because of some new connections, new experiences, and new friends I’ve been inspired to blog again.