Consent Culture EMPWR Image of 2 subjects raising awareness of sexual education
Photo by Michael Prewett

Growing up in a Muslim household, a Muslim school, and a Muslim community, sex was rarely a topic of discussion, if ever. Even to this day, at 18-years-old, I have yet to have “the talk” with my parents. The cultural taboo surrounding the subject does not allow for the healthy discussion of sex-related topics.

However, the stigma does not end at sex. It surrounds matters even remotely related, including themes like harassment and boundaries. This is not just a “Muslim thing”; this issue is evident in many traditional cultures.

As I attended an Islamic elementary school, I was presented with the same issues in health class. The discussion was barely surface-level. Classes were separated by gender and then we, the girls’ class, were given the basic rundown of what menstruation is. The teacher then called it a day. That was the only health class we ever had.

The issue of cultural stigmatization of sex stems from generations of reinforcing the idea that premarital sex is not allowed, which is absolutely fine if that’s what you believe, as it is a widely-upheld religious belief. However, these conversations should go far beyond just sexual intercourse, as there is so much more depth to the matter than that.

Photo by Paweł Czerwiński

Nevertheless, any questions voiced get shut down because one should keep quiet on such a “prohibited” matter.

As a woman, it is that much harder to learn and understand these issues because there is a culturally-perpetuated concept that women should keep to themselves. It may not be an intentional idea, but it is systemically-reinforced nonetheless. It is found in the little things, where we can just barely recognize it: letting your son stay out later than your daughter, the men of the house not contributing to chores – it is the “boys will be boys” mantra, in disguise.

More often than not, sex is an ignored conversation across generations. This sheltering technique has proven more negative than all else. In ignoring a topic, it becomes uncomfortable to discuss at all, even when there is a true need for it. Establishing healthy boundaries, even amongst friends, becomes difficult if all your life you were taught to adapt to those around you; shrinking so others may have their space.

As harmful as it is for women in the community, it is also destructive for men. In never learning the basic fundamentals of sex, consent, boundaries, and similar themes, a lack of understanding is often used as a defensive argument for ignorant behaviour. Ignorant behaviour, if not changed or corrected, can lead to toxic tendencies in which one may not recognize that their actions are compromising another’s boundaries.

The compromisation of another’s boundaries is extremely harmful because oftentimes in the moment one may not speak up when they’re uncomfortable with another’s actions. It can be difficult to stand up for yourself when somebody is overstepping if you grew up accustomed to keeping quiet. Because of this, it is extremely important to educate yourself on respecting and establishing healthy boundaries, understanding social cues, and recognizing when your own behaviour is harmful.

With the taboo surrounding the topic, women who are survivors of assault rarely come forward. If we are never taught how to discuss the issue in a healthy manner, we won’t discuss it at all. This has to change. 

Support is a crucial aspect to recovery and education is a critical element in dismantling rape culture and replacing it with one of consent.

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