The Birds and the Bees

"Betaaaaaaaa...it's time to have The Talk".

I wonder how many Muslim children have heard this phrase from their parents? My guess is not many. I'm sure you know what I refer to when I say "The Talk". You know...about the birds and the bees. And all those hormones and changes adolescents go through. The uncomfortable, hand-wringing, let's just get this outta the way so I don't have to talk about it again kind of talk.

Which is really unfortunate, since the more parents talk about The Talk, the better it is for their child's future.

Perhaps I should clarify what The Talk really means. If you're feeling squeamish, I should suggest you stop reading this, but you really do need to read on. Our Muslim community depends on it.

My observations have led me to believe that not enough Muslim girls and boys are getting the proper health education they need. And I don't just mean hygiene, nutrition, and physical activity...I mean in relation to puberty, self-image, body image, and sexual health. These words are not haram, nor are the topics. Yet it's unfortunate that because parents feel uncomfortable talking about these topics, or don't allow qualified educators to talk about it, that their children's default is to basically turn to Google for the answers to their questions.

Before I continue, I need to clarify a stereotype that many Muslims have. And that is that talking about these topics does NOT by any means promote sexual activity prior to marriage. In fact, studies show the opposite! The MORE information about sexual health a child has, the better the decisions they are able to make in relation to their values and beliefs.

I should perhaps clarify where Muslim children lack education. For example, ask most Muslim girls to describe what menstruation is, and I bet most would not know the why and how. Also, sit back and observe how some Muslim boys behave around women overall and you'll see that they lack basic respect and boundaries around women and treat them according to their physical attraction rather than who they are as a person.

This is NOT normal. This is NOT what Islam teaches. Then why are we letting our children grow up without being armed with basic knowledge and skills to navigate what they are facing?

Did you know that an alarming rate of high school Muslim girls who are transitioning to post secondary education are entering into sexually active relationships with boys? Why? It's because they aren't armed with a framework to act in a way that is in line with their values and beliefs. These girls aren't assertive enough to communicate what they truly want, and because they may have never been given attention by a male before, any attention from a male is enough for them.

The truth is that the more information children have, the better able they are to handle situations. The more opportunities children have had to practice role playing situations that may arise, the better able they are to handle them in the future.

I understand most parents' concerns about educating their children around sexual health, especially since modesty in Islam is crucial. However, this is no excuse when Islamically-sensitive curricula in sexual health is being developed. Islam teaches us about accountability and independence as we mature in all areas of our life. During puberty, there are changes to children emotionally, physically, spiritually, and cognitively, all of which impact their ability to practice Islam in a meaningful way. So why not arm children with knowledge about sexual health from an Islamic standpoint, so that what they learn can be implemented immediately into daily life?

Another stereotype that is held by most people is that by NOT teaching children the anatomically correct terms, we are somehow doing them a favour by not embarrassing them. But have parents considered this? By using other inaccurate names, you are telling your children that this topic is taboo and cannot be talked about in an open manner. So then your children still don't openly approach you about their questions and concerns, and grow up thinking something different than those who are armed with the correct information.

Also, by parents NOT having discussions about sexual health topics before their children hit puberty, you are closing a channel of communication with your children. So don't be surprised if kids starting turning to the internet for information. And really, do we want children getting sexual health information from online? There's no tie to Islam, plenty of crap to go around, and no one on the other side of the screen to explain things in a way that is sensitive and responsive to their needs.

The average age for the onset of puberty in girls is now 9 years of age. Scary. At the age of 9, it's too late to talk about menstruation with them. Do you know how traumatizing it can be to a girl to not know what's happening when it hits? Start the discussions early, repetition is key, and expose them to what they'll need BEFORE it happens. Teach about hygiene in relation to performing ablutions and praying, and Ghusl after it's over. Tell them NOT to feel ashamed, and ways to tell other people that they aren't able to pray without embarrassing themselves. Tell girls that exercise can regulate their cycle and help with reducing the severity of cramps. Teach about drinking raspberry leaf tea as a means to help calm cramps. ETC ETC ETC! I feel bad for girls who don't know ANY of this information and just accept things the way they are! The same with boys and what they face during puberty.

So enough of my ranting, it's time to get into action mode! The following are some tips to talk about sexual health with your children:

1. Seek out experts in the field if you're not sure how to broach the topic. The Calgary Sexual Health Centre is an excellent and FREE resource! I am currently working with them to develop an Islamically sensitive health curriculum, so they are more than equipped and sensitive to Muslims' needs.

2. Talk to your local Imam about broaching this subject with your children. And this topic is NOT five minutes worth of discussion.

3. Be open with your kids. You want them to ask questions often because that means that as they age, they will continue coming to you with concerns and questions. The more open your relationship is in this area, the better.

4. An answer of "no, it's haram" about pre-marital relationships is not a good enough explanation. Go into detail from an Islamic standpoint about why. In fact, the word "haram" is not good enough for anything, it makes kids want to rebel and tell sth.

5. If as parents you're not wanting to talk about sexual health, then please DON'T opt your kids out of the school's health curriculum. I encourage parents to go online to Alberta Education's website and look at the detail of what is being taught. There's some anatomy and physiology and the rest is about self-esteem and body image and respectful relationships, etc. Where's the haram in that?

This is a topic that isn't often spoken about within the Muslim community, but it's so desperately needed. I see far too many teens struggling because they never had the education they needed. We need to put shame aside and educate ourselves as parents in order to ensure that our children know what they need to.

And lastly... we need to stop telling girls that pregnancy only happens after marriage. Can you see how dangerous this simple statement can be?

But that's for a whole other blog entry!

Comments

  1. Although I am not a parent, I am only a college student, I have been telling my freinds lately how there is not enough sex-education in the Muslim community. Like I was specifically talking to them about masturbation and how common it is among young muslims. Some dont even realize it is haram and i guess its because this issue was never brought up in lectures. The shame shouldnt be in mentioning the issues, but the shame should come when our youth are actually doing these haram things such as sex before marriage and masturbaution because they werent given knowledge.

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  2. I guess its better that a parent talks to their kids, than having their kids learn from someone else, especially friends.. and let's not assume that all "muslim" friends are good! Kids are learning a lot from television, and that doesn't just include Pocahontas making out with John Smith!! Even things at a subliminal level. How can we teach our kids self-restraint, like Yusuf, if we don't tell them what these things are and how to avoid them? How can we trust our kid will tell us everything if we don't have an open friendly relationship with them? The worst part of it all is entertainment/music industry trying to dig into our heads that woman is a s*&ual object! And kid celebrities having pre-marital relationships! Some may call it cute--their baby singing the latest Beyonce or Lady Gaga song ... the reality is that it is sickening.

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