Beyond the First Time: Feeling Safe, Loved and Desired

Eren Cervantes-Altamirano

Eren Cervantes-Altamirano

This post addresses heterosexual and cissexual dating and sexuality.

There is a lot of talk about the first sexual experience in the context of Muslim marriage. From advice on what to do, the halal and the haram and first-night etiquette to attempts to making Muslims feel at ease with the concept of the wedding night. There are columns encouraging Muslim women to relax and not getting stressed about their first time. There are also media articles about Muslim sexuality, halal sex shops and its respective critiques. But the reality of things is that the focus remains towards that first interaction in the context of marriage.

But what happens if, as a Muslim woman, you are not in that place, time or mindset?

I will be honest with you. I am not a virgin, and I absolutely hate the label. Sexuality is not divided in two. It is not about the virgin state and the rest. It is not about good and bad, and it definitely cannot be defined through the experience of the first time.

My first time was when I was 17. I had been dating my boyfriend for a year and a half before I even considered sleeping with him. I grew up in a family who appreciated that women’s sexuality was not only important but sacred. It was not about the moral stuff or the “waiting for marriage” state. My family never believed in such things. Rather, it was about making sure that sex took place within a context where, as a woman, you felt safe, loved and desired.

That being said, the first time sucked. Of course, if you have two inexperienced teenagers preparing to have sex, some pretty funny (and not so funny) things are bound to happen. I was lucky enough that, despite the initial awkwardness, I could be open with my parents. Likewise, at all times, I always had options and the support to practice sex safely within a relationship.

But things were not always that sweet. I grew up in Mexico within a larger society that shames women for their sexual choices. Although it is getting past the whole sex-only-within-marriage thing, women are still called ‘sluts’ for having more than one partner and are restricted in their access and ability to practice safe sex. Thus, the first time I was called a ‘slut’ I was twelve years old, and I was being shamed for breaking up with my first boyfriend. Later on, in the course of six years (from junior high to high school), I had many friends and classmates getting pregnant because they lacked access to sex education, contraceptives, and abortion services.

Now, ten years after my first experience with sex, I find myself looking at sexuality through the lens of a variety of Muslim practices, but with the inevitable filter of my Catholic background and my society’s notions of intimacy and womanhood. To a lot of my friends that makes me a ‘prude.’ I blush easily, get uncomfortable, and if I am asked about the number of sexual partners I have had I just want to hide under the table. But what it comes down to is this: I am uneasy about sex.

Things were not always like that, that’s exactly why I say that sexuality cannot be divided into two stages only. I have never been particularly open about sex and sexuality because in my society that’s a taboo, and after converting to Islam such reticent behaviour was encouraged. However, I managed to feel at ease with my second – and last – partner.

Being a “virgin” himself, it took him a lot to get past the notion of virginity and sex-only-within-marriage, to be able to discover that within the context of our relationship he felt safe, loved and desired. In our seven years together, things varied greatly in terms of how sex played out. There were the discussions about contraception and when he was shocked to be asked to wear a condom; there were the pregnancy scares and the times we had to do STD testing; there were the times when we were not in sync sexually and wondered if we still desired each other; and there were the periods when we connected so well that we saw stars.

Yet, after his passing, I find myself negotiating sex and sexuality once more, but in a context where the values and mores of Western society and Muslim practices intersect with my own cultural background in ways that make it all very complicated. I am at a stage where I haven’t found that space where I feel safe, loved and desired. There have been instances where an invitation for sex stems from the guy’s immediate desire, but the other two elements aren’t there. I just can’t do it. It does not feel sacred, as I was taught it should feel.

I have a few Muslim friends who have stepped out of the fold after years of abiding to traditional understandings of sex-only-within-marriage.  They noted that they those traditional understandings neither applied to them nor benefited them in any way. Hence, once in a while I get the “you either need a one-night stand or need to buy a bullet vibrator” talk. I have nothing against these approaches to sexuality, but that’s not the place that I am at right now.

Somehow, I am at a point where I am looking for a sacred connection that is not purely sexual, but also emotional and intellectual. Whereas marriage can provide that (not always, of course), not everyone is quite there yet… For sexuality to be sacred you need the right “ingredients;” you need the right amount of confidence, love, trust and spirituality… but above all, you need the right connection (whatever that means in your own context).

So, as I navigate the world of dating, I am not looking for a one-night stand. Perhaps one day, who knows? But right now, I am chasing those connections… those little pieces of magic that transcend the wedding night idea and link the many different stages of sex and sexuality that people go through over relationships and lifetimes.

Read more from Eren on our site, here.

Eren Cervantes-Altamirano is an Indigenous-Latin American convert to Islam. She is currently working on her MA in Public Administration (supposedly). Eren’s blog Identity Crisis focuses on her multiple identities and how to reconcile them when they are at odds with each other. She also blogs at Muslimah Media Watch. When she is not writing, Eren can be found baking, knitting and sewing and oh yeah… dating. Follow her at @ErenArruna.