Muslim parents in the Netherlands tell their daughters to stay virgin until the day of their wedding. An impossible requirement, says Senay Özdemir. It only leads to hypocrisy and disturbed family relations. Young Muslim women should have more freedom to experiment with sex before marriage.
Former tv-presenter Senay Özdemir (picture) is a young Dutch woman of Turkish origin. As the editor of a digital magazine for women of immigrant background, SEN Magazine, she knows very well what is going on in the minds of young Muslimas in the Netherlands. Last week she published her view in an opinion article in the Dutch daily NRC Handelsblad.
What many Muslim parents in the Netherlands are forgetting, writes Ms Özdemir, is that they themselves were mostly married at a young age and thus could legitimately have sex. In modern Dutch society, however, the age at which young Muslim women marry is steadily rising. The average age is now 23 years, but more educated women often do not marry before 30. "Almost all our fathers and mothers were married before they were twenty, which was normal in those days. Those same parents, who were able to satisfy their desires to love and be loved, now demand from their children that they deny themselves that pleasure."
And there is nothing wrong with sex for teenagers, she argues. Research published in Time in November 2007 confirms that it is only natural for adolescents to have their first sexual experience at the age of fifteen or sixteen and sleep with each other when they are about seventeen. "Children that enjoy the freedom to express their sexual desires in the awareness that sexuality is a normal part of life, grow up to be healthy and balanced individuals. Those who do not get this opportunity run the risk of becoming frustrated and mentally disturbed adolescents. This goes for both boys and girls. Just think of the Arab men who view all females passing by as sex objects and legitimate prey for their harassment."
Part of the problem is that young Muslim women and men do not openly question the demand of their parents to stay 'pure' until marriage. They want to be good daughters and sons who are loyal to their parents and do not harm the reputation of their family. But at the same time they do not want to endlessly postpone their love-life. The result is logical: hypocrisy and a disturbed sex-life. "Many parents think that their headscarf-wearing daughters are not interested in sex or do not have any sexual experiences. But the opposite is true. They do experiment with sex, and not just a little bit!"
Ms Özdemir knows what she is talking about. As editor of SEN Magazine she daily receives e-mails in which young Muslim women speak freely about their love-life. "Young women of immigrant background increasingly consider oral sex as something quite normal and feel they can't refuse their boyfriends when they ask for anal sex, as that would not damage their virginity." And when their virginity is lost, they can still have it restored by an operation or take refuge in a host of traditional tricks to make sure there is blood on the sheets after the wedding-night.
She calls it the 'virginity paradox'. The prohibition of sex, argues Ms Özdemir, is totally ineffective. It has in fact the reverse effect that young Muslim women as well as men become obsessed by sex. "Everyone knows the example of the psychologist who tells his testee not to think of a green dog in the next ten minutes. What happens then is not hard to guess."
Dutch Muslim parents and their children are involved in a terrible game of hide and seek. Muslim parents, writes Ms Özdemir, should learn to talk with their daughters about sex. They should learn to understand that the best protection they can offer their children is that of acceptance and openness. "Wouldn't it be much better when a Muslim girl could openly talk with her parents about how she feels and what she wants from life, without them making her value depend on her virginity? And wouldn't the parents themselves feel much better when their daughter talks to them honestly, instead of hiding from them?"
Freedom, in Ms Özdemir's view, is to be preferred above force and prohibition. "A young woman who makes her own choice not to have sex before marriage will radiate a natural confidence that will be admired by others. She will not easily be tempted to compromise herself with all kinds of half-hearted experiments. But girls whose chastity is imposed on them are forced to go against nature."