Muslim Marriage Guide -10
Ruqaiyyah Waris Maqsood
`The more a woman feels desire, the more she will be desired.’ (Ibn Qutayba, Uyun al-Akhbar)
`May Allah grant glory and eternal salvation to those who know how to stroke a soft cheek in an accomplished manner, to give a just accolade to a slender waist, and to enter the sweetest farj with a befitting skill!’ (Imam al Suyuti, Kitab al-Idah fi ilm al-nikah)
There is a widespread belief that the sexual problems of society at large do not exist in the Muslim community – or are at least uncommon. Sadly, the dislocation many Muslim families have experienced over the past generation or so means that this rosy assessment is often misplaced.
One such problem is that of husbands who are baffled that sex, which seems very enjoyable to them, does not seem in the least enjoyable to their wives. They begin to wonder what is wrong with them. Has it been their misfortune to marry a frigid woman? Or is it that she simply doesn’t care for him at all? It all seems so enigmatic – but then women are a mystery, aren’t they?
Poor men! The answer often lies in their own ignorance of women’s sexuality – and the answers to their mystified questions are really so easy! Those sensual decadent American women on the films do not enjoy sex any more or less than the most chaste of Islamic village maidens – God made their equipment more or less the same. It is what the man learns to do with it that counts. Husbands – it is basically up to you.
A Muslim man who has the intention to create a happy marriage should start, as with all things, in prayer, submission to God, and deep thought – not to work out his own will, but to discover the will of his Lord.
In fact, the Blessed Prophet recommended that one should always begin sexual intimacy in an atmosphere of prayer. He said:
`If, when you approach your spouse, you say: “In the name of God! O Lord God, protect me from the devil, and protect from the devil that which You grant to us”, then, if a child is conceived, the devil shall not harm it.’ (Bukhari and Muslim.)
(The meaning of `not harming it’ in this hadith is that the devil shall not overcome it … no scholar has held that it is to be taken at face value to mean that such a child will never experience any harm, whisperings or temptations from the devil. (Qadi Iyad, Sharh Sahih Muslim.))
Imam Ghazali further suggests that the lovers should begin with Bismillah and Surat al-Ikhlas as a way of increasing the blessing of the sex act. And when approaching orgasm, they should quietly say: `Al-hamdu li’Llah alladhi khalaqa min al-ma’i basharan.’ (`Praised be Allah Who has created human beings out of water.’)
Doctors get asked so often how often one should `perform’ per week. This can’t be answered. Some people would enjoy intimacy three times a day or more, while others are quite content with once a fortnight, or even less! It all depends how long your sexual activity takes, how much pleasure and satisfaction it gives, and so forth. (It is interesting to note that the caliph Umar reckoned that a woman had the right to sex at least once every four days, while Imam Abu Talib al-Makki added that `if he knows that she needs more, he is obliged to comply.’ (Zabidi, Ithaf, V 373.))
However, it has to be said candidly that one reason why men so often feel threatened and dismayed by female sexual hunger and capacity is not that their women are oversexed at all.
Whenever women are accused of this, you should suspect male selfishness and/or ignorance! All too often when these men do mate they only gratify themselves and, having seen to their own needs, do not even attempt to bring the woman to climax. Therefore the woman remains `hungry’ and unfulfilled, and looks for further opportunity when the man is sated – and thus she gets accused of being oversexed. This is a pitiful but all too common injustice. In any case, the level of an individual’s sexual appetite, rather like brainpower, is not the choice of the individual but is largely a matter granted by Allah at His direction.
As is well known, the early Muslims regarded sexual prowess and the ability to satisfy a woman as being an essential part of manhood. The niece of A’isha, a scholarly and beautiful woman called A’isha bint Talha, once married the pious Umar ibn Ubaydillah. On their wedding night he made love to her no fewer than seven times, so that when morning came, she told him: `You are a perfect Muslim in every way, even in this!’
Such stories are common in our literature. But the only true answer to the question of `how often’ for a dedicated Muslim is whatever is right for you as a couple. It is not `whatever is right just for you’! You must consider your wife’s needs and feelings, just as you would wish her to consider yours.
In the West, this sort of thing is often investigated before commitment to marriage, the idea being that finding a `good’ sexual partner before marriage will reduce the possibility of disappointment later. But figures released in 1993 showed that people who had cohabited before marriage were 60% more likely to get divorced than those who had not. In fact, the divorce rate in secular countries proves that the idea of `testing the waters’ does not work at all. In any case, Muslims cannot approve of this because our Lord has not sanctioned physical intimacy before marriage. Muslim partners endeavour to get their needs understood and sorted out as soon as they are able to do so, after marriage.
But talking is sometimes so difficult. Shy women will very rarely say what they really feel on the subject, either because of natural modesty, or because they fear that their husbands will interpret their words as criticism. They do not want to upset or to hurt their spouses, or make them feel small, or a failure.
The price the woman sometimes has to pay for her loving concern for her husband’s feelings is a lifetime of `the cat seeing the meal, but having it snatched away each time she starts to eat.’
No man who is aware of this, and carries on ignoring it, can be considered a complete and good Muslim. In fact, it is a form of extreme and damaging cruelty.
Every man should appreciate that despite some common myths, it rarely takes less than 15 to 30 minutes of specific sexual activity to arouse a woman to a level where her physical satisfaction is in sight.
Do not despair – this does not mean that a man has to `perform’ for that length of time: although some women might think it would be very nice if he could, others would be horrified at the thought. There are other things that a man has to do.
According to Imam al-Ghazali:
`When he has come to his orgasm (inzal), he should wait for his wife until she comes to her orgasm likewise; for her climax may well come slowly. If he arouses her desire, and then sits back from her, this will hurt her, and any disparity in their orgasms will certainly produce a sense of estrangement. A simultaneous orgasm will be the most delightful for her, especially since her husband will be distracted by his own orgasm from her, and she will not therefore be afflicted by shyness.’ (Ihya, II, 46.)
Selfish modern lovers would do well to consider the words of this great Imam, written nine hundred years ago!
But suppose a man cannot help rushing to his climax so quickly that his wife gets no pleasure from his intimacy at all? He should not just think about his problem, but take some decisive action. One rather obvious solution (which nevertheless does not always occur to many men) might be to come to climax quickly, as usual, then after arousing his wife for twenty minutes or so while he rests, try again! This would need the wife’s consent, for the first quick climax might be painful for her.
He should not worry that he may not be able to achieve full satisfaction for himself the second time. He may surprise himself and have no bother at all, or it may be that the unfamiliarity of the sequence prevents him from achieving full satisfaction at all this time – and he may feel ashamed of himself or think that he has failed. This is, incidentally, very often the reason why a man who is not hampered by actual tiredness or lack of opportunity nevertheless does not attempt anything further than his own instant pleasure. He fears that he may fail; and does not realise that his wife will not think of his attempt in the same terms!
Never mind if he `fails’ or `feels frustrated’ this time around -remember his poor wife probably ended up frustrated every time he approached her, if he always ejaculated just when she was warming up! Just think about why he is attempting it – it is not in order to satisfy himself, but just to offer a little more satisfaction to her.
Another suggestion that often helps is that the couple overcome their shyness enough for the wife to practise the technique of gently squeezing his penis just below its head, thereby stopping a climax and prolonging the act of intercourse. The same effect will be achieved if the angle of the penis is altered by gently pushing it down towards his legs, almost to the point where it becomes uncomfortable. The husband’s excitement can also be reduced by mental effort: he could try thinking about something completely unconnected with sex. Skilled husbands develop the ability to delay their orgasm simply by willpower, by telling themselves firmly that it is too early. In fact, according to Imam al-Zabidi: `Some strong men control themselves so perfectly that they have their orgasms only when they wish. What can one say about them, other than “Allah gives what He will to whom He will!”‘ (Zabidi, lthaf, V 373.) Needless to say, this rare achievement requires plenty of practice. A life with plenty of spiritual effort and prayer will help to provide the essential discipline here.
There is a physiological solution which can be used in conjunction with these techniques. This can be found in traditional Islamic medicine, which prescribes a range of natural remedies to increase female sexual enjoyment and thus speed up the onset of orgasm. (See Chishti’s Traditional Healer, 285-93.)
The most usual popular alternative is for the husband to bring his wife to climax by caressing. This needs sensitivity and judgment, for often the wife really is not in the mood, or is in pain, or is too tired for sex, in which case her husband’s normal quick sexual act will be sufficient.
Some inexperienced husbands do not realise that many women cannot reach climax at all unless the man caresses them. The man has to be able to touch his wife intimately with his hand. For some women, this is the only way they can reach fulfillment. The husband (who usually is very well aware that the woman does have a clitoris, even if he is not quite sure what to do with it!) has to realise that just to press down on it with some part of his anatomy, like his foot curled around her, or pressure from his knee, is not enough.
Most men usually understand quickly the techniques of stimulating the female breasts, and especially the nipples, with kisses or with their fingers, an act which is an effective but supplementary means of helping the wife towards inzal. Imagine trying to caress her breast with a foot or knee! Exactly the same applies to the clitoris. It is a much more sensitive area, should be treated with great care, and if it is caressed properly (a matter worked out by practice and communication with the wife) it will usually bring the woman to readiness, or to climax, very quickly. Men need to remember, of course, that if they are caressing their wives in the wrong way or in the wrong place, it will hurt rather than cause them pleasure. So care, sensitivity, communication and practice are vital here.
While some people may at first dislike using their fingers, it should be emphasized that there is no Islamic objection to it. Imam Abu Hanifa was once asked about a husband’s touching the private parts of his wife, and vice versa, and he replied: `There is nothing wrong with that, and I hope that their reward will be great.’ (Zabidi, lthaf, V 331.)
Once this is mastered, it is also worth knowing that most women also have a third very sensitive area (the `G-spot’) inside the vagina – not deep inside, but a few centimeters in on the upper wall. This is one reason why the size of a man’s penis is not particularly important for a woman – very few experience much sensation in the depths of their vaginas, near the womb. The G-spot always gives great pleasure if caressed with the fingers, or if the penis is angled in the right direction. When the wife shuffles about during sex, this may be because she is trying to get you into the right position for this.
To find the G-spot, insert the forefinger into the vagina and rest the fingertip on the front wall, about two thirds of the way along the vagina towards the cervix. You should feel a small configuration of muscles that are able to resist firm but gentle pressure.
Finding the G-spot can greatly enhance the woman’s sexual pleasure and enable her to experience much quicker and more intense orgasms.
This could be one reason why the Prophet (s) defended a man’s right to `come to his tilth’ from behind, for that position often gives the woman far more pleasure than face-to-face. But there are many other positions which have been recommended by the ulema. These include the `scissors’, where the husband and wife are at an angle to each other. Some people enjoy the `woman on top’ position, where she either faces the husband’s face and shoulders, or faces away from him. Any position that enables the husband to touch his wife’s pleasure zone with his fingers at the same time as he is within her will bring her far more satisfaction – and face-to-face with the woman beneath is the one position where such caressing becomes very difficult.
It should be obvious that people’s shapes should be taken into account in finding the best position. If a man is thin, he probably cannot even imagine the problems faced by his stouter fellow. The man has to fit himself comfortably into the shape of his wife’s hips in order to connect well. If he is a large boned man, or inclined to be fat, the straightforward face-to-face position is not going to be at all satisfactory for either of them, and could actually be painful for the woman. They should try some of the other ways of coming together.
Bear in mind, too, that if the wife is shy about her breasts, she is going to be very shy indeed about her even more private areas, and for a man to overcome his feelings and then gently deal with her shyness is all part of being an intelligent and successful Muslim husband.
As we pointed out earlier, it is obvious that the husband should not leap into action with full force and expect her instant capitulation if not ecstasy, as is so frequently depicted in films. X-rated movies, although they show complete nudity and the sex act in shocking detail, do not actually show real or realistic sex. That would be boring – remember it takes the average woman more than fifteen minutes to get anywhere. Remember that the actresses are not ‘reallife’; they are not portraying the realities of married life – they are `prostitutes of the eye’, whose business is fantasy and not reality.
Women are extremely sensitive and tender, and the husband will only hurt her and be pushed off, or at best be `tolerated’ and not `enjoyed’, if he is rough and abusive. Gently does it! Start in first gear, not fourth. If a husband goes slowly and with reverence for the Muslim woman he loves, and then increases his fervour, he will soon be gratified to see her happy response – and what a difference this will make to the marriage!
Some men go through their entire married lives being gross and clumsy, and never discover that making love is quite a talent. As a result, they have never enjoyed the experience of making love to a fully aroused woman. When a woman is fully aroused, she cannot control the exciting movements, known as qabd, made in her vagina. Some men never find this out – a terrible and needless tragedy.
We saw above that many women need specific caressing by hand to their erogenous zones to continue right through the entire act of lovemaking if they are to achieve inzal. This may involve some minor sacrifice and discomfort for the husband, if he cannot work himself around to some satisfactory position, and especially if he is being overwhelmed by his own climax. Don’t worry! No woman actually expects her man constantly to be on the lookout for her own gratification all the time, for that would be just as selfish as the man never thinking about it. This is something that will be worked out gradually between the couple.
A Muslim husband will make it his business to find out what she likes, and if possible, to carry on doing it rights through his own climax. The most beautiful and exciting sexual relationship comes when a couple have practised and know each other so well that they can reach climax at the same time, even though this takes considerable skill. If for some reason this cannot be managed, then the man should carry on doing what she likes afterwards, even after his inzal is complete, until she has caught up. More gratifying for him in many ways is the technique of bringing her to climax first, before he himself lets go. We have already seen the importance which Imam al-Ghazali attached to the simultaneous orgasm, and that `he should not satisfy his need from her before she has fulfilled her need from him’. But whatever happens, once the husband has reached his climax he should not just leap away and charge off to the bathroom leaving her in abject despair, hypertension and shock!
To reach climax together is something that takes considerable practice and expertise, and some couples never achieve it properly in a lifetime together. However, Imam al-Ghazali was raising a very important point when he mentioned the wife’s shyness if the husband was satisfying her after achieving his own inzal: it is only natural for the man immediately to lose all interest in sex and want to go off to sleep, so the poor wife feels that in order to claim her Islamic right she has to irritate him, and make him impatient with her. Once disturbing thoughts like these enter her head, it only delays the orgasm even more, and perhaps prevents it altogether, thereby producing real psychological harm. Hence the very sad but common situation of wives who are too kind or tactful towards their husbands’ feelings actually faking their orgasms, and then becoming so frustrated that they indulge in lonely masturbation behind his back. However hard she may try, disappointment and resentment will be hard to avoid – and these are two of the most powerful marriage killers in the devil’s arsenal.
Most married women know only too well how difficult and embarrassing it can be to try to request physical satisfaction from a tired husband who has just satisfied himself, and who then instantly turns over and drops off to sleep, perhaps blithely and ignorantly assuming that what he has just done has satisfied her. (`We’ve had sex, haven’t we? Aren’t you ever satisfied?’) Many wives find themselves totally unable to get their men to understand the true state of affairs.
Many men do not seem to realise that very few wives can achieve any physical satisfaction from the simple animal act of placing the penis in the vagina alone. Allah simply did not make them that way. It may be enough for a man, but it is almost never enough for a woman. It should be obvious that if Allah had simply intended that that should sum up the sex act, He would not have created the rest of the female equipment. On its own, the vagina almost never brings satisfaction, unless the man can hold out for a very long time indeed – which is a rare accomplishment.
This means that if a man is not strong enough to conquer his shyness about touching his wife, his modesty, far from being a virtue, actually becomes a direct cause of marital cruelty.
Another way of increasing the wife’s frustration is for the couple to lose contact, or for the man to `come out’ and be spent outside his wife’s body, or for the man to seek his satisfaction without placing his penis in the wife’s vagina at all. This might be one way of managing contraception, but it is extremely frustrating for the woman, and is another destroyer of marital enjoyment and harmony. The Blessed Prophet said it should only be done with the wife’s permission.
If a man does deliberately ejaculate outside a woman’s vagina (some men enjoy this), he should realise that this is not full intercourse, and may not grant the wife any satisfaction at all -even though she has accepted it and is eager to please him! The purpose of Nikah is lost if the spouses fail to satisfy in each other the natural hungers that Allah has created.
The legal aspect of `coitus interruptus’ (withdrawal before ejaculation) in the revealed law is fairly complex. The Hanbali school reckons that a man does not need his wife’s permission, on the assumption that she does not have the automatic right to his ejaculation; nevertheless, Ibn Qudama al-Maqdisi, the most ‘hardline’ of this school, still maintains that obtaining her permission is preferable for the sake of amity. The Hanafis reckon that the woman has to give permission, except when times are very hard so that any children conceived are likely to be in for a miserable existence, in which case the husband is allowed to use contraception without her permission. The Maliki school actually allows the wife to demand and receive monetary compensation as the price of her permission! The Shafi’is hold that the woman’s consent may be sought as a precondition for the marriage contract, after which she cannot complain.
Finally, good adab is also necessary after lovemaking. This is something that is particularly important for the husband to remember, if he wishes to have a happy wife. Remember that his basic need is for respect, while hers is for love. Just as a man would hate to be laughed at for sexual inadequacy, so a woman hates to be `used’ and then set aside without a word of love.
The correct Islamic manners for a husband are to lie with his arms round his wife for some moments, after checking her happiness, telling her that he loves her, and in his heart thanking Allah for his happiness and good fortune.
Once sex has become a chore and a duty, the marriage is well on its way to being dead. If the man’s efforts actually cause the woman pain or distaste, she will soon avoid any intimacy at all, and will use any excuse to get out of it. Headaches, weak heart, rheumatism – you name it, she’ll have it.
In fact, a real sexual relationship is so good for you it would help to heal all these conditions, since it is good healthy activity that raises the heart rate and stimulates the lungs, and takes the mind off disturbing problems and brings spiritual wholeness, serenity and contentment.
The considerate Muslim man soon learns how to make his wife happy, and in doing so, refuses to get anxious and overwrought about his own performance. A good Muslim wife will never despise a husband for his physical equipment or lack of expertise, so long as he is loving and considerate towards her. And if they married as virgins, there will be no unfavourable comparisons for either of them to make.!
If a good Muslim marriage is to be sadaqa for the spouses and pleasing in the eyes of God, it is no use one partner seething with frustration and then finally cracking up. Both of them should try to find gentle ways of supplying `feedback’ to the other – not to be interpreted as criticism, dissatisfaction or hostility (which is what it becomes if left to ferment for too long), but as the only way to learn and grow together, as sanctioned and willed for us by Allah.
May Allah forgive this author for raising topics that are sensitive and private, and discussing them in a way that some might think incorrect and distasteful. But we know that many Muslims nowadays are asking about these matters, and it is the Sunna to make useful knowledge known, whatever it might be.
Allah ta’ala decreed that creation should be set up in pairs complementing each other in harmony, and wished only happiness and peace for us. Therefore, we should all make it our jihad to create happy and fulfilled marriages, in the sight of Him in Whose `hand’ lie our souls. May everything we do be pleasing to Him, and may He bless us and bring us to fulfillment, serenity and completion. Amin.