Posted on Oct 22, 2019
EDITORIAL NOTE & DISCLAIMER: This post discusses intimacy and sex in frank terminology but within the context of what is halal and Islamic. This interview covers most aspects of physical relationships between wives and husbands to emphasize active communication and encourage questions about sex from an Islamic viewpoint. Please be advised if this is something you do not want to read (or do not want a loved one reading). We do not seek to offend anyone – but in the spirit of issues and things discussed in our Muslim communities, we felt it important to include this on the blog.
By Layla Abdullah-Poulos
A healthy sexual relationship is integral for a productive and loving marriage and is intrinsically linked to faith. Sexual issues left unaddressed can negatively impact a relationship and jeopardize the stability of a union.
Despite a rich tradition of Islamic scholarship focused on sexual competency, Muslim couples across the country and globally experience levels of sensual dissatisfaction. Among Muslim women, cultural messaging may stunt libidos and any expectation for sexual fulfillment, requiring education to engage in healthy sensual dialogue.
Angelica Lindsey-Ali teaches sexual health workshops to Muslim women in an Islamic context and using African traditions. Known as “The Village Auntie,” she is a social media influencer with a growing number of followers and a new series on IGTV.
Lindsey-Ali spent more than 20 years working as a certified sexual health educator. She holds a degree in African and African American Studies from the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor and spent the last 19 years working both locally and internationally in the fields of education, public health, refugee rights and social work.
I spoke with the Village Auntie (who just returned from the United States Conference on AIDS) about her “Village Auntie movement,” her new advice series on IGTV and how Muslim couples can improve their sexual relationship to benefit their marriages.
Angelica Lindsey-Ali, aka the Village Auntie. Image source: Instagram
What is the Village Auntie Movement?
The Village Auntie Movement is something I started after over 18 years in the field of public health and over 20 years of training in women’s wellness from an African perspective. It is a movement that I started to address the wealth of misinformation in the Muslim community, particularly among Muslim women, about sexual health and sexual pleasure from an Islamic perspective.
I talk about sex, how to get the most pleasure you can out of [a physical relationship] as well as how to please your partner and create mutually beneficial intimate relationships with your spouse(s). But the Village Auntie platform isn’t really about sex. That’s not the crux of the platform. It’s about empowerment and the reclamation of culture.
It’s the intergenerational transmission of feminine values and a recognition of unique feminine power – everything that encompasses what it is to be a woman and live, work and move about the world as an awakened, empowered woman. Sex is what I use to get people to listen to me. Even if people don’t like to talk about sex, they like to read or hear other people talk about it. For me, sex is just the appetizer. The real meat of the movement is the empowerment of women and a push towards emotional balance and well being, self-love and really [developing an] understanding of self.
Do you think Muslims are challenged when it comes to appreciating the importance of sensual gratification and healthy sexual dialogues between partners?
Yes. I have not been Muslim my entire life. I took my shahadah (testament of faith) when I was 23, but what I have noticed from friends who have been born and raised Muslim is that you are told your entire life that you shouldn’t talk to the opposite sex. Don’t look at the opposite sex. Don’t think about the opposite sex. Don’t talk about sex at all. Once you’ve reached a certain age, level of education and ticked things off your “to do” list, It’s like, okay, now you’re ready to get married.
You are expected to have a fulfilling relationship, but some women aren’t even able to be penetrated the first few weeks of their marriage because of the internalized shame that they have about sex. Likewise, there are a lot of men who are not able to achieve a full erection, are not able to properly please their partner or attain full ejaculation because they literally know nothing about sex.
It is really so important for us to have these conversations and make them normal. I think one of the things we’ve done in Islam is that we steered away from praxis and moved closer to doctrine only, whereas the original ummah of Prophet Muhammad (saw) was focused on the actual practice of Islam. There were people in those early communities who talked to him about sex. They asked about sex. There were women who asked him about sex, but now it has become a big taboo in the community.
You have an IGTV series. Can you tell us about that?
I just started it. It is called Ask Auntie Angie, and it came about because I still work a full-time job while I am building the movement. I get dozens of questions a week from women and men all over the world that I just don’t get a chance to respond. They generally fall into similar categories, so the IGTV series is a way for me to get my face out there ( some people thought that maybe I was a man or non-Muslim) and answer people’s questions in a way that doesn’t make them feel like they are the only person dealing with the issue.
Hopefully, the series will be positive and can help women and men. It is the only forum in which I will interact with men. I do not accept direct messages from men. I think it is easy for women talking about sex to be sexualized. Even men who might mean well may act in a way outside of the character, and an inbox is still a man and a woman [interacting] without a third party. I’m just not comfortable with that.
I’ve also launched Muslim Love Notes, a separate platform on Instagram and Twitter (@muslimlovenotes), with Dr. Quasier Abdullah. We offer advice on intimacy and relationships for couples and people who are considering getting married. If men are insistent that they need help, I will refer them to Dr. Quaiser (we call him Coach Q) from the beginning, and he can deal with them. From the beginning, I have made it clear that I don’t want to talk [directly with] men.
Can a person’s body stop responding to certain sensual stimulation?
Yes, especially women. Women require far more sexual variety than men to reach orgasm. Men do need to change things up sometimes, but it’s harder to consistently please a woman using standard tactics. We change. If we got married when I was 24, and now I’m 44 What used to stimulate me back then won’t necessarily work now.
I teach about techniques like orbiting, edging, layering and Kunyaza, because I want to equip women – so when they say to their husbands, “I need more stimulation,” and he says, “Well, what do you want me to do?” They can say, “Oh, there is this crazy Black Muslim sex lady I follow who said to try this.” I tell women all the time to use me as their scapegoat.
What if you love your partner and have a great relationship but the two of you are unequally yoked sexually? They don’t feel comfortable with the things you want to do or vice versa. How can you maintain a healthy relationship and not have a sexual impasse spill over into the rest of your life?
That is a challenge. There is no easy answer. If you focus on communication and intention with almost any issue, sexual or non-sexual, in a marriage, it is going to take you very far. That’s a difficult thing to say to a person. I love you so much. You’re so wonderful. I can’t imagine my life without you, but you are not exciting in the bedroom and not pleasing me in a way that I need to be pleased.
One thing you shouldn’t do is fake it. You are setting yourself up for disaster and hurt feelings.
Sexually-incompatible couples are not rare. I think it’s close to a very large minority. A lot of times, it is the woman who expresses that she feels more sexually adventurous than her husband. Communication is important. Get couples counseling. Speak to a sex expert like myself of Coach Q. Step back and see. Sometimes sexual timidity is a result of trauma. Once it is acknowledged and addressed, it allows the person to approach sex in a different way. It may take a third party to come in and facilitate that conversation.
It’s not easy. Different couples will deal with it in different ways. Turning outside of marriage is bad and not a solution. Women [or men] who go outside of their marriage are not only committing a major sin, they are potentially damaging a permanent situation for a temporary fix. As difficult as it is to talk to a partner about them not pleasing you sexually, it is still better than going outside of the marriage.
I am not an advocate for divorce, but if you have talked to your partner, expressed your needs, gotten counseling, exhausted all of the resources, and you’re still not sexually satisfied and are contemplating going outside of the marriage for gratification, then that is something you need to seriously think about. Is this a relationship you can stay in and be healthy? Lack of sexual satisfaction is a grounds for divorce in Islam.
The Village Auntie teaching a class to a group of women. Image source: Twitter
What are some ways that a couple can open productive sensual dialogue to improve their sex life?
We have to be very careful, especially women. A lot of times, when we want to talk about sex, we often bring it up at the absolute wrong time. The worst time to talk about sex is when we are about to have sex or just finished having sex. Timing is everything. I am a huge proponent of having marriage checkups. [It can be] a weekly date night or monthly outing. Whatever it is, that is the time when you talk about the state of your marriage. Couples should take their marriage as seriously as they do their business or work. There are weekly staff meetings and quarterly reports at work; why don’t we have that same approach to marriage? Sex should be an agenda item.
Introducing new things in the bedroom can be fun but with care. New things should never be introduced from the standpoint of – well, I haven’t been pleased lately, so let’s try this toy – or – you, know, it’s been two years since I last had an orgasm, so let’s try this new technique. It has to be dealt with tenderly, because women and men can be sensitive when it comes to sex. In marriage, sex is a currency. You want to always make sure your value is high. If your partner approaches you in a way that makes you feel deficient, that can set the whole thing up for collapse.
It boils down to knowing your partner and knowing what they enjoy. If you have been having basic, vanilla, missionary sex for the majority of your marriage and then you [suggest things that may feel shocking to your spouse], that might be off-putting. It is always a good idea to talk about what you want to introduce as a way to add another layer of excitement for both of you.
Offer your partner options. Give them a menu of things to explore. Here are five things that I enjoy and want to try. Is there anything that appeals to you? Then it’s not – Oh, I’m bringing this to you because I’m not satisfied. Make it something that is mutually beneficial so both partners have a sense of ownership in the process. Once you plant the tiniest seed of doubt. It can grow, and it is really hard to come back from that.
How important is having an orgasm?
Both men and women enjoy the pleasure of physical closeness and touch of their partner, the person who they love. Orgasm is not the ultimate goal every time for women nor men. A woman may want to just feel her husband inside of her, but it doesn’t mean she does not want to have an orgasm. I don’t think women enjoy the process more than the orgasm. It takes women longer to reach orgasm. Men need to acquire a toolbox of variety to help their partner reach sexual fulfillment.
So many have become so used to the orgasm gap and phallocentric sex, where the man’s orgasm is prioritized. No married Muslim woman I have met would ever think that she is finished having sex if her husband hasn’t orgasmed. I ask women in my workshops, “Can you imagine having sex and you have an orgasm but your husband doesn’t, and you just turn over and go to sleep?” Most women start laughing and say, “Oh, no. He would never allow that,” but women allow it for themselves every day. Just from my anecdotal experience and the women that I work with, they want to have fully-actualized pleasurable sex just as much as men.
It all comes down to culture. Culture has a big role to play. Even for those of us who come from cultures that are not as outwardly [sensitive to discussions about sex], when we enter Islam or reach a certain level of practice of the faith, age or status in the community, we think that we can no longer talk about these things. We wind up shooting ourselves in the foot and passing it onto our children. I’m disrupting all of that.