Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Is There a Baha'i "Dr. Ruth"?

I stumbled over this article in the Toronto Star about a woman in the United Arab Emirates who is making waves and possibly saving marriages through providing Muslim couples advice on sex. It was really fascinating given my recent posts on sex in the Baha'i community. Check it out:

Islam's Dr. Ruth and her campaign for good sex
Can this marriage be saved? Yes, says a Dubai counsellor, if husband attends to his wife's needs
August 09, 2009
Special to the Star

Wedad Lootah is fighting for women's sexual rights from behind the full niqab.

A marriage counsellor in the family guidance department of Dubai Courts, Lootah sees couples who are considering divorce or want to revive their relationship. She is also the author of the shocking, for the United Arab Emirates, Top Secret: Sexual Guidance for Married Couples, a book published in January.

And much of the advice she dispenses involves teaching husbands that their wives deserve sexual pleasure too.

The idea of anyone, let alone a female, practising sex therapy may seem at odds with the ethos of the U.A.E. – a country in which hand-holding and other displays of public affection can result in prison terms, where premarital sex among Western expats is a deportable offence.

But Lootah is able to get away with talking about this taboo subject because she bases her advice firmly on the teachings of the Qur'an, which is decidedly more forthcoming about sex than the Bible.

And she insists her motivation has much less to do with sexual liberation than with helping married couples avoid divorce.

"My subject is not sex; people always misunderstand that," says the married, 45-year-old mother of three, a marital counsellor for nine years. "I'm trying to guide people about how to satisfy each other and save society from illegal relations – girlfriends, boyfriends.

"We're talking about Islam. We're not talking about sex."

Still, the reality is that she and her clients are talking about sex. During a recent, two-hour interview – in English and with an Arabic translator – in her tiny office, she said the most important piece of advice she can give is, "Don't forget that there are 22 positions to have sex in. Use them all." (Read the whole thing here. It goes into some candid areas so be warned.)

Reading this article got me thinking that much of the discourse regarding sex that I've heard in the Baha'i community has been focused on abstaining from sex outside of marriage. This is an important thing to discuss of course but what about people who are married? Their primary concern is not abstaining from sex but having a healthy sex life as part of married life. Who is talking about their needs? Is there a Baha'i "Dr. Ruth"? There are many Baha'is who are quite distinguished for their contributions to the community and society regarding say, race unity, gender equality, education, sustainable development and so on. However, when I think of supporting married Baha'is in having healthy sexual relationships no one really comes to mind (if you know of people please let me know!). The closest thing I've experienced was when my wife and I participated in a workshop at Greenacre Baha'i School led by the excellent Marriage Transformation Project which included a section on sex in marriage. It was incredibly frank and refreshing. I've also long heard great things about the Baha'i Network on AIDS, Sexuality, Addictions, and Abuse (BNASAA) though I always end up missing their sessions for one reason or another. It is possible that given the intimate nature of this subject that there are other good things being done in this area that are simply not widely known in the Baha'i community. If so, perhaps there is a way of sharing learning and best practices regarding sex in marriage more widely while protecting people's dignity and confidentiality. In any case, I'd love to see the conversation regarding sex in the Baha'i community expand beyond not "doing it" outside of marriage to "doing it" really well if you are married.

"Among the people of Baha...marriage must be a union of the body and of the spirit as well, for here both husband and wife are aglow with the same wine, both are enamoured of the same matchless Face, both live and move through the same spirit, both are illumined by the same glory. This connection between them is a spiritual one, hence it is a bond that will abide forever. Likewise do they enjoy strong and lasting ties in the physical world as well, for if the marriage is based both on the spirit and the body, that union is a true one, hence it will endure. If, however, the bond is physical and nothing more, it is sure to be only temporary, and must inexorably end in separation. When, therefore, the people of Baha undertake to marry, the union must be a true relationship, a spiritual coming together as well as a physical one, so that throughout every phase of life, and in all the worlds of God, their union will endure; for this real oneness is a gleaming out of the love of God." (Abdu'l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu'l-Baha, p. 117)


  1. Phillipe, thank you so much for addressing this important, but often hidden, topic. You're right to say that most Baha'i discourse about sex focuses on abstinence outside marriage. I don't recall anyone in all my 43 years as a Baha'i and 39 years of marriage ever talking about the importance for Baha'is of having a healthy sex life within marriage. Is it that "we just don't like to talk about things like that"? Are we too coy? Or too private?

  2. phillipe copeland7:30 AM

    Barney, thanks for weighing in. Given your experience you're in a much better position to comment on this than me who has only been a Baha'i for a little over a decade. Sex is hard to talk about and it may be that some feel that open discussion of the topic is inconsistent with pursuing a chaste and holy life. I can see why people would have such a view and am suggesting that talking about this in a way that reflects the nobility of the soul is something we have to learn to do and will take time, especially as we do not have a lot of examples of how to do it (we certainly have lots of examples of how not to do it!).

    What do other people think?

  3. Not that I've heard it often discussed - but it was clear in a few small but public discussions that sex in marriage is to be enjoyed and a sense that it's partly about discovering. But the discussion never goes beyond that.

    Flipping the coin back alittle bit, it (intense emotional relationships) is one of the things I don't think human hearts are meant to make and break often. But it's hard to really go it alone - to strike out in what we really want for ourselves. Almost everything we do is couched by some norms and sensibilities. Additionally the crux of relationships is that it is indeed about two people (and then there are children.) It's not just what one wants emotionally and physically; it's also what the other wants to do and what we want to give. And we change - I've already mentioned children - how much energy they take emotionally and physically! Then there's advancement at work to increase pay to pay for insurance for children - more intensity there. And there is aging which at first never seems to come and then you turn around and decades have passed and knees and backs don't act like they used to. Changes come. Challenges about - oversexed media, seeking spirituality but also where we are at in the spectrum of physical and spiritual. Taking time to take time and share time keeps changing!

    And I certainly never heard of 22 positions in the Qur'an! Hinduism was the only religion I've heard of with anything like a sex manual - and that has another society's norms in it and whether it's truly divine inspiration or not....

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  6. Anonymous12:05 PM

    The best public discussion of sex in marriage I ever heard was a session in Foundation Hall at a youth conference in the late 90's where Robert Henderson and Curtis Russell offered frank, loving, and clear-headed comments. The relief in the room, the sense that finally someone said something "real", i.e. not just a Bahai version of "just say no," was palpable. But in general, on an ongoing basis, no this is a huge hole in our community.

    -- Steven Thomson

  7. Steve thanks for weighing in. I actually think you would be a great person to provide leadership in this area and hope you would consider doing so!

  8. I've really never thought about this. However, having reflected on it, my feelings are as follows. First, in the Baha'i Faith our focus (in my experience) tends to be on the spiritual transformation of mankind, detachment from the world and the taming of fleshly passions. Not that this implies a distaste for sex, but simply that sex is not really that *important* in & of itself. Second, our culture (in the U.S. & other Westernized countries) is drowning in a sea of sexuality. It's everywhere, & information on sex is freely available to any who seek it. Therefore, any Baha'i who has a grasp of the Faith's teachings on the spirituality of marriage & laws about extra-marital sex, and also avails him/herself of our society's extensive information on sex, already has the necessary combination of input to formulate a sound concept of a healthy, happy married sex life. BUT, I suppose Baha'is in other cultures where sexual information is not so freely available would be in need of some guidance in this area.

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