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)