Sex and Religion

For some strange reason, the subjects of sex and religion pop up in classroom discussions a lot these days. Mostly, it seems like every discussion turns into talk about religion and the way it is seen and the way it really is etc. These conversations lead to no solid conclusion but it seems to be some kind of a trend. This is my observation and it sometimes interests me and worries me all at once.

What worries me most is their underlying smug belief that they have this perfect religion that is supreme and above all others. Perhaps, I read too much into their expressions. Perhaps, this is what most people are. I insist that we must not judge somebody for what they are and I try not to do so myself but I worry sometimes. It frightens me too. Am I afraid of religion? I don’t think so. Am I afraid of what I’ve been told is narrow-mindedness? Perhaps. But then what is narrow-mindedness, really? Am I narrow-minded in my fear?

Maybe we all draw the line somewhere. Maybe that is how we survive in our minds. The absolute conviction they have might frighten me but maybe they need it to understand themselves. When it will bother them, they will find something else to believe in just as strongly. Maybe they will believe in themselves. Maybe they will believe in something I can’t even think of. To each her/his own.

Sometimes we talk about perception of the body. These are also very interesting discussions (and less frightening). I have a class mostly of young women (and two young men) who are very opinionated about everything. Gender perception is also considered and they talk about it whenever they’re not talking about religion.

I have been thinking about the sexualization of girls in the context of the body. I think this is a subject that needs to be discussed. Recently, I realized that many people use the term “hot” to describe a woman’s appearance. In a comment on facebook, my cousin innocently remarked “Apa (sister), you are looking hot in this picture.” My mother also commented on the same picture asking me what hot really means. That actually made me think about it. It does have a sexual connotation but it is used so commonly that nobody ever thinks about it much.

So what is hot, really? I think it means to be sexually attractive. Why is that so easy to say here in Pakistan where in some circles, women actually believe a vagina is best ignored. It makes no sense. This took me to the idea of sexualization (make sexual, endow with sex, attribute sex to) and it seemed like something to think about.

So I googled it and found some material. A commentary on the CNN World Edition led me to the American Psychological Association’s website which particularily interested me. According to the APA’s Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls’ report:

There are several components to sexualization, and these set it apart from healthy sexuality. Sexualization occurs when

  1. a person’s value comes only from his or her sexual appeal or behavior, to the exclusion of other characteristics;
  2. a person is held to a standard that equates physical attractiveness (narrowly defined) with being sexy;
  3. a person is sexually objectified—that is, made into a thing for others’ sexual use, rather than seen as a person with the capacity for independent action and decision making; and/or
  4. sexuality is inappropriately imposed upon a person.

All four conditions need not be present; any one is an indication of sexualization. The fourth condition (the inappropriate imposition of sexuality) is especially relevant to children. Anyone (girls, boys, men, women) can be sexualized. But when children are imbued with adult sexuality, it is often imposed upon them rather than chosen by them. Self-motivated sexual exploration, on the other hand, is not sexualization by our definition, nor is age-appropriate exposure to information about sexuality.

I feel the relevance of this study in what I’m trying to understand. “Hot” used for women in this context makes sense to me. The question that arises is that why can’t women just be “pretty” or “beautiful” anymore? I’m not assuming that those words did not objectify women (or children or men) but they sound harmless enough when compared to people being sexual objects.

In study after study, findings have indicated that women more often than men are portrayed in a sexual manner (e.g., dressed in revealing clothing, with bodily postures or facial expressions that imply sexual readiness) and are objectified (e.g., used as a decorative object, or as body parts rather than a whole person). In addition, a narrow (and unrealistic) standard of physical beauty is heavily emphasized. These are the models of femininity presented for young girls to study and emulate.

This brings me back to female bodies. I am ignoring art-history here and just considering pop-culture (which I believe is a phenomenon not unrelated to art-history but that is another story altogether). We speak a funny language. We express lust so casually. Oh, we say, she is SO HOT – without batting an eyelash. And then we get on with our lives without giving much thought to what we have really said. Or implied.

I don’t mean to nit-pick here but it’s something to think about. I believe people have the right to do whatever they want as long as they don’t force others to do the same. But then the question of social responsibility arises and everything becomes murky or too intense.

Which brings me back to religion-talk in the classroom. We want to be open-minded and accept every opinion and consider every side. However, sometimes, a line is crossed and strange arguments pop up which leave me flustered. As an educator, it is difficult to negotiate between the various belief structures of my students and the need to help them break away from preconceived notions. It is a daunting task that keeps me on my toes. But it also drains me but that is an acceptable price for what I’m trying to accomplish – guide my students to an understanding of themselves that would help them articulate their words and pictures. I suppose that is the best I can do. If the talk of religion and sex helps them, then so be it. To each her own, really.

Disclaimer: I realize a lot of words I have used in this post are quite cliched. I am just recording my concerns and observations. By no means do I intend to enforce “social” laws based on my own understanding on my students or other people. Also, I am heavily medicated for anxiety and whatever I have written comes from a place far, far away from the rest of me. However, it will help me function normally tomorrow and that’s what counts.


30 responses to “Sex and Religion

  1. we are living in a rough crowd ( instead of gentle society ) , where ethics has nothing to do with anything .

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  3. a system of moral principles………….Aristotle was one of the first great philosophers to study ethics. To him, ethics was more than a moral, religious, or legal concept. He believed that the most important element in ethical behavior is knowledge that actions are accomplished for the betterment of the common good..

    • But that’s Aristotle. What about you? Do you believe the common good is most valuable? Would you back this with examples? Sometimes, all these words (like morals, ethics etc) seem so loaded and meaningless. They are repeated endlessly – and they lose their meaning in that process. This is in no way a judgement of your beliefs – this is me being curious.
      Sweeping statements always make me cautious – everyone cannot be the same. We are all not exactly the same. There are people with strong ethics and morals (in their own opinions) and so, it becomes difficult to put them in one group with the same ideals.
      People are strange – which is alright. People have always been strange. The whole world is pretty strange.

  4. A lot of very interesting points I’d like to respond to but for now, responding directly to the classroom discussions. I finally figured out what was it that bothered me (or probably us?) There were too many opinions about the two favorite words and opinions somehow don’t matter to me. What matters is, does your opinion/perception change or alter the way i look at things (that should not be read as changing one’s opinion). More like ‘does it give me an alternative to the way i construct my world?’
    If it doesn’t and if it becomes the regular rhetoric or more like hammering of one’s thoughts, I think I like my china market noodles better. 🙂

    • I love those China Market noodles. You should try their dumplings too – out of this world 🙂
      Opinions are, in the end, just opinions. Sometimes, I feel that in the classroom, getting them out is the first step. I think we’re at that stage but perhaps I’m just being too generous 🙂
      I agree with you that opinions are perhaps more constructive when they alter perception – then they have more pragmatic value as compared to something that is just “in the air” – a distinction that I like to make in my own head.
      The only way to make cliches go away is by – well, making them go away. Sometimes I get weary but mostly I tend to be generous. Sometimes, I just wish there was more time so we could all get over the cliches and move on to something more constructive in our discussions. But I do enjoy the process in many ways.
      I haven’t given up yet 🙂 and something tells me you haven’t either. Bring on those noodles!

  5. I think its us women who have brought this upon ourselves. We have let MAN to objectify us. Most of us donot accept this but it is a fact that we like to have the approval of man. And since we have let go of out religious beliefs this term MAN is now universalized. Because the concept of monogamous relationships is vanishing, the women are in a constant need to please every man. The problem isn’t that women wear revealing clothes, the problem is that they wear such things and then complain that they are being objectified.
    Religion is nothing but a set of beliefs. And being religious is not being radical, its just about following those beliefs. And when you donot believe in anything, you basically follow everything. Every individual should have a personal set of “rights” and “wrongs”, and they should stand by them.

    • I generally prefer to steer clear of “shoulds” but anyway…
      You are providing yet another preconceived definition of religion and stereotyping men and women. Are you saying that because people have started questioning religion (questioning here does not mean “not believing” – it means, asking in order to understand), they have objectified themselves? That is a pretty strange connection. Infact, I don’t get it.

  6. Ethics is more than a moral, religious, or legal concept.i believe that the most important element in ethical behavior is knowledge that actions are accomplished for the betterment of the common good
    helping each other
    etc etc etc

    • Exactly my point. Any social setup needs this concept. Without that, it will perish morally. And religion is the best ethical value system.

      • And here we have a preacher, ladies and gentlemen. You have declared that only one way is the best. Meanwhile, the rest of us try to approach every angle to understand the world better. Do you think your approach is considerate to the views of others? If there is only ONE WAY that things can get better, then howcome I don’t see it? If it was the best ethical value system, then where are the practical applications of this system? I’m curious. Please enlighten me.

    • I am not a preacher. I am saying what I think is right. Arent you doing the same by blogging?
      And when I say religion is the best ethical system, i stand by it. I never said which religion. Remove laws from a system, you get chaos. Religion is a personal legal system. And its always by choice. If someone is following something by choice and not by force, dont you agree it would create better results??
      Again i would repeat religion is nothing but a set of beliefs. A set of rights and wrongs. Everyone can have a different set. But my point, people shouldnot be without it.

    • That’s a comforting thought.

  7. And I am not saying that religion should not be questioned. One should be curious about the set of rules they are given to follow. But dilemma I see in our society is that we are not questioning anything, because we dont feel like following anything. We only follow things that are beneficial to us. The second things turn against us, we change our set of rules. This is hypocritical and wrong.
    I just deconstructed the idea of religion. Religion is not some narrow minded approach to life, nor it is tyrannical. It is a set of beliefs. Two people can be of the same religion and have a different approach to life, and both can be correct. I am just saying that one has to have a set of beliefs. (and in our case, a religion).
    Why don’t we see naked men on our media (atleast not as much as naked women)??? because that is not in demand (naked women are definately demanded by lusty men) . My point is, that as a woman, i feel that it is us that have let this world ruled by men also dictate us to give them exactly what they want. Now, if I add religion to this whole equation, I get clothed women. How can you objectify a decenlty covered woman? So cant you see a better social setup?
    My point is, you cannot eliminate religion from your social setup without deshaping some part of it.

    • Aren’t women “lusty”? Or are you implying that women never feel lust?

      Is the world really ruled by “men”? We all like to remind ourselves that we are imprisoned in a partriarchal construct and we are responsible etc. But that could be habit, right? Don’t we look at the world other than how everyone views it?

      Isn’t a “decently covered woman” also an object? Isn’t she viewed in a particular context and therefore objectified?

      I can’t help asking.

  8. You know how men think of sex way more than women do??? Its scientifically proved. Hence women feel less lusty.

    Secondly, the world is ruled by men. Like it or not. But we are not imprisoned forcefully. Its by choice. Men dictate, women follow. They want to see naked women, we give them bikini clad ones.

    And lastly, a decently covered woman might be an object, but you have to agree, that “object” would be far less interesting than a “bikini clad object”. Its the way a woman carries herself which makes her either pretty and beautiful or hot and sexy. There is no other reason to it.

    • I frankly don’t know what world you live in – but I know that self-righteous blather doesn’t really convince anyone. You’re wasting your time. Go blather to those who care.

    • Oh and as for this:
      You know how men think of sex way more than women do??? Its scientifically proved. Hence women feel less lusty.
      What can I say except that you’re completely sexist. It’s sad, really.

  9. Well i was hoping for some intellectual discussion. Why would i want to convince you????? But I never expected you to get so personal.. neways…. When you blog, you get other people commenting. Thats how it works.

    • Well, you should know that commenting usually gets a response. Intellectual discussion only occurs when there is some intellect involved. You’re merely stating your opinion as if it’s the only one that matters. Personally, I don’t care about opinions that are dead-ends and do not resonate with common sense. Looks like you took it personal. Also, you should accept that everyone will not agree with your “intellectualism” or your opinions – the internet is a big bad world.

  10. Pingback: Sex and Religion | The Pakistan Forum

  11. As a man who reads this blog from time to time, I just wanted to thank Ayesha for showing us that, while men’s brains may be obsessed with sex most of the time, we still manage to be smarter than her.
    Next time, you silly girl, ask yourself how it is that men, who apparently are ‘scientifically proven’ to be thinking of sex most of the time, nevertheless manage to find the time to ‘rule the world’. Is this because, despite the time we spend dreaming of orgies, we’re so smart we still outwit women? Or because, despite your education, you still think in terms of ‘men v women’ and, like the good little Zaid Hamid fan you are, see conspiracy theories everywhere? Dope.
    Some people just make you want to burn your dhoti.

    • Some Dude – HAHAHA!
      A small feminist-inclined voice tried to guilt me a couple of times but I can’t help laughing. Dude, you’re still generous by saying that she HAS any education. I beg to differ.

  12. Religion itself is a messy topic, but I guess everything in life is really. I especially agree with this:

    “What worries me most is their underlying smug belief that they have this perfect religion that is supreme and above all others.”

    As a Muslim living in North America, I think the mainstream mentality with regards to religion and self-righteousness doesn’t differ much from Pakistan. I have had more though-engaging and critically analytical discussions with non-conformist Muslims or agnostics than with most Muslims. Of course that being said, I am not saying that all Muslims are like this. I have gotten in so much shit questioning the hijab, polygamy and the narrow-minded perception of sexuality from within the Muslim community. It really is like walking on eggshells. That being said, it seems that some religious people are obsessed with sex and sexuality but at the same time afraid of it. I don’t know if you have seen the ad promoting the hijab with an uncovered lollipop versus a covered lollipop and how the latter deflects flies. This is supposed to convince someone to wear the hijab? I don’t think it’s the lack of covering that females do but the oversexualization of the female body that comes through from this ad. I think if a religious community feels it is their right to criticize the pop-culture definition of sexuality, they should be able to take similar criticism.

    • I agree with you. The lollipop ad you’re talking about makes it worse, doesn’t it? A woman (or a man – I’m not going to ignore men and objectify them as lusty animals) can become a sexual object even in religious communities that claim that they “deny” sexuality (or so it seems). Denial of sexuality seems as irrelevant as turning people into sexual objects. Must everything always be on one extreme or the other? Where is common sense, I ask?
      I don’t want to make sweeping statements for either case. All I need is common sense.
      Thank you for your comment, Hina. It seems sensible to me so I welcome it wholeheartedly.
      I am SO tired of senseless bigotry.

  13. So do we need order/rules in life ? or do we all become Existentialist.

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