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‘The Secret Love Lives Of American Muslim Women’: A Muslim Woman’s Experience With Dating, Sex And Growing Up

5 January 2012 Huffington Post 34 Comments Email This Post Email This Post

‘The Secret Love Lives Of American Muslim Women’: A Muslim Woman’s Experience With Dating, Sex And Growing Up

By Madeleine Crum, Huffington Post: The American perception of Muslim women is sadly narrow: We imagine heavily cloistered beauties, submissive to their male counterparts who, we assume, they married because of an agreement between parents rather than love. To expose readers to the true spectrum of Muslim American dating experiences, Ayesha Mattu and Nura Maznavi compiled “Love, InshAlla: The Secret Love Lives of American Muslim Women,” [$15.95, Soft Skull Press] an anthology of romantic relationships, gay and straight, arranged and spontaneous, monogamous and not.

In this telling excerpt, “The Birds, the Bees, and My Hole,” Zahra Noorbakhsh re-hatches her mother’s brusque sex talk and how it changed the way she perceived her male friends:

Finally. My first year of high school was over, and summer was here. My mother was dropping me off to go to the movies with Jen, Kim, Laura, and Ryan. Wait. Oh, crap, I had forgotten about Ryan! There he was, walking with my girlfriends to the ticket booth. I knew that if my mom saw him, she would never trust me again and would confine me to the house for the rest of the summer.

My parents were so strict that I couldn’t go anywhere without their practically doing a background check on everyone who would be there. Regardless of how chaste the event was, they had to be sure there wouldn’t be any boys present to tempt me down the path of loose women. The thing is, I was a late bloomer and had absolutely no interest in dating—what I knew of it, anyway, based on Molly Ringwald’s characters in John Hughes films like Sixteen Candles and Pretty in Pink. Though I could barely admit that I “liked” guys, my days of blissful ignorance about the world of dating were about to be over.

I had told my mom that it would be just my girlfriends and me at the movies. How could I forget that Ryan was coming? There was no adjective in the world that would make my mom see past my geeky, lanky, pasty, computer nerd, Mormon classmate Ryan’s Y chromosome. She was totally going to freak. She was going to remind me that we were Iranian Muslims, not Americans. These lectures always reminded me of when she’d explained to me in kindergarten that Christians believed in Santa and got presents, and we didn’t . . . so we simply didn’t. It just wasn’t fair.

There was no way she was going to let me go to the movies with a man. Ryan was only fourteen, but to my mom, he was a man. He could’ve been eight or forty; it was all the same. When I was in middle school, she didn’t approve of all the “men” exercising with me in gym class. She didn’t like that I was friends with so many of the “men” in my sixth-grade history class, or that girls and eleven-year-old “men” were playing coed T-ball at recess.

As we made our way through parking-lot traffic in our Danville, California, suburb, I strategized about ways to navigate our argument. I could already hear her in my head: Zahra, what do you mean this man is just your friend? A young girl is not friends with a man! It is not right. Mageh Kafir hasti? You want to be like these filthy American ladies who go home with dis guy and dat guy, and blah blah blah…?

This is such bullshit! I thought to myself.

I had a pretty good feminist rant stashed away that just might hit home: “Mom,” I’d begin, “you didn’t raise your eldest daughter to stay quiet and avoid making friends or talking to people because of creed or stature or even sex…” Wait, I can’t say “sex.” She’ll flip out. “Gender.” Remember “gender” . . . Forget it. Take the easy way out: Lie. Just lie and say you don’t know him. He’s not with you. You don’t even know whose friend he is.

I snapped back to reality when I realized how close we were to where my friends were now standing . . . without Ryan. I looked around, scanning the crowds feverishly, but couldn’t see him anywhere. Perfect!

“Zahra! Hey, Zahra!” It was Ryan, tapping on my window. “I got your ticket.”

Godammit, Ryan, you polite-ass Mormon, I thought. You don’t need to come say hi!

My mom rolled down the window.

“Is this your mom? Hi, my name’s Ryan! I’m a friend of Zahra’s. We’ve got Algebra together. Hey, Zahra, I got your ticket already and saved us seats. You saved me on my math test, so I figured I owe ya. Anyway, great to meet you, Mrs. Noorka-baba-kaka-kesh.”

He shook my mom’s hand, gave me my ticket, and ran into the theater, waving.

Thanks, Ryan. You just ended my summer and any hope I had of a normal adolescence. I couldn’t even look at my mother, so I kept staring straight ahead. I could feel her glaring at me.

“Zahra,” she began.

Here we go, I thought.

“Zahra, are you going to go?” she asked.

“What?” I asked, confused. Was this some kind of reverse psychology?

Maman jaan, there’s traffic behind me—get your bag,” she complained.

I grabbed my bag, undid my seat belt, and reached for the door handle of salvation.

“Wait,” she said.

F***! I waited too long.

A spot opened up in front of us, so she rolled in and parked the car. We sat in silence for what felt like forever. What the hell was going on? She didn’t seem mad. I didn’t know what to think or what to prepare for.

Maybe Ryan’s politeness impressed her, I thought. Maybe she’s going to take back everything she’s said about men. Maybe she’s going to apologize for all the times she yelled at me, because she now realizes how great my friends actually are. Wow. I really underestimated my mom. I guess the toughest thing about being the firstborn daughter of immigrant parents is that they have to catch up to you as they assimilate into a foreign culture.

Maybe I needed to initiate this dialogue, to tell her it was okay if she felt bad about all the mean things she’d said before about my guy friends or the “American ladies.”


“Zahra,” she cut me off, “I just wanted to tell you…” She had a distant look in her eyes, but then suddenly zeroed in on me with intense concentration.

“Zahra, you have a hole. And for the rest of your life, men will want to put their penis in your hole. It doesn’t matter who you are, what you look like, who is your ‘friend.’ Even at the movies, maman jaan, wherever—it does not change. Ri-anne seems like a very nice man, but he is a man. And all he wants is your hole. So, I will pick you up here at five o’clock. Have fun, maman jaan,” she said.

I got out of the car and staggered toward the theater. I was horrified and astounded. I have a what?! A hole? Where? Was that what I had missed in sex ed the one day I had the flu? Was I the last girl on Earth to find out about my hole?

I’d never felt so completely clueless about or protective of my body in my entire life. I’d thought I had a pretty clear idea of sex. It didn’t look all that complicated: a lot of kissing and touching and groping and people mashing their bodies together under bedsheets. There were no “holes” in Sixteen Candles!

Suddenly, crossing the parking lot to the theater was like being a scared, limping animal in a wide-open meadow with sleazy holehunters lurking about. I couldn’t look a single guy in the face.

I busted my way through the double doors of the theater and accidentally made eye contact with the concessions guy, who was lasciviously filling up a large swirly snow cone and staring at me. I imagined him halting mid-ICEE, flinging it in the air, and then leaping across the counter, making a beeline for my hole.

I had to find my friends.

I saw Ryan sitting third-row center, with an empty seat saved for me next to him. Nothing about my relationship with him felt platonic anymore. I felt awkward and clumsy. I felt like… like… like I was on a date. Omigod, was this a date? My vision was
blurring. I couldn’t think fast enough.

He bought me my ticket.

He met my mother.

We’re sitting next to each other.

Did he ever really need help with algebra?

I sat through all of Johnny Mnemonic with my jeans pulled up to my waist and my legs crossed tightly together. Every time my legs started to relax and slide open, I felt like I was exposing my hole to the world, and clamped them back together again. The longer I held my legs together, the angrier I became at Ryan. Look at him, all stupid-faced and smiling, sitting there dipping his disgusting hands into the greasy popcorn. This movie sucks. Why is he smiling? He’s probably thinking about holes. Gross! All I knew at that point was that, date or not, he’d better not be thinking about my hole, or I was going to kick his a**.


  1. “…seems like a very nice man, but he is a man. And all he wants is your hole.”

    THIS is the attitude than men have been having to try to fight against all our lives. THIS is the sexism that exists in our societies. NO! It’s not all that men want! And it’s highly disrespectful to think that it is.

  2. When the mother gave her lecture, my Muslim best friend and I burst into laughter because she sounds exactly like my friend’s mom! hahaha.

  3. Oh. That poor girl. 🙁

  4. rehashes

  5. This is wonderful, funny and insightful

  6. Wow what an ugly way to speak? So crude and unlady like…where is the class?

  7. OMG; just read this, and it made me laugh my ass off!!! I have to buy this anthology.

  8. Oh please. There are plenty of mothers around the country who ssy the same things, sometimes worse, and it has nothing to do with religion. It had to do with them wanting their daughters to be rated with respect and not used and tossed aside like garbage.

    When so many young people think “Jersey Shore” is great, and all that show does is promote random, anonymous hookups, what mother wouldn’t fear for her daughter??!

  9. *treated

  10. Definitely agree with Barbara; it’s more about being sensitive about her daughter since we all know, according to statistics, a woman gets sexually assaulted or raped in America every 10 seconds.

  11. @Barbara – I agree but do they need to treat men with disrespect in doing so?

  12. It’s a funny way of wording it, but that moment will be awkward no matter what. when you’re a young girl who has just developed, your parents need to explain because by human nature, thats what young boys want. Its something you go through in EVERY culture. Better than her mom not saying anything at all

  13. @gregory as an adult, you have obviously developed respect for women and a greater understanding of the world. Teenage boys however, are driven by hormones and are not so sensible. It’s no disrespect to men, just ‘boys will be boys’ because they haven’t smartened up yet.

  14. @Reed – I didn’t get this respect as an adult. My parents raised me since I was a child and later after my parents divorced, as a teen, by my mother. When I was 15, I had a 3 year long relationship with a girl. We experimented, touched, etc. but we never risked pregnancy. I didn’t lose my virginity until I was 19.

    A person gets the respect from early on. We are all humans with different body parts. People are uncomfortable talking about sex but if we nip it early and are raised to treat people with respect from an early age, horrible things are much less likely to happen. Just shrugging off bad behavior with “boys will be boys” only deepens the disrespect.

  15. I understand what you’re saying but not all boys are raised to treat women with respect, as you were. I totally agree that we should teach our children self respect and respect for others. But because not all parents are so great, there will always be boys or men who do not do the right thing. So of course a mom wants to teach her daughter to beware of those men. She’s generalizing because she wants to protect her daughter from the bad apples.

  16. Sad…but Americans aren’t so progressive either. I had a girl pal in High School who told me her Mother told her sex was “dirty” and that she “just gritted her teeth and waited for it to be over.” I was taken aback and tried to explain to my friend that if a lover (be it husband or…) was considerate/mindful of her wants/needs or even fears, sex did not have to be an ‘obligation/duty’. She married and I often wonder if it is a ‘duty’ to her and how short-changed her husband would be having a stiff, unmoving partner in his bed.

  17. And honestly, this example is much better than some things I’ve heard parents teaching their daughters. My great grandmother told my grandma when she became a woman that if she touched a man at all, she would become pregnant. She almost drowned because she wouldn’t let a man save her. She obviously went about that in a terrible way. But people have always tried to protect their daughters from losing her innocence.

  18. There is a large problem though when a boy and a girl can’t be friends. All men are different. All women are different. If we assume that all men want is sex, then we are limiting our world of experience out of fear. It is worse when mothers limit their daughters’ worlds by making them fear men.

  19. Parents should teach their children, boy or girl, respect for their bodies, and how sex truly works, and by this I mean when the kids are old enough, use the proper word for the anatomy.

  20. I have found that for many kids, again both boys and girls, one of the main reasons they try sex, is not only because, “everyone else is doing it,” but more often because parents are embarrassed to discuss sex. So young kids think, ‘mom and dad are too embarrassed to talk about this, so it must be good. We will have to try it.’ That is where the trouble starts.

  21. I find it really funny that Ryan is a Mormon, because we’re taught about sex very conservatively

  22. Great story coming from a Muslim’s perspective. It felt as if I was reading a book! =).

  23. Back to religion…there’s not sex bfore married..its obligation n perfectly for anyone !!!

  24. Let’s keep in mind that there certainly are in this world women who want a man’s “pole” in their “hole” (to continue the simplified terminology) regardless of the man’s intentions.

  25. Christian moms can be just as bad! Mine left me with me with the impression that males were all just filthy pigs & that my only value was as a sex object. A message that I’m sure she didn’t mean to send. It was very confusing when I was young because most the boys I knew liked me for me & behaved very well. Most of them were as confused & unsure about sex as I was. What is sad is that though society was telling me (a female) to remain a virgin, it was telling them (male) to gain sexual experience & they weren’t ready but felt compelled to be real “men”.

  26. there re difference between the modesty and the sex education and this work for botmale and female..

  27. Again, what does this have to do with Islamophobia?

  28. @Gregor…..I think you will find some women may have a not so nice husband….this can be anyplace on the world….and her dislike and hostility will spill over into general attitudes.

    I don’t think Muslim our Iranian women have the lock on bad outlooks on men…..I’ve seen & heard it plenty from some friends right here in the United States. And most are not Muslim (cuz the Muslims are married & usually happy with their husband).

  29. //Sina… you WERE reading a book… and it looks like a good one, too.

    Excerpted from above: “. . . To expose readers to the true spectrum of Muslim American dating experiences, Ayesha Mattu and Nura Maznavi compiled “Love, InshAlla: The Secret Love Lives of American Muslim Women,” [$15.95, Soft Skull Press] an anthology of romantic relationships, gay and straight, arranged and spontaneous, monogamous and not. In this telling excerpt, “The Birds, the Bees, and My Hole,” Zahra Noorbakhsh re-hatches her mother’s brusque sex talk and how it changed the way she perceived her male friends. . . .”

  30. Just pre-ordered from Amazon. Looks fab!

  31. What is sex? –a

  32. Nick Saint arsepat – Gender

  33. “can man and woman be true friends” a question asked me by my friend’s mother when she first saw a female friend with him at home.i still could not answer that question till this moment.Are we truly like that?

  34. I am a Muslim and I agree the mom’s attitude is sexist and it has nothing to do with Islam. Yes, I agree that women should be protected and that there are many men with bad intentions but the mother’s idea that EVERY MAN just wants her “hole” is ridiculous. It sounds more like feminist propaganda than anything Islamic.

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