Thursday, June 12, 2008

Women: Blocked on their Periods?

While conversing with a group of international students, a Saudi friend of mine explained why polygamy is allowed in Islam. His points were not the fruits of his own thoughts; they were taken from a list of apologies for polygamy, which were taught to us in religion classes in middle, high school and beyond. One of these points was, “A woman has her period once a month which would prevent a man from having sex for an average of 7 days.”

He was attacked right there and then by the girls and some boys who could not understand why sex should stop from the first drop of blood till the very last. “We could understand that heavy days are no fun, but if they guy and girl don’t mind it on the others, why not?”

A medical student added, “Especially in a monogamous relationship where there’s no fear of transmitting sexual diseases which may be helped by the excess of fluids! Other than that, medically there’s no harm in intercourse and many studies suggest that climaxing during the period eases off the abdominal pain because of the contractions in the area.”

My “unmarried” and bashful friend found himself dragged into a conversation to which he wasn’t rehearsed at all. Student of the sciences as he was, he found himself in a spot where he had to defend why sex is forbidden throughout the monthly period. He told them, he sort of thinks it is gross to involve with a girl during the red days, but hasn’t been in that situation-yet. Googling “sex during period” he was surprised to learn how controversial the subject is.


I was reminded by this story while reading anonymous’s comment dated June 12th. He says, “If the woman has menses, all the men are blocked.” And it struck me how accurate he was to choose “blocked” as a verb without a clear doer. Who’s blocking the woman on her period? The woman, the man or the Godly orders?

Islamically speaking, the blocking is first and foremost religious. That’s how it was taught in religion classes and why after I’d gotten access to all the womanly gossip by being married myself I got to hear newly weds admit in full shame that they “slipped” at some point or another and did it on "those days”. The slipping occurs either because the man was so interested, the girl didn’t mind or both parties felt shy to discuss “which day of the month it was” until it was too late to stop!

Researching the religious basis of the “blocking”, I found it in the
Quranic verse 2-222 meaning translated as, “They question thee (O Muhammad) concerning menstruation. Say: It is an illness, so let women alone at such times and go not in unto them till they are cleansed. And when they have purified themselves, then go in unto them as Allah hath enjoined upon you. Truly Allah loveth those who turn unto Him, and loveth those who have a care for cleanness.” Other translations describe menstruation as: illness, hurt, pollution and discomfort.

For the first time, I noticed how the speech is strictly directed to the men, while menstruation is fully womanish and the sex act involves both the man and the woman. So, I reread the Quranic verse above and wondered, does it block the woman on her period, or advise the men against being insensitive to their wives?

38 comments:

Natacha said...

I'm curious as to why the participants in the conversation you describe were (seemingly) more disturbed by the unmarried guy's opposition to sex during a woman's period than to the implication that a man needs more than one wife so he doesn't miss a day of sex. Especially since it's well-documented fact that women who live together tend to end up on the same menstrual cycle. So by this logic a man should have several wives who don't spend too much time together so they don't up up having their periods at the same time.

Aysha said...

Natacha,
Good points, and glad to have you here! I am sure the ladies were disturbed by the entire issue, but they must've tried to meet him point for point, basic for basic. I also imagine that while narrirating the incident, he was telling me about the parts of discussion which were new to him and to which he didn't have packaged responses.

Natacha said...

Ah I didn't realize you had heard this second-hand from the chap in question!
Now what would the "prepackaged" response be to my question, as far as you know?

Saudi in US said...

This goes back to the discussion of earlier post. People hold too many believes that they have not supported through knowledge or evidence. The poor guy had no scientific basis for his discussion and probably believed some of the things they teach in the Arabic world, where religious teachings are proven miraculously by science. I for one hope someday they stop that and allow religion to stand separate from scientific teaching.

I also commend your friend. He is young and seems to have learned a lesson from the situation. The fact that he was seeking council from you shows he is developing maturity.

Regarding the main topic. I do have an issue with using the monthly cycle as a basis for polygamy. I do not know of any text in Quran and Hadith that discusses that. However, the religion allows polygamy as a right for men, so any reason can be accepted under that context.

Outside of religion this is a taste issue as there are no extraordinary health issues associated with such sexual practices.

Dalal said...

How can anyone keep using this excuse for defending Pologomy ,
If I was a man I would feel offended if someone thought of me only as a sex machine that can not stop
Or wouldnt I ? :s
I dont know how these people think

Hning said...

Open, shameless laughter at this: The slipping occurs either because the man was so interested, the girl didn’t mind or both parties felt shy to discuss “which day of the month it was” until it was too late to stop!

Oh, that was definitely not a sublimated confession to your own married life, was it? *tries to bring her self upright after rolling on the floor laughing*

American Bedu said...

Women and periods in Islam and the muslim world is always a controversial topic it seems although this was also the first for me to hear it as related to another justification for polygamy.

If I may ramble a bit one thing that I have been so surprised by here in the Kingdom is seeing in general how the majority of Saudi women seem to become disabled during the time of their periods. It is allowed and expected they will be off 4-5 days from work when it is that time of the month. And either Saudi women are more sensitive to the pain and discomfort of menstrual cramps or perhaps their lifestyle and culture perpetuates worse menstrual cramps but I personally know a number of Saudi women who routinely go to a clinic or emergency room when their period begins for some type of pain-reducing shot to give them relief during their period. My question is whether this is a safe practice? When after knowing one such (unmarried) woman had this injection for six consecutive months due to intense several menstrual cramps I suggested that perhaps a medical exam was needed to ensure there were not other problems. My gosh...I opened a can of worms and forbidden subject...seems that due to her unmarried state it was haram for her to have any kind of gynecoligical exam which could tamper or impair her virgin state.

In other conversations I learn that the woman is viewed as unclean during her period and therefore not only are sexual relations to be avoided but she is not to touch the Quran or pray during that time either due to her impure state. How much is pure Islam and how much is due to culture?

Another excellent topic, Aysha.

The Queen said...

To answer your question, I'd vote that it was to 'advise the men against being insensitive to their wives'

PrinceJimi said...

Is it just the period and the polygamy that you question?

Here are mine... Pork, millions of people eat it, they are alive and healthy! why don't we? I was asked that question many years ago... haven't found a scientific answer yet.

Halal, millions of people don't eat halal foods, yet they are doing ok! Was it just a form of boycott back then? again no scientific evidence of any kind.

Yet the world keeps smoking cigarets...

Thanks for posting, I really enjoy your writings.

أبو سنان said...

It is a lame excuse for taking more than one wife. The guy should have just said that like Judaism, his religion forbids it.

It isnt something that has a scientific explaination, it is a religious one.

He could have even joked and pointed out that in Ethiopia women on their period are not even allowed in their churches.

We Muslims dont go THAT far!

}:>)

If we had to track down a real reason I think it has to do with cleanliness.

We all know how important being clean in Islam is, and certainly sex during that time of the month can be VERY messy.

AUHgal said...

I don't know what Islam dictates, but certainly have heard from Muslim friends they couldn't attend mosque or visit the cemetary during their period (enforced by their male family members). Religious or cultural of origin, I'm not sure.

Many of my Irish friends (who are in their 30s/40s) speak of a time when women couldn't enter a church in Ireland post-child birth. Personally, I believe that the idea that the period makes women dirty (unfit for religious duty) is cultural in orgin and began long before established monotheism. That said, while women's hormones typically sore during menstruation (consequently increasing sexual desire at that time) it is rather messy, as Abu Sinan indicated. What a biological contradiction: strong desire to procreate yet religious/cultural instruction that it's dirty to engage in sexual activity at that time.

OT, but American Bedu brings up a topic I'd like to read more about: Women in the region and their periods. I'm the kind of gal that pops ibuprofen and gets on w/ my day. Between Egypt and the UAE, I've never come across so many women "disabled" by their periods.

Aysha said...

natacha,
I think the response will be along the lines of "God created men and women differently and it is only natural that men would have a higher sex drive-too hard for a woman to understand!" If you refer to the link to anonymous's comment dated June 12th, you'll see a response echoing that very idea. It is a classical argument, non of which I personally believe.
It all comes down to this: the man is weak, the woman is strong. the man needs more, the woman needs less.

Aysha said...

Saudi in US,
"I for one hope someday they stop that and allow religion to stand separate from scientific teaching."
Amen to that! I think it does religion an immense harm to need to prove it by means of comparison with what had been or what is to be found in the sciences. Once you get into that game it can get very bad.
I would rather have schools, if extremely necessary, be more factual when teaching religions rather than offering "creative apologies".

Anonymous said...

I am surprised that neither the article nor the comments address the true justification for polygamy -- Surah 4:3 -- "If you fear that you canot treat orphans with fairness, then you may marry other women who seem good to you: two, three, or four of them." While the context of this command has to do with property, the only logical issue that would be remedied by having multiple wives would be sexual abuse of the orphans. In short, poligamy was to protect young girls from sexual abuse of by their guardians. If anyone can logically explain a different conclusion, I'd love to read it.

Saudi in US said...

Aysha,

You always bring up interesting topics

".....it is only natural that men would have a higher sex drive-too hard for a woman to understand!..."

I agree with you the religious explanation for this as presented from the link is not sufficient and was not really necessary. Religion does not have to answer every question and certainly can survive without having to do so.

For this one we just have to look for a simple scientific explanation. Females do have a cycle for production and that does impact the times they like to engage in sex. The other gender has to be ready at anytime to increase the odds for conception and insure the species will flourish. Survival of the fittest explains this without having to create a religious debate over it.

Hning said...

Aysha, you've been tagged again.

Anonymous said...

I remember reading that leaving women through their period is an ancient practice. In caveman times the women of the tribe would synchronize, so the men would look at the moon and say " It's the time of the month..... the antelopes are out....we must go hunt!". Then leave for huntig and come back a few days later when the women are "clear", and that's the reason of men early obsession with hunting : )

OTOH humans belong to the primates order of mammals, in which, the degree of polygyny is a function of sexual dismorphism, i.e the more males are different in shape to females of that order, the more polygynous they became. The degree of dismorphism in humans suggests that they are moderately polygynous, and follow the alpha male system, where the alpha male mates with a selected group of females. The females of this order are also polyandrous to some extent.

Controling mating behavior in humans is a social construct, and was always dependant on the social and economical circumstances. You may find it surprising that polygyny was not prohibited in almost all the religions, not in the Hebrew Bible, nor explicitly in the New Testemant, and was practiced in early Christianity until St.Augustine (around 400 A.D) wrote to ban it on the basis of not contradicting Roman civilian laws, at about the same time he endorsed the concept of Trinity in an effort to promote Christianity among Romans by relating to their polytheism.

-Amar

Aysha said...

dalal, I wonder... For a competitive gender who's thought to over-estimate the # of partners while the ladies are thought to underestimate all because each is expected/taught/built to express themselves in different ways, I truly wonder.
http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/12/weekinreview/12kolata.html?_r=1

Aysha said...

Hning, you wish! ;) Now, THAT wasn't an invitation to get stories out of a "taurus", or was it? Get off the floor this instance, you naughty naughty girl!

Aysha said...

Dear Carol, I myself cannot understand it. Does the wide spread influence that periods have on the girls in SA have to do with factual pain or fictional/mythical beliefs? Is it due to life style? Diet? Lack of exercise? Lack of perserverance? I cannot say. My mom came of age abroad. When my time came, she warned me not to be influenced by what girls in school say or feel a period is. She also told me about how girls she knew "abroad" went through it without the slightest of change to their daily habits. A doctor friend of our family once told about her "psychological" games with girl patients who came to the ER whenever they had their period. She said, she convinced them that once they had their got married/had their first child that it will to away at once. Surprisingly, many of them reported back to her that she was right.

Aysha said...

The Queen, I'm leaning in that direction too :) Glad to have you here!

Aysha said...

princejimi, these are valuable & relevant parallels! Glad to have you here.

Aysha said...

أبو سنان،
There are pleny of options (showers closets, protections, cleaning products) that I find the "cleanliness" interpretation hardly applicable-in modern times that is.

Ameican Bedu said...

Aysha,

You are right; when I was asked to accompany a young female family member to the doctor for the "monthly pain injection" the doctor did indeed say once she was married and had a child the pain would go away. Although on the other hand, many many married Saudi women routinely miss 3-4 days work per month when it is that time of the month for them....go figure!

But seriously, keeping in shape, eating right, exercising will help a woman during that time of the month. I know when I was in top shape not only did I not have menstrual cramps but even had a time when I had no menstrual period (which is not unusual if one is extremely active and fit). However I am no longer in that kind of condition!

But back to the topic, it is widely accepted in this region the woman is allowed to feel immense pain and naturally be excused from duties for several days.

Aysha said...

The InterCulturalist, on this very issue, with excellent questions!
http://theinterculturalists.blogspot.com/2008/06/sex-with-aunt-flo.html

Aysha said...

auhgal,

"What a biological contradiction: strong desire to procreate yet religious/cultural instruction that it's dirty to engage in sexual activity at that time."

I agree with you and think it is much more than biological. There's the psychological factor to engagement being unlikely which on the other hand raises the yearning for it. There's also the physical aspect of the area being readily wet (in correspondence with Pavlov's theory).

I'm not sure if it is through her posts or comments, but I remember reading wonderful views by Carol on pmsing women in the kingdom.

Help Carol! :D

Aysha said...

Saudi in Us,
But that is limiting sex-drive to breeding incentives alone, which I think is not applicable to humans and some other sex-for-pleasure mammals (monkeys? Gorillas?)

That interpretation would also regard persons of infertility, E.D, homosexuality, pregnancy, period, contraception, as not part of the sex-drive genre...

But I'm sure you meant it differently, so help me out Saudi in US :")

Aysha said...

anonymous, I am thrilled by your share of anthropology and leaning towards your view of how mating behaviors are relative to society.

Just bought the book "Marriage and Morals"
http://books.google.com/books?id=g4NgDwJ4adcC&dq=marriage+and+morals&pg=PP1&ots=8109I73VYP&sig=74nXw4Po-tIC4sOro1-IVme_8us&hl=en&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=1&ct=result#PPP1,M1
And so far, I feel it intersects with what you are saying.

There's a part of your response that I'll need to research some more because it contains some terminology that is too specialized for me and I don't want to miss out on grasping it in full!

Glad to have you here Amar, and I am thankful that you took the time to respond.

Saudi in US said...

Aysha,

I knew I may get myself in trouble and get drawn into a long discussion about evolution :)

The first thing to keep in mind is that evolution is not an intelligent or guided process, but it's result may appear so. For example it does not have an incentives to produce successful breeding, although that result may be produced and flourish as it gets passed in successive generations.

The basics of the concept I discussed is that humans like other mammals have physiological characteristics that drive certain behaviors. Males have abundance of hormones at a consistent basis, which explains the extra sex drive. Females do also, but are regulated by a monthly cycle.

If both males and females have a cycle the odds of matching times around conception will be more difficult reducing the chances. Hence, from an evolutionary prospective a male of a species with a higher sex drive has a better chance of having more offsprings and passing those traits to the next generation (i.e. natural selection). After millions of years of evolution this became a very pronounced trait in mammals. Humans as mammals are certainly part of that heritage.

Now for the other issue you raised regarding breeding incentives. Incentive is only a human concept as we are the only animal that can abstract. All the mammals do not engage in sex because they intend to have babies, they do it because it is an inherited pleasurable trait and is instinctive. It just happens to be a trait that makes species survive.

This can be expanded to humans. Most of human sex is based on drive and pleasure. So even non-conception sex (example homosexual) is guided by physiological drive. We as humans are the only thinking beings and may start directing some of our sexual behavior towards planned conception, but we inherited the sex drive as a physiological trait with differences between male and female.

Aysha said...

first anonymous,
I am sorry to have missed your comment. The post is mainly about the period (as related to sex), that's why comments did not focus on polygamy. Polygamy is such a controversial topic and a practice that had existed for hundreds of years, long enough that viewing it as a text or ideal is not enough for there's also history enough to view it as an actual practice and adaptation by humans.

Anonymous said...

Such an interesting point Aysha.
While reading your article a hadith came to my mind about Aisha, the prophet's wife, stating that during her cycle the prophet would come to her and ask her to cover her lower part and still enjoy sex with her!

" كان رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم يأمرني فأتزر فيباشرني وأنا حائض "


Aisha :)

Leila said...

Where did anyone get the idea that the reason for polygamy is because men have to go 5 - 7 days without intercourse?
I can not believe that there would be a debate about this issue.
Many people have asked me, being an American, how I feel about my husband taking on another wife.
I feel that it would be a great idea. In islam, we are to take care of each other. If more men could/would take on more than one wife then there would be no need for a welfare system.
Look at all of the women that are over 28 years old (in other countries) and can not find a husband because of their age. Is it fair for them never to be able to know love or have children because the younger women are more appealing to men? There are great rewards for raising children up as muslims. We as muslims are losing focus as to who we are and straying towards western culture.
What right does a woman have to keep her husband from taking care of another sister? Why would this even bother a wife? She should be happy that another sister will be taken care of and ENCOURAGE her husband to follow Islam and if he is able take on another wife that needs help.
As women if we go to the masjid and see other sisters that are in need, then we should encourage our husband to marry her and take care of her. We are all family and every muslim needs to be taken care of. Jealousy needs not to be an issue.
Sometimes we do not understand WHY we are to do some things that we are ordered to do. For example, Why should we not sleep on your stomaches? Some people came up with silly sexual reasons as to why we should not sleep on our stomach. Just within the last years medical research has shown that more babies that sleep on their stomach die of SIDS (Sudden infant death syndrom) and also research now shows that when you sleep on your back it damages your vertibrae causing cronic back pain.
Maybe these medical proofs are not the reason that we should not sleep on our back. Only Allah knows.
Imagine being a muslim 200 years ago. Far before all of these medical studies have came out to prove what is told in the Qur'an is backed by science. All of these believers followed blindly not knowing what we know today. So, who are WE to question what is told in the Qur'an already having so much more proof than what they had years ago. May Allah make us all stronger in our faith. Ameen

Susanne said...

Wow, what an interesting post! I didn't realize there was so much attention paid to periods in Islam. I can't imagine not being able to attend church, read the Bible or pray simply because of a normal bodily function. Really, this makes me feel as if women are inferior because of the way GOD created us. None of us asked for this!

And 7 days without sex for a man is one reason for polygamy?! 8-O

Wow!!!

I told my male Muslim friend who lives in Damascus that IF I ever got to the point where I wanted to share my husband with another woman, you could rest assured I was either tired of him asking for sex, tired of "serving" him/cleaning for him, or I had found another man and I wanted his attention off me so I could be with my lover. Yes, I do have strong opinions on this topic. :-D


Thank you for this thought-provoking post! I just found your blog and will save it to read again.

Summer said...

re: leila

I do not understand why you think marriage is simply a charity...

Anonymous said...

OK people....

I feel its best to come from an angle where we place all these issues in practical terms....

First and foremost....in terms of menstruation and intercourse....without looking at any religious or scientific evidence on whether it is good or not....I will tell you whether it is to me or not. I have had sex both during menstruation and outside it. What I find is although its difficult (sometimes) to control my sexual urge during their menstruations - if I don't have any sex - I would long for her periods to end and give her the best orgasm in the world. But if I actually DO her during menstruation, I feel both of us like it. BUT - I do certainly feel YUK as I don't like blood on me - and its not any normal blood. It does stink and it smells like it is gone off. Even though I know this, sometimes I do feel the sexual need. These are my own feelings (natural). So, when I look at the risk and benefit of sex or no sex during periods - I would personally opt to be more of a gentleman and wait until her period ends. That way, I am sensitive to her needs (pain, emotions as these change a lot) and also show that I can control my urges (not all women want sex all of the time - sometimes they want care and attention). Also I find that during her periods - if I do have sex with her - there is a tendency that I become a little bit less sensitive - weird - but try and observe this! Having sex during periods - does from time to time make me feel sick, naturally. I am still human, with sexual urges so I still DO her.

Conclusion: I would rather be there for my woman than DO her during her periods. The benefits are far greater to not have sex during periods. This really is my human response. Now, which ever work (scientific or religious) fits into this model would be best to serve humanity.

Anonymous said...

I think it's disturbing that any women would accept her husband marrying more women. That is simply disrespectful and dirty! The man has no reason to engage in so many marriages and it disgusts me to learn that it actually takes place. As for sex during your period, I would leave it up to the couple themselves but in my opinion, that is highly disgusting... This discussion should be closed. Men have no superiority over men and the Qu'ran specifically tells us this. If men can marry 1+ wives, then we should have the right although in general I believe such a practice is wrong.

Anonymous said...

how can such a wominish thing be directed to men only?

Anonymous said...

"A medical student added, “Especially in a monogamous relationship where there’s no fear of transmitting sexual diseases which may be helped by the excess of fluids! Other than that,(this is what Dr. Still A Student has enlightened us with)medically there’s no harm in intercourse and many studies suggest that climaxing during the period eases off the abdominal pain because of the contractions in the area.”" mmm!!

Check the below to get your questions answered from real professionals in both the medical field (real doctors ;) )and the Islamic one:

http://islamqa.com/ar/ref/43028