Today's post is a wee bit of a powder keg. Why? Because I'm going to be looking at what the Qur'an says about sex.
Specifically, what the Qur'an says in 2:223.
"Your wives are as a tilth unto you; so approach your tilth when or how ye will; but do some good act for your souls beforehand; and fear Allah. And know that ye are to meet Him (in the Hereafter), and give (these) good tidings to those who believe." Qur'an 2:223 (Yusuf Ali)
This verse is often used by non-Muslims (and even Muslims) to assert that women are property and have no right to deny sex to their husbands. Muslims will often then quote the hadith about angels cursing until morning the woman who denies her husband sex when he wants it.
I want to look at this verse a bit differently, though. My goal is to hopefully show that the Qur'an endorses sexual gratification not only for men, but also for women.
Women are often made to feel like they shouldn't think about or want sex, and that if they do, they are somehow "impure", "loose", etc. We're also taught that discussing sex is immodest and something that "good (Muslim) girls don't do". As a result, many a young Muslim woman marries without understanding that she, also, has sexual rights within the marriage. (I wonder if, before marriage, men are informing the groom of his wife's Islamically-endorsed sexual rights, the way that women are bombarded with a "if your husband wants it, you have to say yes" message.)
Let's take another look at this verse. It says "your wives are as a tilth unto you".
"But wait!" We think. "What does that even mean?"
A tilth is fertile, cultivated land.
Making the connection between "fertile land" and reproduction is a bit too obvious, so I'm going to approach fertility from a different way. When you're just married, your freshly-halal relationship with your spouse is like newly tilled earth. You've made your vows and signed the marriage contract. You're now permitted, with Allah's blessing, to enjoy marital intimacy with your spouse. It is, in fact, an act of worship. Whether you've had sexual experiences with someone else or been married before or are a virgin, this experience is unique. Your sexual relationship is new, fragile, and you don't want to spoil it by leaving your spouse unsatisfied and frustrated. Sexual frustration is damaging to a marriage; despite popular belief in some circles, women have as much of a need for sexual gratification as men do. If one person consistently is satisfied and the other is not, this inequality can build feelings of resentment, reluctance, and even anger in the latter. You don't want that. You want your relationship to grow as a result of your marital intimacy.
What does it take for land to produce its fruit? Sunlight, water, and time. Too much darkness? Most crops won't grow. Too much or too little water? The crops will rot or dry up. Farmers take the time to irrigate their crops, to ensure the best yield possible.
In the same manner, mutually satisfying intimacy in marriage takes communication, effort, and time. Too many people get married and don't even have a basic, general understanding of human sexuality. Men think that what pleases them is pleasing to their wives, and the women, if they aren't happy with the situation, have been taught that talking about sex isn't something modest women do and that they shouldn't say anything that might hurt their husband's feelings. Being afraid to discuss sex with your spouse is ridiculous. Yes, sex is a powder keg. Your spouse may have hurt feelings because he thinks he's a stud, and your revelation that your experience hasn't been so great can wound his pride. Isn't your marriage worth honest communication? Isn't it better to address the issue now, rather than let your marital intimacy potentially feel like an unwanted chore?
"So approach your tilth when and how you will."
The Qur'an doesn't place limitations on what sexual acts spouses may do. Nor does it say "only do these things at night with the lights out". Instead, it tells us to do what we find pleasing. Allah created our desires, and within the privacy of the marital relationship, we are urged to satisfy those desires.
This verse does not advocate marital rape. It does not disregard a woman's (or a man's) right to say "no". It merely tells us that what we consent to do for the pleasure of our spouse and ourselves in private is up to us as individuals and couples.
"But do some good act for your souls beforehand."
The "good act" beforehand could be clear communication. It could be making the intention to Allah that you want the experience to be mutually enjoyable, to increase your love and the overall quality of your relationship. It could be understanding that, for women, sexual satisfaction is tied up in our emotional and mental states, and putting in the effort to engage her complete interest and cultivate her desire long before the bedroom door closes.
From now on, when I see this verse, it will stand out to me as a Qur'anic declaration of the importance of taking the time and effort to nurture the tilth of marital intimacy.
"Your spouse's sexuality is as fertile land to you, so cultivate that land with care, and satisfy your desires in a way that is mutually pleasing."