This is something I was intrigued to find myself contemplating many times in the 15 years I wore a full, dark, burka from head to toe. I had converted to Islam in my 20’s and found myself exploring different ways of covering my body. At first it was a headscarf, then I added a long coat, as it was winter. When I began socializing with other Muslim women, I noticed how they complied with the modesty rules around dress, and began to explore different styles.
I soon came to realize that there are as many ways to cover your hair and body as there are women. Being of the Muslim faith in no way dampens the creativity of a woman to want to express her unique style. I also realized that just because all my new friends were covered up didn’t mean they weren’t interested in sex or sexuality.
When we got together it was always in segregation, so there were no men around to hear us talking. We discussed many things quite candidly. Many of us were pregnant or breastfeeding so we talked openly about the challenges of having a new baby and finding time for sex. How long did people wait to have intercourse after childbirth? Did breastfeeding stop you from getting pregnant? Did your libido rise during pregnancy and plummet in the postpartum period?
I was surprised to find my friends speaking openly about how they enjoyed sex frequently with their partner; how they often found time for a quickie before work, or while the baby was napping. One friend said she often purposely initiated intimacy before her husband went to work. She saw it as a way to preserve a good relationship, leave him with sexy memories to ponder throughout the day.
This was in stark contrast to when we women went out in public. We walked as smoothly as we could, so our hips wouldn’t evoke interest. We spoke in hushed tones, so as not to sound seductive, and we tried to keep our shopping excursions and outings to the necessities, so we didn’t have to be seen at all. Although, secretly many of us explored wearing sexy underwear under our burkas at least once or twice, just for the thrill of it.
Paradoxically many men I have since spoken to agree that the mysterious aspect of wondering what a woman looks like under her coverings, especially if all you can see are the eyes, is arousing to them. This makes me wonder if the idea of wearing a burka is more of a turn on for men than a protection for women. Although this may be a radical departure from the actual meaning of modesty and covering in Islam, I found myself wondering many things during my years as a Muslim and since then as a Sex Educator.
One thing I know for sure, is that sexuality and wearing a burka don’t negate each other, there is a far more complex interplay than that. Sometimes it was super sexy, and sometimes it was a way to put your sexuality on hold for a while. I suppose that every woman has her own way of dressing and her own version of sexuality. Wearing a burka doesn’t change that at all. I am much more open-minded after experiencing a different way, and that is a gift I am grateful for.