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Somali-Dutch women

In this lecture, Amisah Bakuri discusses her own research on how Somali-Dutch women become sexually knowledgeable.
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AMISAH BAKURI: In December 2017 while I was having a conversation with Farida, a 36-year-old Somali Dutch woman, who often made it clear that she was practicing Muslim. Farida was very modest in her speech and repeatedly told me that she was striving to be “a pious good” Somali woman. She had just celebrated her 10th wedding anniversary and reflected on my questions on sexual bliss for pious women. She told me about the memories of her wedding celebrations a decade ago. Farida described her wedding with pride and talked about some very embarrassing moments surrounding all the sex talks from her aunties and female friends.
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FARIDA: One of the presents I received was a book on “Muslim marriage” that contained very elaborate discussions on the values of marital sex, the sensuous parts of the body, different sexual positions, and techniques to arouse a wife or a husband and the science to know when the partner is ready for intercourse, I mean penetration. This is important because for us Muslims issues related to sex can turn into problems and finally will, result in divorce. Well, the nights before my wedding I had very interesting conversations with my female friends and cousins. They were very helpful because I was very comfortable to ask them more personal questions without thinking of being judged.
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But with my aunties and the others, I struggled to process the information. Imagine people who have been warning you about sex and then they start talking to you about sex, some of the conversation seems too gross for me, like how can they be that explicit about sex with me. First, you are hardly told about sex from them and suddenly you seem to be receiving sex education from left to right, East and West. It becomes overwhelming but the humor and laughter helps a bid. In marriage you are supposed to experiment and continue to learn about sex through watching good movies or reading good books. You do this so that you enjoy the full array of sexual relation in your marriage.
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AMISAH BAKURI: My name is Amisah Bakuri, I am a PhD candidate at the University of Amsterdam. The introductory story of Farida is based on an ethnographic study I conducted about the lives of self-identifying Ghanaian and Somali Dutch in the Netherlands. All the Somali Dutch involved in the study identified as Muslims. The majority of Ghanaian Dutch identified as Christians, while some were Muslims. In stark contrast to the dangers of illicit sex, marital sexuality ideally should be characterised by complementarity and give pleasure to both men and women. Research participants strongly emphasise their views that religious women should be knowledgeable about sex and enjoy sexual intercourse. Ways to enhance sexual pleasure are part and parcel of any premarital counselling or training session.
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Participants like Farida explained that sexuality creates a stronger bond between husband and wife, and brings joy, relaxation, and spiritual exultation to God. Sexual pleasure and satisfaction were emphasised as features of “a good” Muslim marriage. Several research participants envisage that the sexual relationship between husband and wife was crucial to their religious life. Because of this, sex education by counsellors and older women constitutes an essential part of preparations for would-be brides and it’s as crucial for married women. Because of religious moralities, when women were about to marry, they were presumed to be sexually innocent, hence women were faced with a paradox.
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On the one hand, sexual pleasure was discussed as necessary to a spiritually fulfilling marriage while on the other hand, they were expected to be gullible and unknowing when married. Like Farida, we see from the stories that the way friends an age mates with whom she was much more comfortable talking about issues of sex. However, when it came to her aunties or older women, she was uncomfortable and felt embarrassed, partly because her aunties more often warned her about sex. Not being comfortable about discussing sex with certain people was a source of anxiety, for otherwise self-confident women. A way to deal with it was laughing, being silenced, or making a joke.
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Aside from the preparations that are often made for weddings, women crafted ways to become sexually knowledgeable by reading books, discussing with friends and families, watching movies, and talking to trusted experts, such as religious leaders, medical practitioners, and marriage counsellors. In my research, there are many different ways people become sexually knowledgeable. And openness in talking about sexuality is very much related to generation and familiarity. Religion and sexual well-being are explicitly connected.

In this lecture, Amisah Bakuri discusses her own research on how Somali-Dutch women become sexually knowledgeable.

We meet Farida, who like Dahlia in the two stories, underlines the importance of sexual pleasure in marriage as a religious value. How do women such as Dahlia and Farida acquire the knowledge and experience that make pleasurable experiences within marriage possible, in a context where unmarried people are not supposed to be sexually active? Do they talk about sexuality? When and with whom? What are their experiences? Amisah takes up these questions in this video.

Religion and sexual wellbeing are explicitly connected. How is this in the contexts you are familiar with? How do people become sexually knowledgeable, who do they share questions with and look to for guidance? Please share your ideas in the discussion section.

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Religion and Sexual Wellbeing: Pleasure, Piety, and Reproductive Rights

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