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Over the past few years MMW has often covered issues of sexuality and women’s pleasure, particularly because the ways in which Muslim female sexuality and pleasure are framed not only in the media, but also among Muslims themselves, tend to be quite problematic. Muslim women’s sexuality has made it to the headlines on a number of occasions. Coverage of the topic is reductive, judgemental and, plain and simple, orientalist. Not to mention that Muslim sex is said to only be “valid” if it is hetero-sex. The erasure of LGTBIQ Muslims and the different kinds of pleasure that couples and plural sexual partners can experience is totally beyond people with “authority” who discuss these topics.
In addition, discussions around sexuality remain highly hymen-centric and patriarchal in nature… Halal sex shops, for example, focus on the “proper” ways of achieving pleasure, while making available a number of products seeking to “enhance” women’s bodies (including the firmness of their breasts and the color of their vaginas) as per the opinions of a bunch of male scholars who have neither breasts, nor vaginas and hymens. With all these attitudes surrounding topics of Muslim sexuality, pleasure, halal vs. haram and such, it is no surprise that Sex Ed in countries like Canada is so controversial among Muslims, and among liberal non-Muslims wondering what is the big deal for Muslims who do not want it.
But in between all this focus on Muslim women’s bodies, enhancements and stuff, there is a whole, very discrete market, targeting Muslim men. A few weeks ago a friend of mine found an interesting ad that read, “Be Good to your Wives…” The company’s business cards and postcard ads are being distributed throughout Toronto to advertise the domestically located company that provides “male enhancements.” Halalhard.com claims to deliver “effective results for increased sexual energy, higher stamina, and increased erection size and duration.” The site also offers a free PDF book, which can be ordered through their site, which centers male sexual experiences on narrations of Prophet Muhammad’s virility and sexual relations with his multiple wives. Further, the book offers a variety of legal opinions (mostly Sunni and Orthodox) in regards to sexual positions, oral sex and the “proper” ways to arouse a woman.
I will not lie, my friend and I giggled for a while, particularly because we wondered, what makes “male enhancement” halal or not? How is this different from your average blue pill better known as Viagra?
If one conducts a search regarding Viagra, one will notice that in most forums, both commenters and scholars agree that Viagra is considered to be halal (here, here and here); that is because Viagra is characterized as a “necessary medicinal product” rather than a “recreational drug.” Similarly, it is said to neither affect the consumer’s health nor alter his mental state. Those are props to the ultimate purpose: to satisfy one’s own sexual needs and please one’s wife (ugh heteronormativity).
The bulk of Viagra-like products that are labeled “halal” are said to be “natural,” including Halalhard; hence, using the issue of permissibility (which does not necessarily refer to “natural” ingredients) to target a market concerned with pork and alcohol by-products, generally speaking. In addition, these products also appeal to consumers who think that natural equals safer, even when that is not necessarily the case, and regulation of products labelled “natural” is pretty sketchy in both Canada and the US.
Whereas a discussion on why someone might use or not use Viagra is beyond the scope of this post, I think the framing of Viagra and similar drugs as “necessary” speaks to cissexual and heteronormative male privilege. On the one hand, yes, there is an acknowledgement that Viagra helps satisfy one’s wife. On the other, however, the focus remains on male satisfaction through penetrative sex, making a case for women’s satisfaction to be achieved through the same means, even when that may not be the case.
Further, if as a woman I wanted to make a case for my own satisfaction in penetrative terms, for instance, I would be largely told that toys that entail vaginal penetration are “haram,” even in the context of marriage. It seems that nothing can ever substitute a man’s penis (even the now “halal dildos”). I would also likely be told that masturbation and the use of toys, even with a husband, is “haram” or, at the very least, not encouraged. But not only that, those scholars who agree with accommodating sex toys within sex would likely tell me that non-penetrative sex toys are permissible only in the context of “enhancing” a couple’s pleasure… If it does not help my husband reach orgasm, what is the point, right?
Interestingly, halal male enhancements are one of those areas where Muslim and Western patriarchies interact in relation to men, a phenomenon that is not always visible. Halal enhancements play with Muslim men’s psyche when it comes to permissibility. These are products that are said to be “preferred” over Viagra just by virtue of being “halal,” while helping men express their manhood through penis enhancement and penetrative sex. Also, they are sold as products that help a man fulfill women’s marital rights, therefore, the “Be good to your wives…” At the same time, in the narrative, a woman’s marital and sexual rights are constrained to her husband’s penis and his willingness to acquire said halal product.
HalalHard also plays with the polygamy discourse in their narrative. Upon reading their motto, I was not sure if the “wives” referred to a man’s multiple wives or to the wives of several men (a.k.a. their audience). Elsewhere, the site often talks about “wife,” assuming monogamy, but presents images (including on Twitter) of men in bed accompanied by two women. The ambiguity is important because it sends a subtle message towards the acceptance of plural relationships as “halal” only in the context of polygyny.
What is more, these products create a universal manhood in their discourse. “All men” (mostly heterosexual), regardless of religion or background, suffer from erectile dysfunction and such, just as “all men” have found some instances in which they cannot please their partners. The solution is in a bottle, which is available to anyone with a few dollars, a laptop, mailing service and an address. In the narrative, women demand satisfaction and these companies make it possible. But again, the discourse also provides a universal answer to women’s needs… they need a penis that can function “properly” during penetrative sex. Never mind women who may find other activities more pleasurable, who do not care for penetrative sex, or who find that penetrative sex is better with a dildo or other objects. At the end, in this narrative, it is the men’s call how to properly pleasure you, and your “right” is restricted to them knowing how to do that better. Apparently, these companies have not gotten the memo about how unappealing these assumptions are…