originally published on patheos.com.
by Nadiah Mohajir
Just recently, in casual conversation as well as in several private conversations, I have heard too many women (and in one case, a man) express frustration with trying to manage their intimate lives in addition to their spiritual and domestic responsibilities when the fasts are 17 hours or more.
When one is abstaining from food, drink and sex during the daylight hours, other responsibilities don’t suddenly cease to exist. Mothers and fathers are still parenting, often small children. Husbands and wives are still working long hours at their professional jobs. And no matter how simple (or elaborate) the iftar (breaking of the fast) meal, it still needs to be prepared.
As does, depending on family tradition, the suhoor, or pre-dawn meal. And so, I have heard many express frustration that there simply isn’t enough time from sunset to dawn to eat, perform your obligatory and recommended prayers, catch up on sleep, AND enjoy intimacy with your partner. So what’s a spouse to do?
It should be stated that sex after the breaking of the fast is permitted, all the way until Fajr, the early morning prayer. This is explicitly made clear in the Holy Quran:
“Permitted to you, on the nights of the fasts, is the approach to your wives. They are your garments, and ye are their garments, Allah knoweth what ye used to do secretly among yourselves.” — Quran 2:187
Furthermore, there are many narrations about the Prophet and his companions about being intimate after sunset, with one narration about a companion actually breaking his fast with intercourse, as opposed to with food and drink. There are also narrations encouraging husbands to seek special permission from their fasting wives to have sex after sunset, out of consideration for how tiring fasting can be.
All of this sounds great in theory, but when the fasts span the majority of the day, and the time between iftar and suhoor is mere hours, during which one might also want to stand in congregational prayer, read Quran, prepare the next morning’s meal, take care of any children or other family members needing care and let’s not forget, get some rest, what’s one to do when one spouse clearly wants to, but the other is too exhausted?
This becomes an interesting question, also, for spouses who feel guilty and ashamed of refusing their partner, because of strong cultural pressures they may feel to sexually please them. So while this is an interesting question, it remains unaddressed.
A quick search on Google shows that the majority of articles written on sex in Ramadan have to do with permissibility and expiation if one does have sex during the fast. Hardly any address the topic of when to fit sex in, and how to manage expectations during the fasting month. Still other articles focus solely on the sexual gratification of men. While I personally don’t also have many answers for this issue either, I would like to offer some tips to at least start this conversation.
1) Talk with your spouse about your expectations and theirs before the heat of the moment. Try to have this conversation even more Ramadan begins, so you both know what to expect. Don’t wait until one of you is ready to be intimate to have this talk.
2) Practice extra mercy. Ramadan is the month of extra blessings and extra mercy. Be considerate of all that your spouse is doing while fasting, and that he or she just may not have the energy once the fast is over. Yes, this may result in some additional frustration, but exercise patience and don’t take it personally if your spouse is not in the mood.
It’s not that they don’t love you or want you or don’t desire you, it’s just that they may be depleted – in every sense of the word. Be flexible and change your plans. For example, if you regularly pray in the mosque but don’t return until well after midnight, after your spouse is already in bed, offer to pray at home so that you do not stay out that late.
3) Try to divide domestic responsibilities so that it does not disproportionately fall on one spouse’s, often the wife’s, shoulders. One of the reasons that wives may feel exceptionally exhausted in Ramadan is that in addition to the lack of energy one experiences from abstaining from food and drink, they also may be responsible for preparing the pre-dawn meal, the iftar meal, any cleanup that is associated with that, as well as caring for children, if there are any. Consider eating leftovers or grabbing food from a nearby restaurant as a way to preserve energy as well.
This does not diminish the spouse’s contribution of spending long hours at work, as that is also difficult while fasting. Caring for others, while fasting, requires a special kind of energy.
4) Renew your intention. Sex in Islam between spouses is considered to be an act of worship, though often times, many don’t view it as that and instead approach it as if it is a chore — taking one away from other responsibilities. Instead of seeing sex with your spouse as taking you away from worship, why not see it as a different form of worship and gain the reward for it?
5) Eat well. A good diet, as well as making sure one is hydrated, especially when one is fasting, is essential to keep up with to maintain energy. Reflect on your suhoor and iftar diet, and ask yourself if you can add anything to your diet to boost your energy levels. We often make the mistake of approaching our health by compartmentalizing it — our physical health, our emotional health, our spiritual health, our sexual health – when in fact, they are all related. If one suffers, it undoubtedly has an impact on the others.
6) Redefine sex. Generally, conversations about sex are typically restricted to vaginal penetration. However, there are plenty of other ways that partners can engage to sexually satisfy each other and achieve a sense of intimacy. This can also relieve tension among couples that are working through sexual dysfunction. Considering alternative means of mutual gratification can be rewarding and foster love and closeness.
And so now, I open it up to you. Without revealing personal or specific details about your own intimate life, what are some things we can do to start this conversation and offer some support to couples dealing with this? Fasting inherently makes one irritable. Adding sexual frustration to the equation doesn’t make Ramadan any easier. Let’s start this much needed conversation!