A Way Beyond the Rainbow

#37 - On Marriage and Celibacy (Part II)

November 13, 2020 Waheed Jensen Season 3 Episode 11
A Way Beyond the Rainbow
#37 - On Marriage and Celibacy (Part II)
Chapters
0:38
Episode Introduction
1:27
“Is it honest of me to get married without telling my spouse about my SSA?”
12:23
How to Disclose One's SSA to One's Potential Spouse Before Marriage
22:53
Challenges in Mixed-Orientation Marriages
26:20
“If I had a same-sex sexual encounter before marriage and repented, should I disclose this to my potential spouse?” and "What if this happened during marriage?"
36:11
Marriage Where Both Partners Experience SSA
42:45
"What if I want to have kids?"
44:50
On Celibacy as a Legitimate Choice
46:26
“I crave sexual and emotional intimacy; how do I get that?”
53:13
"How to deal with people pressuring you to get married, or random people asking you why you’re still not married?"
58:45
"Is it fair if I can’t get married?”
1:02:23
Loneliness vs. Being Alone
1:05:19
Ending Remarks
A Way Beyond the Rainbow
#37 - On Marriage and Celibacy (Part II)
Nov 13, 2020 Season 3 Episode 11
Waheed Jensen

This is part II of a 2-episode series on marriage and celibacy, answering frequently-asked questions on the topics, with a focus on SSA-related matters.

In this episode, we focus on SSA-related questions within the context of marriage, and we address the topic of celibacy as a legitimate life choice. Is it honest of me to get married without telling my spouse about my SSA? What are some recommendations if I would like to disclose my SSA to him/her? If I had a same-sex sexual encounter before marriage and repented, should I disclose this to my potential spouse? What about a marriage where both partners experience SSA?

If I choose a path of celibacy, how do I fulfill my emotional needs? How do I deal with people giving me a hard time about being single? What if I get old and there is no one to take care of me? These and other questions are explored in this episode.

Links to resources mentioned in the episode:
- On Solitude
-
On Desire: Why We Want What We Want 

Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

This is part II of a 2-episode series on marriage and celibacy, answering frequently-asked questions on the topics, with a focus on SSA-related matters.

In this episode, we focus on SSA-related questions within the context of marriage, and we address the topic of celibacy as a legitimate life choice. Is it honest of me to get married without telling my spouse about my SSA? What are some recommendations if I would like to disclose my SSA to him/her? If I had a same-sex sexual encounter before marriage and repented, should I disclose this to my potential spouse? What about a marriage where both partners experience SSA?

If I choose a path of celibacy, how do I fulfill my emotional needs? How do I deal with people giving me a hard time about being single? What if I get old and there is no one to take care of me? These and other questions are explored in this episode.

Links to resources mentioned in the episode:
- On Solitude
-
On Desire: Why We Want What We Want 

Waheed 00:38
Assalamu alaikom wa rahmatullahi ta’ala wa barakatuh, and welcome to a new episode of "A Way Beyond the Rainbow", this podcast series dedicated to Muslims experiencing same-sex attractions who want to live a life true to Allah subhanahu wa ta'ala and Islam. I'm your host, Waheed Jensen. Thank you so much for joining me in this episode, which is part II of our discussion on marriage and celibacy and answering frequently-asked questions on the topic, with a special focus on our journey with same-sex attractions and how it relates to all of this. Today’s episode is more focused on SSA-related matters within the context of marriage, and we will also tackle the topic of celibacy later in this episode, inshaAllah.

01:27
Let’s start this episode by asking a very common question among men and women experiencing same-sex attractions who think about marriage, “Is it honest of me to get married without telling my spouse about my SSA?” Now, as a general caveat here: Some people argue that hiding one’s SSA is a separate issue from hiding one’s lack of opposite-sex attractions, or OSA. SSA is much less relevant to one’s partner, particularly when one chooses to not act upon it, compared to OSA, which directly impacts one’s object of affection -- so what we’re asking here is if it’s honest and ethical to not tell one’s spouse about lack of OSA towards him/her (or in general) and/or the presence of SSA. There is no clear cut answer to this. It’s not a black-or-white matter. There are arguments for and arguments against. As we’ve always been saying, it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. You see what works for you, given your own and your potential spouse’s situation, circumstances, readiness and commitment, among other matters. Let’s look at some of the “for” and “against” arguments.

Those who argue, “Yes, it is my choice, and I’m not being dishonest by not disclosing”, let’s see some of the arguments that back up this position. Some people might say, “The intention is to fulfill my spouse’s rights and I have an honest expectation of doing that, I will do that to the best of my abilities, inshaAllah." Someone else might say, “I am living a virtuous life and not a double life” – now, if someone’s going to fall easily into same-sex encounters, then the recommendation is against getting married, as we’ve established in the previous episode. Another point is, someone might say, “I have done whatever work I need to do to get to a place of stability, and I have SSA under wraps, so to speak, and it’s unlikely to take over my life. I am emotionally stable” – it follows from this that if one is an emotional wreck, the recommendation is not to get married in this case, by the same token. In addition, another person might say, “I have the sense that I can be intimate/sexual to an adequate degree with my potential spouse and that my low OSA or the presence of SSA in my case would not be a hindrance to that.” One brother said, “I just think it's important that listeners also understand that there are some of us with little OSA who are still able to make their wives very happy without disclosing their SSA. Romantic attachments may change erotic interests.” What he means by “romantic attachments may change erotic interests” is that, after a while of cultivating a close relationship with one’s spouse, such romantic closeness, affection and bonding may begin to open up things in the sexual aspect of one’s relationship. And that is true for many people.

Now, remember, in the previous episode when we spoke about the notions of “mawadda” (affection, loving kindness) and “rahma” (mercy, compassion)? Looking at those arguments that I’ve just mentioned from that lens, from a Shari’ point of view, and not from a Western perspective that places an emphasis on head-over-heels ‘ishq, then that would seem to be perfectly valid, right? Marriage is about “mawadda” and “rahma”, fulfilling duties and supporting each other in that union. There’s no compulsion in revealing one’s SSA or low OSA, one could argue, as long as one is able to fulfill the required obligations and expectations set by husband and wife, and more importantly, the foundations set by Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala. Now, what about the notion that “I’m lying to my spouse”? That’s a valid counter-argument if you didn’t do the work before marriage (i.e. getting support in whatever areas you need and getting to a better place emotionally, spiritually, mentally and so on), and if you’re still unstable, coming with a lot of baggage, engaging in or are in danger of engaging in same-sex encounters, etc. 

Also, those who argue against revealing, taking into account everything that’s been said so far, is that, in many cases, revealing to the potential spouse might backfire, the spouse might not understand, etc. The topic might haunt one’s wife, for example, she might be thinking, “What if he’s sleeping around, etc.” and a wife might leave her husband eventually. Of course, this is on a case-by-case basis. One might say, “So why should I reveal something that would sabotage my chances of getting married, while at the same time that matter is under control in my life? Getting married is difficult for people with SSA anyway, and for those who plan to get married, you’re narrowing the circle even further.” Those are legitimate arguments, right?

So these are some of the arguments against disclosure, provided that one is stable, committed and keeping Allah front and center in one’s marriage. What about the other side, you know, men and women who say, “No, it is not honest or fair to hide this from one’s potential spouse”? Let’s consider some of the arguments on that side. One brother said, “If someone is towards the middle of the spectrum in terms of his attraction to men vs. women, then yeah, their SSA is likely inconsequential to the relationship. But if this is not the case (i.e. if there is a deficiency in romantic or sexual attraction to their partner), then I personally feel it is one's ethical duty to disclose before marrying someone.” A sister said, “I believe people have a right to know about their spouse's SSA if it is going to affect the marriage. I look at it similarly to the "baggage" that one brings to a relationship. Just like we should disclose the "baggage" we are bringing to a marriage, because it will affect the other person. That means we should disclose our SSA if it will affect the marriage. In the case that it won't, then it's not something the spouse needs to know. If it will have an impact, but the impact will be manageable by the SSA partner without disclosing, then that is OK too. Personally, I would want to know. I think many women would want to know, especially if it was going to impact the marriage.”

Another point worth mentioning is, one of the expectations of marriage for most people is that their spouse is sexually attracted to them, right? Most people would be “crushed” if they found out this isn't true, after they've committed to spending the rest of their life with someone. They'd feel used and manipulated. Furthermore, remember at the beginning of the last episode when we examined the notions of when a marriage would be haram, for example. One of the conditions where a marriage is haram is when a man or woman cannot fulfill the rights of his/her potential spouse, unless he/she informs the potential spouse of this and the spouse agrees. So, it follows that the need for disclosure, in this particular case, would be required. We've established that having a successful marriage while having low/no OSA is possible for some people, but it is hard to deny that pursuing marriage in such cases still involves considerable risk and a significantly increased chance that one may not be able to provide emotional, romantic, and/or sexual fulfillment to one’s partner, compared to instances where OSA is present and complete. One should consider the ethics of hiding abnormal levels of risk from someone when it involves life-defining decisions. As someone else has put it, “If we were selling someone a car with an abnormal part that may or may not impact the functionality of the air conditioning, would we insist that it is ethical not to disclose this abnormality to potential buyers, because there is a good chance the air conditioning might function normally?” So, this is one more thing to think about.

So, what does one take from all of these “for” and “against” arguments? The conclusion is, it comes down to where one stands on it, and if one is stable and secure with it. Deal with your SSA first, even if you do not completely overcome it, until it’s more or less just like one of the shahwas (desires) that other people face. And remember, it’s not your identity as the modern understanding of homosexuality goes, but it’s something you experience—part of what you deal with, not something you are.

A point that’s worth mentioning here: there are lots of people who preach “authenticity”, and “in order to heal, you have to reveal, if you’re not authentic, you’re not going to heal." Again, it’s subjective. It’s not a universal truth. Many people actually argue against this. Some of those preachers actually go as far as harassing people by calling them “inauthentic”, or shaming them for not being 100% transparent in everything with other people. I’m sorry, but that’s not OK. The right concept is not “You have to reveal in order to heal”, but rather “You have to feel in order to heal.” This is different from revealing your private issues to others. And we’ve touched upon this notion in earlier episodes as well. So, for example, someone in a high position in his community might end up jeopardizing a lot should he “reveal” certain aspects of his sexuality or his attractions to other people. Not everyone can do that, and they don’t have to, anyway. So, you be the judge of things in your own life, and see what works for you.

12:23
Now, let’s say that you would like to disclose your SSA to your potential spouse, or at least to test the waters before doing so. What are some recommendations in this domain? As one brother puts it, “To honor the sanctity of marriage is to be 100% yourself, including the uncomfortable bits. The right person will be comfortable with this and would appreciate the raw honesty and vulnerability from the offset.” Keep in mind a notion we’ve covered in the previous episode: when you’re going to be vulnerable with someone and open up to them about something that is deep or sensitive to you, keep in mind that you’re being vulnerable with someone who has earned the right and privilege to hear your story and your deepest issues. You’re not doing this with someone you’ve just met a little while ago and dumping all this on them, with the risk of them shutting down or running away and spilling things to others. If you want to be vulnerable with that person, you’re doing this after a long period of getting to know each other, when there’s been enough mutual sharing, from you and from the other person, to the point that you feel that that person is trustworthy, safe and reliable enough, and has earned the privilege of your complete vulnerability.

It follows from this that, if you choose to open up to your potential spouse about your SSA, this should come after a long period of communication, building foundations, establishing trust and getting to know each other on a deep level. It’s not like you met, and then, a week or two later, “Honey, I have to tell you something!” No. And, of course, here we’re referring to the period before marriage, the engagement period where you get to know each other over an extended period. As one brother puts it, “Only tell if you have a reasonable level of confidence it’ll go well, and again, preferably before marriage.” What about disclosing after marriage? It depends on the nature of disclosure, the spouse's literacy in these issues, and how healthy and secure the relationship is. Many people in mixed-orientation marriages disclosed years into their marriage (by mixed-orientation marriage, I mean where one of the spouses experiences SSA). Be aware that it can backfire as it has done with some people – the spouse felt betrayed and perceived it as dishonesty, and this matter came up with almost every argument in the marriage, and trust deteriorated in those relationships. With others, it went well with different degrees of difficulty at the beginning. 

A brother once told me, “One objection that tends to come from women is as follows: whether or not any given man loses sexual interest in his wife, this can be excused as being natural, albeit unfortunate. There may have been a time when the given husband would have desired his wife in the "honeymoon" stage and made her "feel desired, like a woman". This feeling can be triggered by both, a “straight” male or a male with SSA, with relative success. I find that something disastrously magical happens when the wife, now experiencing some estrangement on account of her husband's waning interest, learns about her husband's SSA. Women, anecdotally, have reported that, in light of this knowledge, they could never fully be made to feel desired, because their husbands' object of desire is not a woman, even though they might have succeeded to fulfill this need in the past. This is a challenging objection. One can rationalize it (“what looks like a duck and walks like a duck is probably a duck”), but knowledge of SSA can be the point of no return. She would have to be very emotionally mature or perhaps also experience some level of SSA under control herself, which could open up the couple to a more pragmatic approach. The chances of that, I suspect, I am afraid, are regrettably low.”

Again, this depends on your specific relationship, and you must carefully evaluate the matter. That’s why many brothers and sisters recommend that if you’re leaning towards disclosing, do it before marriage but after a long period of engagement, after having established trust and mutual vulnerability, and only do it if you’re reasonably confident that the other person will take it relatively well. You’d have gauged the other person’s response to issues within the LGBT spectrum after a while and seen where he/she stands on many relevant matters, for example. It goes without saying, we make lots of du’aas, we pray istikharah, and if possible, we consult other brothers and sisters who know about us and who are part of our support group to help us navigate this territory, particularly married folks, for example.

Recall the three-step model to disclosing one’s SSA to a friend, something we touched upon in previous episodes, like episode 27. I’ll just summarize it here real quick, and you can see that those topics are worth discussing well into your relationship with your potential spouse (again, preferably before marriage). The first step is talking about your background, “This is what I went through growing up, my family was like this, this was my relationship with my father, with my mother, with my siblings, these were my childhood experiences, these were my experiences with my peers. This was what it was like growing up at school, at uni, etc.” and there has to be mutual sharing, as you would expect. The second step is, in a different conversation, “Well, a while ago, I told you about such and such, I went through this and that, and all of these experiences culminated in a lot of hurt. I had those issues, and it made me feel left out of the ‘club’ of men (or “women” in the case of a woman). I didn't feel like I fit in. I couldn't feel like I was a man among men (or a “woman” among women). I felt there was a wall, there was ‘them’, and there was ‘me’, it was really hard to be close to others. So as a result, I preferred to hang out with members of the opposite gender,” for example. “But I’ve been reading more about this and sharing my experiences with others who felt the same way, and I’ve been changing my ways.” And, again, mutual sharing comes here. And then the third step, in a separate conversation, goes something like, “Well, you know, I told you about my background, I felt left out, I found myself searching for meaningful connections, and I found myself eventually experiencing same-sex attractions. I didn’t choose them. I just discovered that I experience them. I know Islam holds us accountable for our behaviors and not our desires, so there’s nothing wrong with that. I'm on a path towards Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala. Same-sex behaviors or encounters do not represent who I am, and they are not in line with my value system. They're not in line with my Deen. I don’t identify as “gay” or “lesbian” or whatever. This is not my identity. I am a man or woman, I am Muslim, and Allah comes first and foremost in my life. I shared this with you because I trust you, and I believe our bond is something that can help both of us on our path to Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala.” Or something similar.

Of course, take your time, and give the other person time and space to process things. Mention that you love and care about the other person, that your revealing these aspects of yourself isn’t meant to jeopardize things or to cause a rift, on the contrary. It’s meant to bring you closer, because you’ve disclosed something intimate about yourself to the other person, something that only a few people, if any (depending on your situation), know about. And of course, you mention how you’re committed to living a righteous life in line with Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala and His Deen. For example, you’ve been taking therapy or counseling sessions, you’ve been dealing with mental health issues you’ve experienced, you’ve been part of support groups to overcome low self-esteem, anxiety, or particular habits, you’ve been reading books and learning about SSA and how to deal with it from a God-conscious perspective. And you’re fully committed to that. You’re keeping Allah front and center. And that’s what ultimately matters. We hope that this approach, inshaAllah, puts things within an appropriate context and eases things for you and your potential spouse to communicate further with regards to the matter. Give him/her time and space, again, to process things, and encourage him/her to communicate and to be transparent with you. Surrender the outcome to Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala and try your best to let Him steer things, as He always does. And, inshaAllah, things will work out for the best.

Now, what if you told your potential spouse, and things backfired, or you told them while married and things didn’t go well, or they happened to find out somehow, and then things took a turn, now they’re asking to split up, etc.? What to do then? Of course, it’s not easy. One can only imagine how difficult that must be. A couple of recommendations are: Do your best and restore the trust if you can. Try to make it work. Try to restore the trust personally. Explain your perspective on the matter using the same logic in the three-step process before. Talk about SSA as an issue of desire and not actions or behaviors, talk about where they stem from, where you stand on these matters, how you’re living your life God-consciously, etc. Try marriage counseling, if that’s an option. Typically, again, as we said in the previous episode, people go to marriage counseling when it's too late. So, the earlier, the better. Marriage counseling could even be used as a way to disclose one’s SSA if you find that suitable. And again, you do your best in your given situation and leave it up to Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala to take care of the rest, and may Allah rectify the situation in the best ways possible, inshaAllah.

22:53
Now, let’s talk about some of the challenges that are common to relationships or marriages involving individuals with low OSA and/or SSA. And this is coming from married brothers who themselves experience SSA and have shared these insights. One brother said, “Internal grief and pain stemming from the ongoing suppression of the desire to pair-bond with someone of the same gender can lead to severe depression for people with primarily SSA. This would be present with or without marriage, but in the context of a marriage where someone is not open about his SSA with his spouse, the internal grief can become magnified, since this is a struggle that the person faces alone.” Another challenge that is cited, even in cases where a couple has a functional sex life, is that a lack of satisfaction can be challenging for both people in the relationship. This commonly manifests as disinterest that’s coming from the person with SSA, a noted "missing element" in the couple's intimacy or sex life, or insecurities stemming from lack of passion, for example. One brother describes another challenging aspect as follows: “For those who choose not to disclose their SSA, some people might struggle with guilt or frustration that they cannot fully be open with their spouse about their complete lived experience. This can sometimes be a barrier to emotional intimacy, and can also lead to feelings of loneliness within the marriage.” Of course, this is not universal, but just one more point to take into account. 

The "straight" spouse can sometimes become insecure, whether about their relationship, or about their own appearance or their partner’s attraction to them. A perceived lack of attraction or passion in the marriage can lead to damaged self-esteem or feelings of inadequacy. The effects of this are often present whether or not the spouse is aware of their partner's SSA. This is something to take into account as well. Moreover, finding ways to authentically express romantic, emotional, and sexual intimacy that are fulfilling for both partners can be challenging. That’s why working on the emotional and touch aspects, rekindling the passion every now and then, investing in the intimacy and emotional as well as sexual aspects of the relationship are necessary. We will touch on this more in the upcoming episodes on sex and intimacy, inshaAllah. 

Compulsive pornography use or infidelity can be an issue for people who have addictions or unresolved issues. I’ve personally seen this with many brothers who are married (and of course this isn’t an exclusive SSA issue, many “straight” guys deal with these issues, right?). That’s why, again, getting necessary help, counseling, and support and doing the necessary work to overcome many of these challenges are vital before marriage, and this should be maintained during marriage as well.

26:21
Another common question is, “If I had a same-sex sexual encounter before marriage and repented, should I disclose this to my potential spouse?” And here, we're talking about an encounter before marriage. The straight answer is: No. With proper tawbah (repentance), God forgives, and we’re not obliged to disclose sins. It’s a sin just like any other sin, so it’s treated the same way. And again, we’re talking about same-sex encounters here, not attractions.

Stories from the time of Umar Ibn al-Khattab, may Allah be pleased with him, have shown that the right to hide one’s sins (secrecy/protection) is more important than the right of the spouse to know before marriage. Imam Malik, in his book al-Muwatta’, narrates an event that happened at that time: a man wanted to engage his sister to another man, and he mentioned to him that she had committed zina (fornication) before, and when that story reached Umar (may Allah be pleased with him), it was reported that Umar had the man beaten (the man who had told about his sister) or he almost hit him, and then he told him: what is your business disclosing such news? Imam Ibn Abd al-Barr in his book الاستذكار الجامع لمذاهب فقهاء الأمصار, in the chapter on marriage, narrates a similar story of someone who came to Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) and said: “I have a daughter, born in the pre-Islamic era, and she converted to Islam, and she committed zina (fornication), and out of remorse she tried to commit suicide through cutting some arteries in her neck, but she recovered, repented and went back to a righteous life (reading Qur’an, etc.). Now, she is being sought for marriage. Should I tell her potential spouse of what she had done (in reference to her fornicating)?” Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) replied, “Would you unveil something that Allah has concealed and protected? If I ever hear that you have revealed any of her past, I will do so and so. She has a right to be married as a virtuous (and chaste) Muslim wife. Give her that right.” The case in which Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) took this strong position that entailed punishment or the threat thereof in the face of someone who exposes a concealed secret of someone who has committed zina, but who then repents, in the case that person wants to get married, this is an issue that confuses many people’s minds. The rights overlap apparently: There is a right to concealment for the one who repents, and there is the right of the fiancé or potential spouse not to be deceived into a marriage where lifelong virtue is an underlying assumption. Here, Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) makes concealing the sin, provided there is actual repentance and righteousness, a right that does not oppose the right of others, but rather extinguishes any imagined right of the fiancé or potential spouse to be informed of someone’s state before one’s repentance.

That being said, it’s also important to mention something of immense importance: whether you have engaged in pre-marital same- or opposite-sex encounters, whatever the nature of that encounter was, please get tested for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) before marriage, and get treated for any infections, once detected. Obviously, a discussion about STIs is beyond the scope of this episode and is left between the person and his/her physician, but I’m going to mention a few quick points for us to keep in mind, given we’re on this topic. All STIs can be asymptomatic, multiple infections can frequently coexist, and an inflammation caused by one STI increases the risk of acquiring others. An STI screen should include, at a minimum, testing for chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis and HIV, and for men who have sex with men (MSM), hepatitis B should be included. The tests include blood samples for antibody testing (for viral infections, like HIV and hepatitis), as well as swab samples for bacterial cultures and antibody sensitivities (in case of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis). Another sexually-transmitted virus that’s worth mentioning is human papillomavirus, or HPV, and it is very relevant here. It is responsible for anal and genital warts, it is acquired by skin-to-skin contact and is the most common STI, with many different types. Anal and genital warts can incubate for month to years, appearing first at sites of trauma. I’m going to get a bit technical here, but bear with me. For example, HPV 6 and 11 cause subclinical infections (i.e. asymptomatic, undetectable) in 20% of people, with anal/genital warts occurring in around 1% of those with subclinical infections. HPV 16 and 18 are the main oncogenic (i.e. cancer-causing) types and lead to subclinical infections, NOT genital warts. These cause the majority of cervical cancers and anogenital cancers. Diagnosis of anogenital warts is clinical (i.e. through physical examination), and HPV testing is not appropriate for them. Around 65% of men who are immunocompetent (i.e. not immunocompromised due to particular illnesses or medications) have HPV, and HPV is usually transient in this group. HPV can resolve spontaneously: 70% of new high-risk infections are cleared by the body within the first year, and 90% of new infections clear within 2 years. Finally, HPV vaccines are of two types (bivalent: covers HPV 16 and 18, i.e. the oncogenic viruses, and the quadrivalent: covers HPV 16 and 18 and 6 and 11, the wart-causing ones).

So what are the take-home messages from this? Even if you had protected same-sex encounters or feel like you have no signs or symptoms, get tested with a proper STI panel nonetheless. Repeat testing months later to make sure. This is a major responsibility on your part. Also, since many HPV infections are occult (hidden) and subclinical, it is necessary to abstain at least for 2 years from any sexual encounters before going into marriage; there’s no way to test for latent HPV, and the majority clears within 2 years from the body. So that’s the minimum amount of time. Otherwise, you’re putting your innocent potential spouse at risk. Another recommendation is, get the HPV vaccine if you can. You may not have had pre-marital sexual encounters yourself, or may have, but you never know if your partner had a prior sexual experience and is harboring latent infections. Better be safe than sorry. Again, consult your physician and get a full consult. The podcast is not intended to give out medical advice or replace a proper medical check-up. But we just wanted to put this out there for educational purposes and for you to take precautions, inshaAllah. Again, people’s lives are involved here, and this is a major responsibility to take very seriously.

And of course, it goes without saying that one has to perform proper tawbah, return to Allah suhanahu wa ta’ala, make amends, rectify one’s situation, set up safety networks such that one doesn’t fall back into old habits when tempted, and make sure to leave that life for the sake of Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala. We covered relevant topics on temptation and desires, curbing one’s desires, tawbah and making amends as well as relevant themes back in season 2, as you probably remember.

A follow-up question to the previous question on disclosing sexual encounters is, “What if someone is married and had a same-sex sexual encounter (again, while being married). Should he/she disclose this to his/her spouse?” Of course, this is not an easy question to answer. Many variables come into play here, because a family has already been set up (with or without kids). I am in no place to answer this question, so please consult a mufti or religious scholar on this matter. But a few points just mentioned earlier apply here as well: tawbah and making amends with Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala are crucial, and STD testing and treatment if required are also important. We need to stress the fact that this is not a simple matter. One has to take this very seriously. And may Allah pave the best and righteous path for anyone dealing with this. Amen. 

36:11
A common idea that some men and women who experience SSA have is that of a marriage between a man and a woman, where both of them experience SSA. This is sometimes brought up as a solution, and I’ve seen it being posited by non-SSA folks as a “solution” to the “marriage dilemma” for SSA folks. And certainly, it’s quite the subject of discussion – some contemplate going into such a marriage because they're pressured to get married by their families, or because they want companionship (with or without potential kids), or any other reason. Now, of course, in this situation, the man and the woman know about each other’s SSA, so there’s nothing to hide, the expectations are laid out from the get go, and since both agree to this arrangement, the Shar’i ruling of being haram since one can’t satisfy the spouse physically is dropped given that the spouse already knows and has agreed to such an arrangement. However, there are some things to keep in mind that are worth mentioning.

Number 1: I can't stress this enough -- some people think that marriage is a quick fix to one’s problems and that things will be alright after that. As we’ve discussed in those two episodes, marriage comes with its own set of challenges. There are so many things to work on together, even if the couple agrees that sex is not an issue. There is companionship and responsibility. It is a marriage at the end of the day. Remember, "Mawadda wa rahma". The concept of “qiwama” that we spoke about in the previous episode still applies. Whether both spouses have SSA or OSA, those are “givens” anyway. You're also not just marrying your spouse, you're marrying his/her family and friends as well. So that’s a whole package deal. But, at the same time, there are lots of values to this kind of marriage – both individuals are committed to common goals, you can be completely transparent from the get go without shame or fear, you’re married to someone who actually “gets it”, right? There’s lots of common ground, and there’s lots to build on. One brother said, in relation to this, “When at least one person experiences holistic attraction toward their spouse, that can have a positive effect in bringing their partner closer to them. Adoration tends to lead to closeness. Even sexually, if one person is into it, that makes it easier for the other to return the effort. In cases where there is no drive for the romantic and sexual components of a lifelong partnership in both people, what is the "glue" that holds the marriage together? Doesn't this make commitment an even harder task?” In this case, an emotional or romantic relationship with the spouse can develop. And who knows? Even a sexual relationship might develop with time. But if there are no emotions and no desires, it becomes like a cold arrangement based on shared goals, maybe? Just some things to think about.

Number 2: As we’ve been discussing throughout the podcast, it’s very common for men and women with SSA to have emotional baggage, co-dependency issues, mental health problems, low self-esteem, and so on – obviously, there’s a spectrum to this, but one can’t deny it. So, going into an arena without being prepared is a big no no. Going into marriage with all this baggage is going to hit you at some point, just like we’ve talked about in the previous episode. So, the same advice applies here: seek therapy, support, counseling and whatever means to help you overcome your issues or reach a point where they are manageable for you before you venture into a marriage, and this applies to people with and without SSA, as we’ve said before. Whether it’s addictions, traumas, emotional wounds, mental health issues, and so on. This is necessary to think about.

Number 3: A question that pops up is, “How do we seek such a marriage in the first place and save face at the same time (i.e. for people who don't want to "out" themselves)?” Let me give you an example. A sister with SSA I know was looking for a marriage like the one I'm describing here, and she came across a Facebook post by a virtuous Muslim man in her area who was posting in a private group that he has SSA, he's celibate and is looking for a Muslim female with SSA for marriage. He had excellent qualifications and everything the woman was looking for. "But darn it," she said, "If I talk to him and we end up together, everyone will know I have SSA. And then, what if he's lying and just wants to know about closeted females with SSA?” The latter could be farfetched, obviously, but we can't guarantee these things don't or won't happen, right? What is a way to allow for such a thing to happen without compromising people's privacy? One way is through support groups, for example. Another is through making a proper service for this particular matter – there is one in the making actually as a spin-off to Straight Struggle, a Discord server that is being set up. Righteous men and women experiencing SSA would like to entertain this idea, so this would be a chance for them to meet one another and take it from there.

The conclusion to this particular topic is, there is nothing wrong with such marriages, there is lots of value to them, obviously. My advice is, both the man and the woman have to go into the marriage with a level of emotional maturity and having worked through their own problems, and then to be honest and sincere with the other person about what is expected of the marriage, etc., just like with all marriages. For individuals who desire companionship and/or children but who can't have this sort of marriage with a spouse with SSA, the idea of marrying someone older, or a widow/widower or a divorced person with/without kids would be worth keeping in mind, as we’ve mentioned in the previous episode.

42:45
And the last question in the topic of marriage before we move on to the topic of celibacy is, “What if I want to have kids?” Well, that depends. If one is married, obviously, then one’s part is done through the natural pathway or artificially, through in vitro fertilization, for example, if there are particular medical conditions and there is a need for it. It goes without saying that sperm donors, egg donors, surrogacy and other matters are out of the question, Islamically speaking. Now, what about if the person is not married and desires to have kids, as this is actually a common question, from both men and women? There is always the option to wait until you get married and have your own kids, if that’s a possibility, or, as we’ve discussed before, marrying someone who already has kids but is divorced, widowed or older, for example. If a couple is childless and can’t conceive, which can happen with anyone obviously, there is always the option of adoption or sponsoring an orphan, for example – and I know there are technicalities for adoption under Islamic law, which are beyond the scope of the episode, so I’ll leave it for those interested to read more about that. This can also be an option for someone who doesn’t want to get married or can’t, but desires a child. Again, the details and regulations, particularly from a Shar’i perspective, need to be examined. Plus, raising a child by only one parent when the child could have a mother and a father, which is more balanced, is something to think about as well. It is situational at the end of the day, many factors should be taken into account, but I think we can all agree that the primary factor is the best interest of the child, right? I do believe that “adopting” a child who needs a home and love is a noble act, provided the Islamic rulings are abided by, obviously. I just wanted to address this quickly as it comes up every now and then on support forums. 

44:50
And now you have all these considerations related to marriage that we’ve covered so far in this episode and the previous one. If one considers this and decides that marriage is not for him/her and opts for celibacy, then celibacy is a completely legitimate choice. I have personally chosen this path, alhamdulillah, and I am content with it. Of course, keep your options open, and don’t box yourself from the get go and shun marriage as a possibility altogether, should the proper opportunities arise, and should you want to pursue marriage in the first place or eventually as you go through life. And of course, as we know, in Islam, it’s either marriage or celibacy, so it’s the latter until the former comes, if it does.

Let’s talk a bit about the validity of celibacy as a righteous choice. It is a choice. It is righteous. There’s nothing wrong with it. Being single and leading a righteous life for the sake of Allah, to the best of one’s ability, is nothing to be ashamed of. It is a valid choice. There’s nothing wrong with it Islamically. People need to respect this. There is nothing un-Islamic about remaining celibate and chaste, provided one observes divinely set limits through Islam, which apply to everyone anyway, like lowering the gaze and avoiding sins of the eye and private parts, for example. And again, we’ve touched upon the notion of celibacy of priesthood at the beginning of the earlier episode, we don’t have that in Islam, obviously. 

A common question for men and women who remain celibate and chaste is, “What about intimacy? I crave sexual and emotional intimacy; how do I get that?” This is particularly difficult for young men and women, up to perhaps their 50s-60s when the sex drive begins to wane. So what are our outlets, in this regard? Many monastic traditions who accept novice monks in Buddhism and Christianity have developed spiritual practices that help younger individuals deal with their sexual desires. William Braxton Irvine wrote a very accessible and practical work called On Desire: Why We Want What We Want. He included some very effective advice from Buddhist monks and the kind of "deconstruction" one can expect to find in Stoicism, as Irvine himself is an expert in Stoic philosophy. Obviously, Irvine does much more in this book than talk about monastic practices, but this particular section is quite interesting. Just a quick overview of the book: Irvine divides his book into three parts - the secret life of desire, the science of desire, and dealing with desire. The first part states the power of desire as well as its ebbs and flows. In the second part, he draws on neuroscience, biology and psychology, discussing the incentives that our physiology and psychology provide in terms of desire. In the third section, Irvine surveys some of what certain religious practices do to curb the power of desire, including philosophical schools as well as some eccentrics. This is quite a comprehensive approach, and it goes back to the notion of, the more you know about something, the easier and clearer it becomes to deal with it. Also, it’s not something that you need navigate alone, obviously. Humanity since time immemorial has been trying to deal with desire in its many aspects. All that being said, none of this matters if you don't have any solid moral and ethical foundations. Irvine presupposes, as any good Stoic would, that you have a fundamental moral system and worldview. Many of us have found his book to be a helpful read, and I will add a link to the book in the episode description for you to check out, inshaAllah.

Another outlet is potentially masturbation. I’m not going to get into the details of this now, as this topic will be discussed in detail in season 4, inshaAllah, but for now: it is an outlet for unmarried individuals as the lesser of two evils, according to some schools of fiqh, as long as it doesn’t get out of hand and become addictive. And if I may add, and we’ll discuss this more in the next season: when it’s not associated with fantasy, when it’s done as a last resort, when one is “pressured and about to explode,” as a mechanical form of release, it’s less addictive and more manageable than when it’s associated with fantasies and is used frequently whenever one is triggered. Remember our talk on the “gray zone” and the HALTS acronym back in season 1 (hungry, angry, lonely, tired, and spiritual)? It’s worth learning one’s triggers and channeling one’s energy in other, healthier ways, if possible.

In addition, many unmarried men and women have found their emotional needs met through proper and healthy bonds with other members of the same sex, through close friendships and bonds within a support network, and many of us have felt satisfied with that in numerous ways. That’s one thing to think about, for example. Remember how Chris shared with us his story earlier in this season and mentioned that this is one of the ways he got his emotional and companionship needs met? It’s perfectly legitimate and necessary, if I may add, for individuals like us. 

Other than that, some individuals may opt for marriage with a spouse for the sake of companionship, sometimes without sex and/or children - generally, people get married for a combination of any of the following: companionship and/or sex and/or kids. Marriage need not be for sex or kids. Sometimes, it’s just for companionship, as long as both parties agree to this. One term that’s been commonly used is “marriage of convenience”, and many online forums apparently promote that. I’ve heard from some people that, unfortunately, the majority of those who go onto such forums to find a partner for such a marriage do it just as a cover up (i.e. they're not looking for a serious committed marriage, but rather a farce just so they can keep on sleeping around or pursuing same- or even opposite-sex relationships while married). So, I’m not referring to this kind of “marriage of convenience” here, obviously, this term has become loaded and misdirected. Sometimes, one can find someone of the opposite sex willing to enter a marriage just for the sake of companionship. Another idea might be, as mentioned earlier, to find a widow/widower or a divorced person who may or may not have kids, and that would be a good idea. It’s a Sunnah as well!

Regardless, as a single and celibate man or woman, Allah gives us openings in other areas of life that we can invest in. We can focus our energy on matters that are helpful to our communities and the Ummah at large, by focusing on our careers, doing community service, finding our purpose and serving Allah in all sorts of meaningful ways, outside of marriage and having kids. For some of us, celibacy is a way to feel more empowered. It can help move our attention away from relationships or sex and turn it inwards, allowing us to focus on personal development, healing, growth and improvement. It also frees up more time to focus on oneself, one’s career, community, friends and parents or extended family. There’s more free time to travel and be more flexible in your choices, your schedule, how you choose to spend your time, and there are fewer commitments, compared to married couples. I always tease my married friends with this and end up getting a side eye, as you can imagine.

53:13
A common question I get is, “How do you deal with people pressuring you to get married, or random people asking you why you’re still not married, etc.?” Boy, have I dealt with this a lot. I have a couple of tips for you if you’re going through this. My mindset towards this is, “Those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind”, and, it’s no one’s business at the end. Parents and family members might approach us out of concern and wanting “what’s best for us,” but at the end of the day, it’s your choice. Your life. No one gets to force you to do anything.

In the last episode, we covered how to deal with parental or familial pressures to get married. This could be an opportunity to disclose your SSA to them, if you feel that this would be appropriate to do. Again, it depends on your particular parents or family, and we’ve discussed strategies in the previous episode. You don’t have to “come out” to your parents if you feel you don’t have to, or if you feel it would backfire. You can have a decent and courteous conversation with your parents or family, where you address all factors and mention that you are not ready. Again, deflection strategies might be used: Maybe you’re focusing on your studies or career, you’re not ready emotionally, you’re focusing on therapy for your mental health and well-being, added pressure is going to affect you negatively. Whatever suits you ultimately. Once again, the notion of pressuring people to get married is completely un-Islamic. We need to get armed with Islamic knowledge to confront parents or family, appropriately, of course. You can present the fiqhi rulings we discussed in the previous episode. So, from an Islamic perspective, you’re not doing anything wrong, as were the numerous male and female scholars across the centuries who didn’t get married and who dedicated their lives for knowledge and bettering their communities. In case the pressure gets too much from loved ones, remember one recommendation is to consider moving out, particularly when the relationship with the parents has become toxic. This gives you time, space, and a sense of independence, and this is empowering for you. Of course, it doesn’t mean we cut ties with our parents or family. It goes without saying. So, this is kind of a summary of what we talked about in the previous episode as far as this is concerned.

The same arguments or suggestions apply with friends or colleagues. Other than focusing on my career/studies, not being ready, etc., I like the argument of, “I’m taking time to get in touch with my inner self and develop myself, I am not ready for relationships. I am focusing on me right now.” In this time and age, this is kinda “woke” and “hip”, and it works beautifully. If the religion card is brought up, you can argue that many pious men and women across history didn’t get married and instead focused on knowledge and building their communities, and that’s what you’re doing in your own way. If the companionship card is brought up, you can say that you’re really enjoying your own company and the company of many friends, colleagues and family you’re blessed with. “I mean, honey, Emma Watson isn’t better than me. She’s “self-partnered” and happy, and so am I.” And I actually say this to people.

Some people have told me that deflection strategies or avoiding the topic altogether has made people question their sexuality. Now, it’s important to mention that you’re not running away from the topic. Don’t run away through your words or behavior. You actually talk about these matters, but you draw boundaries. You’re not anxious or afraid, because if you are, it does bring up questions, ultimately, even though it’s no one’s business. But in case you find yourself having your sexuality questioned: if it’s behind your back, don’t even bother. People are making gheebah (backbiting) and you’re getting rewarded anyway. It’s on them. You’re not inferior. You’re actually on a higher road. So get this off your back. But if you’re confronted with this, then try and not run away from it or brush it off, but use the religion card, actually, if you feel comfortable with it. Something like, “I am religious, and so dating or having relationships before marriage is not something I entertain. Once I feel ready for the step of marriage, when the time comes, I’ll figure it out.” Another statement, depending on how comfortable you feel saying it, would run along the lines of, “What? I’m not gay! Just because I’m not seeing someone or interested in anyone at the moment, does this automatically make me gay?” And of course, you’re not lying, because we don’t identify with identity labels anyway, right? We’re men and women who experience same-sex attractions, we’re not “gay”. So there you have it.

If you find people being persistent with the topic of marriage, you can draw appropriate boundaries and be like, “Look, I respect and appreciate what you are trying to do or say, but I would also appreciate it if you chill and change the topic. I have already stated my reasons, and they’re good enough for me. This is becoming uncomfortable. I am happy for you and whatever choices you make, please respect my own choices. Jazakom Allah khairan.” Or something like that. Ultimately, it’s no one’s business. Internalize this idea, and people will get that. You are your own person. It’s your life. Your choices. Whoever doesn’t like it, it’s on them. Not you. You’re the only one being held accountable for yourself in front of Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala, and ultimately, everything else doesn’t matter.

58:45
Now, keeping all this in mind, let’s explore other frequently asked questions when it comes to celibacy. One question is, “What about if I crave emotional intimacy and can’t have that? Is it fair if I can’t get married?” The answer to this is multi-dimensional. As we’ve said before, keep your options open, you’re not boxing yourself in, and things might open up for you in time. In the meantime, focus on the here and the now. In your given situation right now, how can you invest in your life to develop yourself personally, in the physical, emotional, mental, spiritual and social domains? How can you channel your energy in meaningful ways and contribute to improving your community and helping others? How can you find emotional and spiritual support from friends, family and your support network? These are some questions to keep in mind as a response to that.

In addition, just like everything in life, whether it’s being married or staying single, this is indeed another trial from Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala, right? Marriage is a trial in and of itself, as it comes with many responsibilities and duties, and the same goes for remaining single and celibate. We are all tried in different ways according to our own individual capacities, as Allah says in Surat Al-Baqarah, “Allah does not charge a soul except [with that which is within] its capacity” (2:286). There are many reasons why people don’t get married or can’t get married and remain alone, as a result. Of course, it’s not just people experiencing SSA who can’t or don’t get married and are the only ones who remain celibate. Many Muslims and religious people at large are celibate for similar or other reasons. Some do not find the right spouse after looking over a long period of time, and it just happens that they don’t get married. It’s not “in the cards for them”, so to speak. Others may have a terminal illness or particular physical or mental challenges that prevent them from getting married, mental health issues, and so on, and other people cannot afford marriage, they can’t fulfill the financial rights of their spouse, they’re barely making it through the day, right? And of course, others simply don’t want to get married or raise kids. And that’s perfectly legitimate. What I’m trying to say is, it’s a universal matter, it’s not exclusive to men or women with SSA, or to a particular culture, location, religion or what have you. It is a trial just like everything else in life. We are asked to give our best within our individual contexts. So, just focus on the here and the now. See how you can improve yourself and contribute to your own community, and God may open things up for you to get married, or maybe not. Whatever He wills, subhanahu wa ta’ala, is what’s best ultimately, right?

A follow-up question to this is, “What about if I get to an old age and there’s no one to take care of me? How would I be able to handle that?” The same logic applies here as with the previous answer. You never know what’s in the cards for you. It’s up to Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala. Don’t think of the future, focus on the here and now. You do your part, and God will take care of things. We never know what might happen in the future. Focus on the now, and do your best with what He, subhanahu wa ta’ala, has given you. The rest is up to Him. Just like He has taken care of you so far, He will take care of you concerning the rest, inshaAllah.

1:02:23
There’s another theme that I’d like to touch upon here, which is relevant to the topic of celibacy in general. There is a big difference between loneliness, on one hand, and being alone, on the other. You can be alone and feel content and satisfied, and you can be with so many people and still feel lonely. Again, self-work and introspection are definitely needed. Michel de Montaigne wrote a wonderful essay on Solitude, saying that “the greatest thing in the world is to know how to live with yourself." I remember a quote by the famous Hollywood actor Keanu Reeves who said, “Someone told me the other day that he felt bad for single people, because they are lonely all the time. I told him, ‘That’s not true! I’m single and I don’t feel lonely. I take myself out to eat, I buy myself clothes. I have great times by myself. Once you know how to take care of yourself, company becomes an option and not a necessity.’” There’s so much in our tradition that talks about being alone, having a khalwa with Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala, working on one’s heart, finding peace and tranquility in solitude. I mean, many prophets, including our Prophet (PBUH), were given the Message when they were alone, away from people, pondering and connecting with their essence, right? A lot of beauty and so many gems are discovered when one experiences stillness, through being alone, pondering and reconnecting with one’s core.

Also, being alone is a much better option than ending up with someone else and being miserable, as a result, right? As a sister puts it, “Sometimes people believe that marriage solves everything, because they will have someone around them all the time to get them out of their loneliness. That’s not true. Loneliness is a mindset. It's not a physical thing. Loneliness is something one feels. It doesn't matter how many people we have around us. A spouse can feel completely alone even though his/her partner is sitting right beside them. Without the emotional connection and compatibility, people can still feel alone during a marriage. Marriage won't cure loneliness by itself.” Something that's worth keeping in mind. 

And again, who says you have to be alone all the time, anyway? Get out, reach out to others. Invest in support groups and networks, find like-minded people, venture out and spread your wings, find your own niche. Invest in your hobbies, do sports and creative work, and do that as part of a group, if you like. Make different friends in different areas of your life. You’re not alone, after all, right?

1:05:19
And with this, we have come to the end of this episode. This wraps up our two-episode series on marriage and celibacy. I hope we’ve covered those topics with enough information to help answer your questions and give you some food for thought to reflect upon. Of course, there are different opinions on the different topics presented, and ultimately, what works for you may not work for another person, and vice versa. Keep an open mind, be critical, and see what works for you, depending on your own individual case, preferences and circumstances. I tried to assemble the content of these two episodes bearing in mind the wide range of options and possibilities out there. And once again, a big thank you to the brothers and sisters who helped me create, synthesize and arrange this content. I hope you have found a lot of value in these episodes, inshaAllah. In the next episode, a sex therapist is joining me as a guest speaker, and we will be talking about marital intimacy and sex over two episodes, inshaAllah. Until then, stay safe and healthy, and I look forward to talking to you then. This has been Waheed Jensen in "A Way Beyond the Rainbow," assalamu alaikom wa rahmatullahi ta'ala wa barakatuh.

Episode Introduction
“Is it honest of me to get married without telling my spouse about my SSA?”
How to Disclose One's SSA to One's Potential Spouse Before Marriage
Challenges in Mixed-Orientation Marriages
“If I had a same-sex sexual encounter before marriage and repented, should I disclose this to my potential spouse?” and "What if this happened during marriage?"
Marriage Where Both Partners Experience SSA
"What if I want to have kids?"
On Celibacy as a Legitimate Choice
“I crave sexual and emotional intimacy; how do I get that?”
"How to deal with people pressuring you to get married, or random people asking you why you’re still not married?"
"Is it fair if I can’t get married?”
Loneliness vs. Being Alone
Ending Remarks