But seriously, what is it? Due to how this question arose, I am thinking about the Islamic definition of sex, but I want to hear from Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
Someone once said that if you can get an STD from it, it’s sex. So vaginal sex, anal sex, and oral sex are all sex, but not using your fingers.
But I’m not too keen on defining sex with disease. Besides, the definition of even STD is sketchy. Lice is considered an STD. (If the definition hasn’t changed since I last attended puberty sessions in grade school that is.)
I have to say that I consider vaginal, oral, and anal sex as forms of sex but not so much using fingers. But it bothers me that I have no idea why. The only thing that would make sense to explain this is the STD definition… which, yeah I don’t want to use.
Islamically speaking, from the verse in the Qur’an which discourages people from approaching their spouses for sex during menstruation juxtaposed against the hadith in which the Prophet uses his fingers suggests to me that when you use your fingers, it isn’t sex. It’s the only explanation for why the Prophet would engage in the activity.
This, along with Quranic focus of defining sex by regions of fertility, seems to imply that sex is the exchange of fluids around fertile regions–if we completely overlook the fact that not all women can give birth.
And that makes me think. I’ve mentioned before that anal sex is considered haraam because it was excluded from specifications in verse 2:222, which left it at a default status of prohibition: oral sex can involve the vagina (assuming we are talking about either a heterosexual or same sex female couple) so it didn’t need specifications because the verse prohibited sex during menstruating, and both relate to the vagina. However, anal sex remained forbidden as well, even though it involves a different orifice, because the verse forbade all sex during this period. And that place anal sex at a haraam default. But that is my interpretation, and it’s perfectly understandable if someone has a different one–this subject is vague enough for serious debate. And if they do have a different interpretation, it’s a private topic that affects only themselves; it doesn’t infringe on anyone’s rights, and it doesn’t contradict the primary fundamental standard of compassion in religion. (Whereas, if someone determined that poor people are to be treated like dirt, that is a blatant contradiction of the religion–and inarguably unIslamic.)
So I don’t really care either way, but it forces me to check the reasons behind my own interpretation. If I can see both sides, why do I interpret for myself that it must be haraam? Sure, I’m obsessed with details and I genuinely believe that the argument, set up by the logical order grammatical impermissibility in the Qur’an, is a strong one. There’s also an argument that anal sex is bad for you, and I don’t know if it’s true. (I didn’t care about it enough to look through scientific reports.) But if it is true, deliberately practicing what is deemed bad for your health is haraam. But I don’t know if that’s true. And then there are the hadith that confirm that anal sex is haraam. So I’m comfortable with my conclusion.
But should I be, when I suspect that a tiny part of myself is concluding this because I simply can’t imagine myself ever doing it? Sure, I have other sound arguments, but how much of it is really to secure my own personal preference?
While I fully believe that interpreting literature isn’t as easy and fluffy as everyone thinks it is, that it’s full of real debate and real points and solidity, there’s also undoubtedly a deep level of subjectivity. When we interpret religion especially, we read what we want to read. I think God designed us to work that way, so that religion fits with us each uniquely. When I read the Qur’an, I read it very differently from how someone else might read it. I see on the page what’s inside myself. So while the ultimate message might be compassion for everyone, the details are subjective. Because we’re only human, once we understand something, it’s changed for us to understand it. So the objective can remain, existing, but inaccessible. We can only come close.
And while there is a very clear scientific definition of sex, it seems that–unsurprisingly–cultural definitions vary. And they vary with situations as well. If I were in a relationship with someone and he cheated on me, I don’t care if he used his fingers or his mouth–suddenly, they’re both sex.
(This doesn’t quite fit here, but I feel like I must cover it: no matter how we define sex, it will always be unquestionable that forcible vaginal penetration with fingers is rape, because rape isn’t having sex. Being raped doesn’t mean you “had sex”–if anything it means you didn’t have sex. Rape is forcible, non-consenual penetration, with whatever object in whatever orifice; it doesn’t matter.)
Scholars conclude that masturbation is forbidden, because it’s a form of sex. But that means that using your fingers is having sex. Unless, in that hadith, as a commenter pointed out, the Prophet was not penetrating.
In Islam, it’s interesting to notice when we decide to see things as black and white as opposed to when we decide to look at the reasons behind them and determine that something is permissible when those reasons for being haraam are eliminated. Nail polish is considered impermissible by a majority of Muslims–except when you don’t have perform ablution, because then the reason for it being impermissible is gone. But why is premarital sex impermissible? People guess, so you don’t have babies in unstable situations! But now there’s birth control. People say, well that doesn’t always work. But being a single parent or an unmarried parent isn’t always an unstable situation. Besides, if it’s about children, why is adoption permissible for single parents? People say, well it’s so you don’t get attached to lovers and have your heart broken and break hearts! And it’s something that people indulge in, and then they do it in excess and forget God!
But now we are kind of getting desperate, aren’t we? We are painting everyone over with the same brush.
This isn’t to say that sex is as simple as nail polish. I still believe that premarital sex is decidedly forbidden, because the Qur’an comes right out and states it. And when God says something is forbidden that forwardly, to me a lot of times it doesn’t really matter why. I can just not do it. Whereas with nail polish, we are left to our reasons. There is a huge difference. But it’s an interesting thing to examine, when we do and don’t need reasons. I find that I look into reasons when it stops being personal and starts being used as something to police the lives of others. I don’t care why premarital sex is forbidden, because I don’t need to have it. I’m perfectly fine with it being forbidden. But I do care that people incorrectly interpret that being gay is a sin, because then that hurts people. It stops being private. (And again, The Compassion Principle.)
What was I talking about? Oh yeah. What’s sex? Should the use of fingers count as sex to the same degree as oral or vaginal sex? And isn’t it strange that we term sex with womanly parts? Like, you have vaginal sex but not… penile sex. I’ve never heard anyone say that. Probably for mechanical reasons.