Challenging the myth of the happy celibate: Muslim women negotiating contemporary relationships

Alia Imtoual*, Shakira Hussein

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    26 Citations (Scopus)


    In recent decades, the age of marriage in many minority Muslim communities has risen so that significant numbers of Muslims in these contexts are remaining unmarried into their late 20 s and beyond. As with other communities in Western contexts, Muslim communities have also experienced a rising divorce rate, leading to many more single women. These social and demographic changes, combined with traditional attitudes towards female sexuality and virginity, have led to a rise in the number of women who have either never had a sexual encounter or who no longer have sexual encounters. Cultural discourses surrounding virginity and female celibacy frequently conflate the virtue of refusing sexual encounters outside of marriage with happiness and satisfaction at 'choosing the right path'. However, these discourses negate or downplay women's sexual desires and result in women often feeling trapped into having to perform the 'myth of the happy celibate'. To disrupt this myth is to unleash the potentially destructive power of female sexuality, while to openly challenge it is to risk being positioned as a 'slut'.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)25-39
    Number of pages15
    JournalContemporary Islam
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 2009


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