Sex is often a taboo topic in many conservative religious cultures. However, researchers have found that the Internet breaks down normal social barriers and helps religious individuals, such as Muslims, engage more freely about sex.
According to Roxanne D. Marcotte, associate professor in religious studies at University of Quebec-Montreal, websites like MuslimVillage.com provide Australian Muslims with a unique social space that enables them to more openly discuss sexuality-related issues than is typically possible in traditional communities.
This is a follow-up to an earlier study about online gender and sexuality discussions in Australian Muslim forums, which found Muslims actively tackle, negotiate, condone and condemn controversial issues such as polygamy or polygyny and homosexuality, for which non-Muslims have so many preconceived ideas.
In “Let’s Talk about Sex: Australian Muslim online discussions,” Marcotte looks at how MuslimVillage.com, an Australian-based Muslim community website started in 2001 with over 26,000 registered members, seeks to build a sense of community and provide an online space for Muslims to discuss a wide variety of topics, including queries about religion and sexuality.
Through careful observation of how Muslim participants write about certain sex-related issues online she concludes that the Internet significantly helps to break down traditional social taboos.
“Because of anonymity online, such talk is no longer restricted to circles of close and personal friends,” explained Marcotte. “Online forums make possible open and lively public debates of rather intimate matters. The Internet helps Muslims engage with fewer inhibitions than they might have with offline family or community, and forcefully put forward their own opinions.”
Her research also notes a double standard between Muslim men and women. Online forums allow women to question why men suffer few consequences for engaging in premarital or extramarital sex, while women are viewed extremely negatively if they do so. The Internet also allows Muslims of both genders to debate practices such as women undergoing surgery to reconstruct their virginity in order to conform to prevalent social community norms.
This study spotlights the important resources the Internet provides, especially for Muslims living in Muslim minority countries. As Marcotte states, “It highlights the many ways Muslims in Muslim minority contexts tackle and juggle tradition and modernity, by engaging in opinion sharing that is very wise, down to earth and pragmatic in the ways they deal with sexuality related issues, so that its advice translates across cultural contexts.”
“Let’s talk about sex: Australian Muslim online discussions”, was published Contemporary Islam by Springer Netherlands. More information can be found at http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11562-014-0316-9
This summary of research is provided by the Network for New Media, Religion and Digital Culture Studies (http://digitalreligion.tamu.edu), which seeks to show how digital religion shapes our everyday lives and world.