Did you know having sex before marriage was once illegal in England? Yeaaah, we were pretty surprised by that too. Granted it was all the way back in 1650 and the law only lasted for 10 years but yup, it was a thing. These days conversation around sex in the UK is more of the ‘shall we lower the age of consent?’ variety but in some countries getting down and dirty without a ring on your finger is still a mahoosive taboo.
In most muslim countries it’s majorly frowned upon, with many girls having anal sex only in order to preserve their ever so sacred virginity, with customs often dictating that their husbands need to wave a blood stained sheet in front of all the attendees on their wedding night (talk about awkward!) to prove their new Mrs was indeed a virgin prior to the deed. Which explains why cosmetic surgery to re-stitch hymens is also massively on the rise. And while it may be considered wrong in some countries, in others like Saudi Arabia, Libya and even The Maldives (!!) having sex before marriage is actually illegal, with punishments ranging from deportation, jail and in some extreme cases, even death.
So how do you have sex in a country where it’s illegal without a ring on your finger?
Like many countries, Tehran – the capital city of Iran – is far more relaxed about sex before marriage than in smaller towns and villages where it’s not discussed or even considered an option at all. Even in Tehran though, abortions are illegal, contraception is very difficult to find, girls won’t even talk to their best friends about it if they do do it and sex education at school consists purely of biology. ‘Apparently when a couple are about to get married they need to go to classes and then they tell you about sex and what happens, but in schools it won’t be mentioned at all unless a teacher happens to see it as their duty,’ explains 26-year-old Iranian native Daria. ‘In Tehran it’s kind of expected nowadays that you won’t marry a virgin, what is frowned upon though is if girls sleep around, and if you’re pregnant, you’re fucked,’ she adds. And all that’s if you can even find somewhere to have sex in the first place. Young people – especially girls – usually live with their parents until they get married, limiting their freedoms massively. It’s also illegal to book a hotel room without a marriage certificate (as with all the other countries where sex is illegal before marriage) leaving only public spaces – extremely risky – or a free house when parents travel as pretty much the only options.
In a country as rich (and famously strict) as Saudi Arabia, young people are afforded very few freedoms and an abundance of restrictions, but a hell of a lot of space to break them in. Many of the young people we spoke to told of separate sections in the house for ‘the kids’ or family summer or beach houses, a short drive from the city and often abandoned during week days or in winter, where they’ll go to do all the things they’re not allowed to, namely: have sex. Condoms are available in pharmacies although – like most of the countries where sex before marriage is illegal – it would be beyond impossible for a girl to just casually walk in and buy some. That said, many do have sex on the down low, keeping it between themselves and their partners as if word were to spread, the girl (never the guy) would get in a ridiculous amount of trouble with her family, and with society, and would pretty much never be able to get married. Mohammed, a 27-year-old Saudi native explains how in order to get around all this many of the girls limit sex to purely anal or oral, or simply resort to having their hymens re-stitched to ‘get their virginities back’ before their wedding night.
As with many of the Arab countries, image, perception and reputation is pretty much the most important thing in Kuwait. ‘What people think of you is the most important thing so in general you can’t have a boyfriend publically or be seen in public with boys,’ explains Kalam, a 26-year-old Egyptian who has been living in Kuwait for a number of years. ‘Some girls are even considered not marriage material just because they’re known to have had a boyfriend in the past,’ he explains, going on to cite an example of a guy he knows who had sex with his girlfriend, then refused to marry her because she was no longer a virgin.
The reality for sex before marriage in Oman is similar to much of the above: many girls have anal only and / or re-stitch their hymens and young people resort to doing it in beach houses or when their parents are away. One interesting thing we learnt through talking to 26-year-old Omani native Dunia is that if and when a girl falls pregnant the boy will be lightly scolded while the girl could well be put in jail. Dunia explains how her mum used to work on the Omani police force and had seen an abundance of these sorts of cases. ‘If an Omani girl gets pregnant out of wedlock she’s put in jail and then sold to the highest bidder,’ she explains. ‘You get men who can’t be bothered to pay a dowry and do the whole wedding charade but want a woman in the house so they’ll go to these prisons and just pay for one.’ Sadly, the woman will never be treated with any respect as they’re seen as used goods.
Dubai and Abu Dhabi – likely the most touristic of the lot – have numerous well-documented cases that have hit the mainstream media about tourists imprisoned for having sex on beaches or any number of sex-related crimes. It’s an every day reality for the young people living in Dubai though, who are afforded almost the same freedoms as any Western country – getting wasted in clubs, wearing skimpy clothes in public, being out and about with members of the opposite sex (all freedoms those in countries like Saudi Arabia are no where near afforded) but then if they even sit on a guys lap in public all hell breaks loose. It’s a tricky balance to get your head around. Although abortions are illegal and many girls resort to anal or getting re-stitched before their wedding day, condoms, lube and birth control pills are freely available – even without a prescription – according to 27-year-old Dubai native Amani. But you can’t get the morning after pill. So what do girls do if they need to? Take eight of the regular pills in one go, because they believe it’s jsut as effective (goes without saying, don’t try this one at home, folks…).