The community needs to accept that Muslim youth are not immune to pornography
By Amber Khan
Pornography is a multi-billion-dollar global industry whose products are easily accessible, free and private.
According to Farrah Marfatia (principal, Maingate Islamic Academy, Mississauga, Ont.), 100% of all calls from 11-14-year-old Muslim males to Naseeha (a Canadian Muslim youth helpline) in 2013 were about addiction to pornography and masturbation (Marfatia, “Let the Quran Speak,” July 11, 2015). More recently, a 2020-21 online survey conducted by The Family & Youth Institute and Young Muslims reported that 61% of Muslim young adults of the same ages were exposed to pornography.
With minimal to no understanding of what sex is, many young children are watching pornography and continuing to do so as they get older. In fact, 59.23% of Muslim youth aged 16-22 reported viewing pornography, with a majority of them viewing it weekly (FYI and YM study).
The Dangers of Pornography
According to David Perry (‘The Impact of Pornography on Children’, 2016), the following are the most common side effects of watching pornography for young viewers.
A Distorted View of a Healthy Relationship. Pornography can lead to greater acceptance of common sexual stereotypes and dysfunctional beliefs about relationships (L. Monique Ward, Journal of Research on Adolescence, 2006). This can impact a young viewer’s ability to distinguish between healthy and unhealthy relationships.
With longtime use, pornography can negatively impact a couple’s marriage, thereby increasing the likelihood of divorce. The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers reported that 56% of all divorces involved one party viewing pornography (2002).
Seeing Sexual Promiscuity as Normal. Pornography promotes sexual abstinence as unhealthy and encourages non-marital sexual activity and infidelity. This can lead to greater acceptance of such activities by young viewers, as studies have found a link between exposure to pornography and an increased likelihood of having more than one sexual partner during the last three months (Journal of Adolescent Health, 2009) as well as teenage sexting (Brenda K. Wiederhold, editor-in-chief, ‘Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking’, 2014).
Becoming Less Sensitive to Violence. Most pornography promotes sexual aggression, and can impact their developing sense of what is expected sexually for men and women. For example, male viewers consider rape less serious, that women cause rape or that women enjoy rape or sexual assault (Perry, 2016). In addition, viewers often become more interested in more extreme and deviant forms of pornography, which can lead to a rise in many forms of sexual violence, including pedophilia and sex trafficking.
Addiction. Pornography impacts the brain’s biological reward system like intoxicants. This can lead viewers, especially young ones, to develop lifelong struggles with pornography. A significant percentage of viewers develop a preference for this fantasy world over actual sexual activity with partners (Jill Manning, ‘The Impact of Internet Pornography on Marriage and the Family: A Review of the Research’, 2006).
Breaking the Cycle of Addiction
Be Productive. The most common reason Muslim youth view pornography is to cope with boredom (FYI and YM study). Therefore, create a daily routine that keeps them busy and productive. This can include working out, cooking, joining a club or sports team, being involved in your local youth program, getting a job, studying or taking extra classes, praying at the masjid, listening to podcasts, learning a new hobby, volunteering or spending time with others.
Help Yourself. Another common reason is to forget about one’s worries or process sadness, frustration and other negative emotions (FYI and YM study). Pornography, similar to intoxicants, is a coping mechanism that neither solves issues nor provides relief other than as a means to escape reality. Seek healthy and effective coping methods that work for them, such as a mood booster like reading a book or playing with a pet; a basic need like eating, taking a bath or a nap; processing feelings like journaling or crying; or asking for help like talking to a parent, friend or healthcare professional.
Socialize. A third reason is to feel less lonely (FYI and YM study). One longtime addict said, “… it can leave one emotionally empty or lonely. There is no warmth or closeness, no one to share pleasure with, no companionship” (Shere Hite, “The Hite Report on Male Sexuality,” 1981, p.489). Real closeness can be sought in friendships, family, community engagement and seeking a spouse. Even solitude can bring warmth when in the company of others, like eating alone at a restaurant, studying at a coffee shop, window-shopping, or reading at a masjid community center.
Don’t Become Desensitized. FYI and YM’s study also found that despite understanding that pornography is immoral or even “irreligious,” Muslim youth admitted to viewing it.
The Quraysh employed such tactics to distract people from listening to the Quran. If they heard that someone was thinking of converting, Nadir bin Harith would bring them to a courtesan and ask her to entertain them. Such company, he suggested, was far better than what Muhammad (salla Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) had to say.
Pornography doesn’t just lower one’s mental and emotional health, but can also weaken one’s spiritual health. To counteract such desires, seek guidance and protection from God and maintain awareness of its evils through resources such as the docuseries “Brain Heart World” and “Defend Young Minds”.
Maintain Self-control. Some youth consider masturbating while watching pornography as a form of protection or release from pent-up sexual urges. In Islam, the default is to enjoy sexual pleasure with one’s spouse. Until then, Muslims are encouraged to fast regularly to maintain sexual self-control: “O young men, whoever among you can afford it, let him get married, for it helps him to lower his gaze and protect his chastity. And whoever cannot do that, let him fast, for it will be a protection for him” (“Sahih Muslim,” 1400).
While some scholars permit masturbation as a last resort to avoid non-marital sexual activity, pornography use is prohibited and sinful. Al-Mardawi, a Hanbali scholar (d. 885H, 1480 CE) said, “If one resorts to masturbation out of fear of falling into fornication, it is mubah (permissible); it might even be obligatory so that he avoids the bigger sin of sex outside of marriage.” Ibn Hazm (d.1064) said, “We dislike it, for it is not from the virtuous characteristics, nor from the good qualities” (“al-Muhalla”).
Protect oneself from environments that can lead to uncontrolled sexual urges, such as listening to vulgar music, reading erotic novels, viewing sexually explicit content on streaming networks, social media or music videos, or attending certain parties or concerts.
Seek Help for Addiction. A person who has lost control and masturbates and views pornography obsessively may skip daily activities, cancel plans with family and friends, avoid eating and sleeping and miss important events. This condition can even last into marriage, for an addict may choose to masturbate over being intimate with his or her spouse. Others may prefer their addiction to getting married at all.
Some ways to gain control are installing software that blocks explicit sites, limiting solitude and talking with a parent, imam, or healthcare professional. Helpful Muslim-based resources include Purify Your Gaze and The Family & Youth Institute’s Porn Addiction Toolkit .
Sex education and other health-related topics that center the Muslim narrative is the basis of my book series “Islamic Health” (Noorart, 2022), the first of its kind to address Muslim youth’s most common health questions. It is designed for Islamic schools, weekend schools, youth study circles and at-home discussions between parents and children.
Amber Khan, D.O., author of the “Islamic Health” (Noorart, 2022) book series, shares the importance of teaching Muslim youth about health from the Islamic perspective.
What did you think about this article? Send comments and story pitches to firstname.lastname@example.org. Islamic Horizons does not publish unsolicited material.