Hope is trapped in a sexually repressive, emotionally abusive marriage shaped by the patriarchal traditions and relationship culture of her country of origin. With awareness comes healing, and she hopes to spread the message to other women that they are allowed to speak up, deserving of basic decency, and even worthy of real love.
Hope is a 38-year-old cisgender woman. She describes herself as Pakistani, Sunni Muslim, straight, married, and monogamous. She deals with polycystic ovarian syndrome and describes her body as “fluffy”.
EPISODE TRANSCRIPT (CLICK TO OPEN)
LEAH: Welcome to Good Girls Talk About Sex. I am sex and intimacy coach, Leah Carey, and this is a place to share conversations with all sorts of women about their experience of sexuality. These are unfiltered conversations between adult women talking about sex. If anything about the previous sentence offends you, turn back now! And if you’re looking for a trigger warning, you’re not going it to get it from me. I believe that you are stronger than the trauma you have experienced. I have faith in your ability to deal with things that upset you. Sound good? Let’s start the show!
LEAH: Hey friends. I’ve been holding on to this interview for a while because the content is so wonderful, but the audio isn’t. We had a bunch of technical issues including that several of the files did not save properly. My remote interview provider was able to salvage the files, but starting around the 20-minute mark of this episode, they get pretty glitchy. I’ve gone back and forth on how to present this to you because I know bad audio can be a real bummer, but ultimately, the conversation has won out.
Hope’s story is too important not to share. And in most places, you can still grasp the meaning even if you don’t catch the individual words. However, if the audio glitches are difficult for you to listen to, you might want to skip listening and instead check out the transcript at goodgirlstalk.com for this episode. Also, this is a story that needs to be told in its entirety. So, it’s all here with no audio extras at Patreon.
And one final note before we get started. In Western culture, we want people to see us as individuals and not be lumped into groups like all white women act like this or all Christians believe this. You can see those gut responses when something like #MeToo happens and the responses are #NotAllMen. But as much as we don’t want to be lumped together, we don’t tend to afford that same grace or compassion to others. We heard that a small group of men hijacked planes and flew them into the World Trade Center and Pentagon and our response was to vilify all Arabic people all around the world. We learned that a virus was discovered in China and political and cultural leaders found it appropriate to refer to it as the China virus or the Kung flu and there has been a drastic increase in hate crimes against Asian people.
In this episode, you’re going to hear a story about a Pakistani woman that might lead you to make assumptions about how all Pakistani families function or how all Pakistani men treat their wives. I want to caution against this. Hope is one woman with one story. She and her husband are not representatives of their entire culture any more than you or your family are representatives of your entire culture, race or religion. They’re individuals living individual lives with their own individual struggles.
Hope is a 38-year-old cisgender woman. She describes herself as Pakistani, Sunni Muslim, straight, married, and monogamous. She wears a headscarf. She deals with polycystic ovarian syndrome and describes her body as “fluffy.” I am so pleased to introduce Hope!
I am so excited to talk to you today. I know that you were kind of nervous about doing this and I want you to know that that is not only fine, it’s completely normal. But thank you for agreeing to show up today. I’m thrilled to talk with you.
HOPE: Thank you for having me.
LEAH: So, I always ask the same first question in every interview, which is what is your first memory of sexual pleasure?
HOPE: Oh, goodness. The thing is it’s probably very recent because when I was growing up, especially in Pakistan, it’s a conservative society. A lot of these things are generally pushed under the table, under anything they can possibly find. Even perceiving sex was very taboo and I think it’s’ also because of how I was. I guess you might say I’ve left of normal in a lot of ways. The perception of sex, especially since it wasn’t discussed very much was a little bit skewed you might say while I was growing up especially when I entered puberty.
I think the only thing I knew for sure especially when I was very young is that I was straight. I think if you had to put it in any way, I knew I was straight and I always knew I had feelings for boys, men. But when it came to the territory of sex, I think I possibly viewed my sexuality much later in life. I think I was possibly in my mid-20s when I understood fully that I was a being that also desired sex. And I know it’s a strange way to put it, but that’s how it was.
LEAH: No. I think it’s fascinating and I think there’s so much to unpack just in that little bit you just said. So, I’m really fascinated by what you just said that if there was one thing you knew, it’s that you were straight. Because there are so many times when a young person will say, “I’m gay” and everyone around them will say, “Well, you’re too young. How could you possibly know that?” And the corollary, the question that every gay person wants to ask is, “Well, then, how do you know that you were straight?” So, I would love to ask you. When you say that, what does that mean to you?
HOPE: Well, I think if you look back, when I was in, I guess, kindergarten and I knew I had very deep feelings for one particular boy. I still remember his name, but I knew I had such deep feelings for this person. It just always was from one boy to the other. I don’t think I had crushes too often. Just whenever I did, I knew I always felt very deeply and I always felt very deeply always for boys. And I think I understand how a lot of gay people feel. It’s just that they’re not allowed to feel that way, unfortunately. It’s just that I know that they feel deeply for the same gender or either gender, whichever way it is.
LEAH: Yeah. So, when you were five years old and you’re having a crush on a little boy. In the U.S., I think that that would often show up as, “We’re going to hold hands” or “We’re going to play on the playground together” or “Maybe we’re going to give each other a kiss on the cheek.” At five years old, it’s all very non-sexual because that’s just not part of the world yet at that age for most kids. So, what does a crush look like for you at five years old?
HOPE: I think again it was very benign, Leah. For me, feelings have always been what I’ve felt inside. I was never very expressive. It’s one of those things I inherited from at least one of my parents. Not very expressive about feelings or just unable to really define those feelings and express them. I’ve never been the sort. So, I just knew I really cared deeply for this little boy at five years old.
LEAH: Yeah. Did you ever talk to anybody about it or was it something that you kept to yourself?
HOPE: No, always kept it to myself. Again, these were subjects at that age were not technically taboo, but everybody made it very awkward. So, I just didn’t want to be that kind of center of attention. I was like, “I’m not going to be really getting into of any of these things.”
LEAH: Yeah. It sounds like conversation around sex and sexuality like you said was completely taboo. So, what were you hearing? What kinds of conversations or even just feelings and energy were happening around the topics of sex and sexuality for you as a young person and a teenager in Pakistan?
HOPE: I think the very first conversation about sex that I had with my mother was purely accidental. When I was growing up in Pakistan, we used to have satellite TV at that time, not a lot of TV choices. I remember we used to get a lot of sitcoms and there was one particular sitcom in which a little girl jokingly talks about her mother’s relationship and she spells out the word S-E-X. I remember I was very small at that time. I think maybe seven or eight years old and I think my mother was not banking upon the fact that I could actually understand and connect the word together and ask her.
HOPE: And I did and I asked her, “Mom, what’s sex?” And at that moment, I have elder siblings, they were there. My mom froze and they were snickering. I remember her telling me exactly that sex is love and I didn’t ask anything further because somehow when you understand from that silence and that tension that there’s something that happened that wasn’t supposed to happen and I never really poked at it. But that is the answer that I got.
The thing is, I think, even with the silence around the subject, my saving grace was that I was always an avid reader and whatever answer I couldn’t get from adults, you could always find in a book. And even though when you grow older, you understand there are certain subjects, even though you don’t quite understand what sex is, you understand it has something to do with, I guess, relationships and men and women, but you’re not really connecting the dots really well.
HOPE: I always turned to books for those sorts of things. Our house was always well stocked with books, every kind of book you could possibly imagine. I come from a family of bibliophiles of the highest order. We always had books for the answers. I think that was one of the defects about learning about sex in that way is that you do find out about sex, it’s just that you don’t understand it very well as a connection between two people. It’s a definition, but definition does not necessarily tell you the full impact of what it is.
LEAH: Yeah. Do you recall what some of the books were that you were looking to, to get information from?
HOPE: The usual encyclopedias and I also was a bio major. So, by the time, you’re 15, 16, you do have to study human reproduction to give an exam on. So, that’s always there.
HOPE: It’s one of those things in class. We were divided in two major groups. It was either bio or mathematics. I was a bio student. You inevitably reach the chapter of human reproduction and it’s a big hullabaloo in class that you’re studying human reproduction. It’s all really weird, awkward but you study it and you answer the questions on it. It’s just you don’t know what it is, really. That’s how it is, unfortunately.
LEAH: Yeah. Was that class coed or were you separated into boys and girls for those classes?
HOPE: Coed. I also remember and this is again funny about how it is. We started human reproduction when we were in 5th grade. And I remember our bio teacher, our regular bio teacher, was so unwilling to teach us because she just didn’t want to have to broach the subject with boys and girls present in class. She volunteered the help of our chemistry teacher. Now, our chemistry teacher was a force to be reckoned with. This was a no-nonsense woman that did not take kindly to any nonsense that came from students. That’s what we did. We got our first human reproduction class in 5th grade from our chemistry teacher.
LEAH: So, at one point did you start developing, to use your word, crushes that began to feel more romantic as in “I actually want to touch this person. I want to have interaction with this person?”
HOPE: Gosh. I think some part of that was there even after puberty. Some small part was there, but I think the real, I guess, urge or really strong desire to be with that person was, I would imagine, after I was 18 because I had gone into college by that time. I remember that it was very distressing for me because you do have such strong feelings for the person and you’re still trying to hold onto what you are told in our faith that you wait until marriage. Even physical contact because, ultimately, it does lead to, I guess, more than just holding hands or more than just a kiss on the cheek.
But you have the feelings. I wasn’t sure who to define those feelings. And I think, again, I would consider myself unique in that perspective because I think a lot of the other kids, not kids at that age, I guess, young adults who were with me, at that age, they knew what they wanted, but I wasn’t sure. I just didn’t connect the dots as most young adults did at that age.
I knew that I had those feelings and those feelings were very strong, so strong in the sense that I would avoid the person I had a crush on entirely as much as possible because it was very distressing for me. It was not something that was really explained to me by any grownup in my life whether that be a parent or an elder sibling. I was just navigating all of this on my own that we do have certain religious restrictions, but you also have very valid feelings that are in you, but you’re not sure how to reconcile the two. You’re really not. I didn’t even have anybody I could talk to about these things really openly.
LEAH: So, you mentioned that you had older siblings. These were not conversations that were happening between the siblings?
HOPE: I had an older sister, but again the dynamics weren’t there that these things that she would be comfortable speaking to me about these things or I would be comfortable with speaking to her about these things. There is an age gap between us so, automatically, even when I was 18, she was well into her 20s. So, you have that distance and that gap and it became, at that age, hard to reach out for these things because you weren’t sure if you could.
LEAH: So, you mentioned that there were religious boundaries and restrictions. I’d love to talk to you a little bit about what that looked like. What are the messages that you were getting? You mentioned that you were Sunni Muslim. What are the messages that you were getting around not just sex and relationships but also what it is to be a woman?
HOPE: I think first and foremost what we need to separate is the fact that what I heard had a lot to do with what was cultural as opposed to religious necessarily. So, in Pakistan, even though it’s predominantly Sunni Muslim, but culturally, there’s lots of influences from various religions including Hinduism, Christianity. Because there’s been so many cultures that exist in that part of the world simultaneously, a lot of things get mixed up very easily.
So, a lot of things, and I later discovered these things that were considered religious were not really religious, per say. So, speaking to your children about sex was not necessarily forbidden in faith. And yes, we have those boundaries of relationships that generally genders, especially if they’re not from your immediate family, are not really supposed to come into physical contact with each other. Waiting for sex after marriage, that is a part of our faith. But that didn’t mean that the discussion of sex was off limits.
I found out this again by myself when I ventured into reading religious books because I needed answers. I remember specifically looking up sex in a lot of religious books. What I found was quite surprising because in our religious traditions, there are many, I guess, open discussions about relationships, sexual relationships with the person that you are married to, things that I was not even aware of that these things were not spoken of ever at all, the treatment of women and how it is was all there. It’s just those things were again they were pushed away because nobody really wanted to have that discussion.
LEAH: Did you have any sense of what your place was meant to be in terms of marriage and a relationship? Did you have a sense of what the male-female dynamic was supposed to look like?
HOPE: Yes. Again, that was more cultural unfortunately than religious. Pakistan is a patriarchal society. I came from a family where it was generally very male dominated in a very toxic way. I saw very bad dynamics in the husband-wife role. You have an inkling that there’s something not okay, but you’re not really sure because those were unfortunately the only examples that you see. So, even though I grew up, I guess, the troublemaker in a sense because I always had a bit of a loud mouth, it was what it was and it is what it is.
HOPE: I had very few filters and when I saw something wrong, I spoke out. I think I rubbed a lot of men in my family the wrong way and I’m pretty sure they were happy to be rid of me after I got married. But it was only because I stood up to this really bad dynamic of belittling the good wives that they had, the good women in their lives, and I saw so many of them being destroyed by this awful, toxic patriarchy. I really did. It still to this day makes me so furious.
LEAH: Looking at these relationships, what did that leave you thinking in terms of what you wanted for your own future?
HOPE: I always hoped I would find, again, I guess it was a pretty tall order because I was not the usual. I mentioned before, I knew I was always straight, but I always had a lot of non-feminine tendencies. I did not like playing with dolls. I did not like tea parties. I would rather be running around, playing in the mud, climbing trees. I think a lot of people suspected that I probably wasn’t straight, but that was not true at all, I was pretty straight.
HOPE: I never had an interest in clothes or jewelry or makeup. All of those things, so I just was hoping for somebody who could really love me for who I was. But again, in a society which exists within such a box, it was a pretty tall order. I think, at one point, I just settled for finding someone who was not the biggest jerk in the world because again, I saw a lot of toxic behavior culturally that was perpetuated in the men in Pakistan.
And I’m speaking specifically of my generation, many of the younger Pakistanis, I see that that dynamic was changing. But at the time, it was not it. When it came to relationships, I knew it would be pretty much the same formula that is over there. I hate to call it the broad term that’s used here is arranged marriage. It’s not really arranged, it’s more of a matchmaking system. [inaudible] that I’m pretty sure there’s nobody out there that would really want me as I am. Even though all my life, I’ve always been at coed schools, coed college, coed universities. So, it’s not like there weren’t any men around me, it’s just that I did not expect them to like me.
LEAH: It’s fascinating to me that you were seeing these toxic relationships all around you and these very heavily patriarchal relationships all around you and you knew that you wanted something different. You knew that that was not what was going to work for you. How did you know? If that’s all that you see, how did you know that there was something different that you aspired to?
HOPE: I think that desire came from a lot of the escapism I did when I used to read. I don’t think I necessarily read a lot of romance novels. Those never were my thing. You see a lot of different relationships in books and TV. I was a big TV watcher at a certain point in my age when we got more than one TV channel in Pakistan. What you saw on TV is generally a lot of sugarcoated things, but what I really wanted to take away from it is that not the whole dynamic that somebody is going to rescue me or, I don’t know, I will find my knight in shining armor, but there is some semblance of love that exists in the world. I know I felt love for other people, so was there someone who could love me back the same way? I think that’s the easiest way I could break it down.
LEAH: Yeah. So, you mentioned that you wouldn’t call it arranged marriage, you would call it more like a matchmaking kind of system. Prior to your entry into that matchmaking system, was there any dating that happened at all? Was there any mixing between the genders?
HOPE: No. I was never very outgoing or very expressive with my emotions. I think it probably had [inaudible]. We were not emotionally transparent as people, definitely. We suppressed most emotions other than, I guess, anger. It’s not like the really loud anger, but you could feel that from one family member towards another family member. I know that my mother also loved very deeply. The people that she loved, even though she was in a very [inaudible] relationship, she loved very deeply.
She was the one I think that in our family is the only one who really loved sincerely. When she said, “I love you”, she meant it. I had one person being really honest even though they were really trapped in a situation that wasn’t ideal at all. My mother was honest about her feelings, her emotions, and how she expressed it, and how she cared for other people. So, I could see yes, that there are a lot of people in our family that don’t necessarily function normally, but there was this one person that expressed feelings the way they should be expressed. That’s the only thing right when everything’s wrong in that whole dynamic.
LEAH: Did she ever talk to you about what she wanted for you in terms of relationships?
HOPE: No. Again, this is probably because her own relationship was very unfulfilled. She was one of those people and, I think I inherited this from her, cared very deeply and loved very deeply, but my father was not really capable of really showing that kind of love or being able to love in that way. As children, you have a sense of these things, but you really can’t really define it until you’re much older.
I only figured out all of these things again when I was much older. Again, it could probably just be me because I remember my sister recently when we talk about our pasts that she says they were always and I hated it. I never could sense how deeply it went until I experienced some of the things that she did in her relationship, and then you fully understand how heartbroken she was with her marriage. So, I think what she probably subconsciously hoped for both her daughters and for her son is to have better relationships than what she got. She also hoped that there has to be something better than this than what she ultimately ended up with.
LEAH: I’m assuming that prior to going into that matchmaking process, you had never had any sustained contact with boys and probably had never been kissed. Is that true?
HOPE: That’s very true. Again, whatever I guess any real experience of being touched or kissed or any other kind of contact, it only happened for me after marriage. Although, again, that might not be the norm even when I was of that age because I knew quite a few other kids in college who were in relationships or who were in semi-relationships if you want to put it that they did a lot of experimenting. I knew of them and I knew of what they were up. It’s just that I never did.
LEAH: Were you wanting it? Were you desiring to have that kind of physical touch and companionship?
HOPE: Oh, most definitely. But again, it’s just that I think it could also be my mindset was is that there was this rule and that rule should not be broken even in your mind, sort of thing. Because that’s how it was generally portrayed. Nobody was really talking about it, but it was there. You tried to figure out how best to deal with it and I dealt with it with a lot of escapism with really fantasizing about what that great relationship would be.
LEAH: So, let’s move forward then into finding a mate. What was the experience like for you?
HOPE: Gosh, I wish I could say it was pleasant, but it wasn’t. Matchmaking in Pakistan rarely is for women. I’m hoping it’s better now, but that that time it really isn’t. It’s generally getting dolled up and in front of a lot of strangers and acting as feminine as possible and all of those things were not something that I was genetically predisposed to.
HOPE: The entire experience, that’s how it is. It’s just that I just hated the entire thing. Culturally, those that had sons generally had an air of arrogance about them that, “Oh. We have a son and we can marry him off to whomever he pleases and he should get some sort of princess that exists in this world”, even though that can be absolutely awful, but just because they had a son and that son should get the very best that sort of thing.
I remember that there were many occasions in which I would meet these [sons]. I do generally have conversations with those that are your prospects. You get to ask them how they are and what they do, what they like and dislike. Those entire interactions left me with something or the other that was very unpleasant. It was generally that you’ve got a sense that you’re being demeaned at every meeting with every new family that came in and you were not really allowed a hand in your own in a sense that most of the times how it was is that the women had to be pretty, tall, educated, dressed well, knew how to cook and clean, be very domestic.
Pretty 19th century thinking when you think about it, but that’s how it was at that time. I just hated the entire process. Every person that would come and we would meet it just left me deeper and deeper into this spiral of unhappiness that I am never going to find anybody that is half decent, so you resign yourself to finding someone that isn’t a complete monster.
LEAH: So, I know that you eventually got married. What was it like the first time that you met the man who you married?
HOPE: Well, he came from a very nice family. There were well-educated, kind, respectful people from what I gathered at our few meetings. I think the most extraordinary thing about the family was that his mother also used to work. It may not seem so over here, but over there in Pakistan, that was not something that usually happened to have a working woman with a family and that sort of thing. It was extraordinary. They were good kind people towards us. I didn’t get to have many conversations with my future husband. Some of them, at that time, cellphones were fairly new. We used to text and everything, but you generally don’t get a good sense of people just over text. I think anybody and everybody who’s been in a relationship can tell you.
LEAH: Did you have a feeling about him that was different than with the other men you had met?
HOPE: Well, no. If I had to be honest, I think I did get a bad feeling about him, but sometimes when you don’t see the bad, you’re not sure what to believe, really. But, on the surface, everything was fine. I had no reason to say that “No, I don’t want to be married into this family.”
LEAH: So, it sounds like it ultimately was a challenging match. I don’t actually know what questions to ask you, partially because this is a culture that I’m not familiar with. So, I guess I want to ask you, what would you like to tell me?
HOPE: I think my reason for speaking up and I know you know this was very hard for me is just that it’s not just about in Pakistani culture. I have met many women during my first years of marriage that even though now, I’m in the U.S., they have lived in the U.S., they still exist in very toxic relationships. The problem is when it comes to toxic relationships, you’re not given a warning. A lot of times, the damage is something that is so subtle that you’re not even sure it’s real damage.
I experienced a lot of that, but I think my only saving grace was when I went online, I found other women for whose experiences I could really hold a mirror to myself and say, “Okay. What they went through was bad and what I’m going through is bad as well.” Literally, I went through a doppelganger of my mother’s marriage. It was shocking how similar our experiences were and when I opened up to my mother much later on about also what I’ve gone through, she was in shock because she had gone through the same things and she was just hoping that it was just my father that there couldn’t be other people like that.
LEAH: Are you still in this marriage?
HOPE: Yes, I am, but I don’t intend to be for very long. It’s just that the way it happened was that I lost my financial independence when I got married. I was working in Pakistan. I used to work in advertising, making good money, but when we married, we moved to the U.S. and this was deep in the recession. There was no job to be had. I just could not work anymore. After I had children, it just became another impossible to be able to raise children and be able to work at the same time, plus be in a very difficult relationship as well. All of it was a huge, huge strain on my being able to even function properly. So, right now, I am hoping within the next year or so be financially independent enough to be able to leave.
LEAH: I will hope that for you as well. I want to ask you some questions about your experience of sex within the marriage and I understand that some of these may not be places that you’re comfortable talking about and that’s fine.
LEAH: Was the first time that you had sexual intercourse the night of your marriage?
LEAH: And what was that like for you?
HOPE: I think a lot of trauma. Again, nobody really talked to me about any of this. My mother was generally assuming, “Yes, I’ve handed her books. She’ll be able to figure it out” sort of thing. But it doesn’t work that way. It was very painful. Later on, I found out that sometimes it is for women the first couple of times. It’s just that it wasn’t just the first couple of times. Our entire, I think, sexual history has always been very awkward and very painful because nobody had really talked to either of us about what sex is.
For him, I know he got a lot of his information, again, not from his parents, but he did have a porn addiction and he brought that into our marriage as well. He got whatever he knew from porn and it’s just, again, I didn’t know better. He didn’t know either, but it’s not the place you want to learn about sex really, it isn’t because that is again, not reality. What it was is that it was these two people that knew absolutely nothing about sex, having sex, and not really understanding there is pleasure involved or how that pleasure is involved. We really didn’t know, but he had the advantage.
LEAH: Was there a point at which it ever got better?
HOPE: No. Between us, I don’t think so. When it was beginning, I was just really hoping that hearing these things, again, foolish advice from foolish sources, that the more you have sex, [inaudible] is. There are many sometimes hindrances to be able to have pleasurable sex. We never discussed sex with each other or how we would like. Again, one of those things that was not spoken about, really, again, culturally, it was not spoken about. Even though, between husband and wife, religiously there are no boundaries. Those are things that we could have openly explored, but we were not told that that’s how it was.
I also discovered that he, I think, didn’t desire sex with me as much after a certain point because again, you hear a lot of stories like you have the honeymoon period and how newlyweds are. Those pieces were not coming together for us. I first thought it’s probably me because of how I am. Even though, after our marriage, I tried to be a little more girly. Put on as much makeup as possible. I grew my hair out. I generally didn’t like having my hair long because it was very uncomfortable for me. But I grew my hair out, did the whole makeup, jewelry, nice clothes, and it didn’t seem to be working, that sort of thing.
Of course, his behavior was toxic in other respects as well, so it was just a very huge confused bubble. Even though he never really watched porn in front of me, I have had a very strong suspicion that he was into it. There was this feeling that I just couldn’t shake that I think he’s into porn. It was true. He was. He would just watch it when I was asleep. A lot of times I remember very distinctly that I would be in bed and he would have his laptop and he’d be watching porn, and then he’d go to shower and, I guess, masturbate in the shower and get it over with, that sort of thing. It’s just that he didn’t have that desire for me.
LEAH: Yeah. Did you ever learn to masturbate?
HOPE: Not until very recently, Leah. Again, it’s just I wasn’t even sure what brought me pleasure. I didn’t know and I was never told how it was. Until very recently, it was not something that I really ventured into. Religiously, it’s a bit of a gray area, so some people consider it okay. Some don’t. But I made that a point where I had a lot of unfulfilled desire, so it would have probably led me to cheat in my marriage. It was not because I would be hurting him, it’s just that I did not want to be in that dynamic. It’s a very really messy dynamic when you are cheating on a spouse and you have a family. I’m not a good person with secrets even though I have some, but this one was not something that I could pull off. I couldn’t.
LEAH: So, do I understand correctly that your concern was that if you started having sexual pleasure with yourself, you would want more of it, and then seek it outside the marriage?
HOPE: No. I think I have a very high libido. I do more than my husband does. It’s just that because there came a point where I just didn’t want to be with my husband, but I did really need, I guess, a sexual outlet. I did. Until very recently, I was not sure what that sexual outlet would be for me, how that would work. It was only through a very dear friend that she was like, “You know it’s okay, I think. You owe this to yourself.”
I’m very grateful to her because it’s not just about sex. I think it was more about being for once in your life doing something that is for you that would make you be okay because up until that point, I was not okay in a lot of ways. There were a lot of things going wrong in my life and from that point on, I am just focusing on being okay and healing myself. It’s just one part of it.
LEAH: As you look toward the future, I hear you saying that you hope that sometime in the next couple of years, you’ll be financially independent enough to create your own life. What do you want for yourself in terms of relationship, in terms of sex?
HOPE: Well, to be honest, Leah, after I’m able to end this relationship, logically, as things are, a woman my age there is very little chance of me having any further relationships and I prefer my relationships monogamous. So, there is literally very little chance of that happening. I think for the future, for myself, if I can be out of this relationship, I can be at peace finally that I can live a good life by myself, which at this point, I’m fine with. I just want my children to be okay and to be able to be the best me that I can be for them. In terms of relationships, I don’t expect to be in another one, which is all right because I have found that my choices out there are terribly, terribly, terribly not ideal. So, I don’t want to get into another bad relationship. I don’t.
LEAH: Sure. In the event that you did find someone to date and have a relationship with in the future, would it need to be someone within your religious faith community or would you be open to others?
HOPE: No, most definitely within the same religious faith community. I had my very same friend ask me that, “Would you be open to other races within the same religious faith community?” And I said, “Yes.” But again, I don’t hold my breath for it. With my experience of how it is, if I was younger and of the younger generation, I see this wonderful change that is there. It’s just that being divorced is not a death sentence in that generation and they have a lot more caring men, men who are dedicated to their families who really love them. But in my generation and older, that’s not how it was and it would be really hard to really find someone like that.
LEAH: So, a couple of minutes ago, you mentioned that your biggest concern is that your children be okay. And I’m curious how you talk to your children about relationships and about sex because it sounds like you had very little guidance or conversation in that area.
HOPE: That’s true, but at a very young age, I had sworn to myself that it would not be the same for my children. I had sworn high and low that this would not be the mistake that I made. Even though my children are still youngish, whatever question they have with them, I would be very open about it. I will explain to them how sex is instead of them going outside and finding weird random sources to find out these things. I would rather they come to me that I’d be able to explain to them. Even though it’s an awkward conversation, I get it, but I want them to come to me.
About relationships, that’s a hard one, Leah, because I think that’s one of the reasons I want to not be with my husband. It’s just that I don’t want them to see this and think that this dynamic is okay. I want them to see when they grow up, when they have a relationship, it should be like this that they have a responsibility with their wives that they should treat them with real love, kindness and respect otherwise, she has a choice. She doesn’t have to stay with you. Don’t be a jerk.
LEAH: Hope, I feel like I’ve asked you all of the questions that I know how to ask. I’m wondering if there are things that we haven’t covered that you think would be important to talk about.
HOPE: I think my entire reason for really coming and speaking to you, Leah, was that if there’s anybody out there who is listening and whether they be Muslim or not and they exist in a relationship, I think it’s one of those troubling things about abuse, physical abuse, you can see the scars, but with the emotional abuse that I’ve been through, you don’t see the scars because the scars are on the inside.
I’m just hoping is that if somebody’s struggling within their relationship, they shouldn’t be struggling because that’s not what a relationship is about. A real relationship between whomever you choose to be with is not a struggle. Yeah, you have good times, bad times. That’s part of it. That’s not what I meant, but if there is an everyday struggle with how you connect with the other person. If you can’t connect with honesty, trust, with love, with even a connection in sex, if any one of those is not there, it’s something that has to be fixed. If the person you’re with is unwilling to fix that, then that is a big problem because every person deserves to be loved completely. I know for sure that there’s no two ways about that that love encompasses many forms, sex is one of them. If you feel unsafe in any one of them and I felt unsafe in a lot of those aspects, I just didn’t know better. That’s why I went through what I went through, but I’m hoping if whoever is listening that they feel unsafe or unsure or that they’re in a place where there is no trust and honesty that they find people that can help them.
I was lucky. I was very lucky because I left everything behind to come to the U.S. where I was completely alone, completely. I had nobody around me that I could turn to, but I was incredibly lucky that that is when through Facebook, I met very wonderful women, most of them were not even Muslim, that they showed me the kind of kindness I had not even experienced from people who were supposed to show me kindness. They lifted me up at a time when I felt so low.
So, my only advice is to find help, find help wherever you can because there is no reason to destroy yourself in a relationship that is in its basis bad. There is no value in being a martyr like that, no value at all. My only hope is that people out there don’t make the same mistakes that I made and a lot of the women that came before me made that we do, as women, deserve love, affection, kindness.
LEAH: Hope, I’m so grateful for your bravery. I know how nervous you were before we started and you have shown up with such grace and I’m really grateful to you. Thank you.
HOPE: I’m grateful for the opportunity, Leah. I wasn’t sure how I’d be able to do this because it did bring up a lot of things that were very painful, but ultimately, I don’t want the same kind of pain for anyone. It’s a kind of suffering that either completely destroy you from the inside or changes you into a monster. I’ve seen both and I just don’t want that for anybody else, Leah.
LEAH: I pray that you find your way to a space of peace and happiness.
HOPE: Thank you.
LEAH: That’s it for today. Good Girls Talk About Sex is produced by me, Leah Carey, and edited by Gretchen Kilby. I have additional administrative support from Lara O’Connor and Maria Franco. Transcripts are produced by Jan Acielo.
And I’m incredibly grateful for the financial support from Good Girls Talk About Sex community members at Patreon. If you’d like to support me in telling these stories and answering your questions, head over to www.patreon.com/goodgirlstalkaboutsex. You can find Show Notes and Show Transcripts at www.goodgirlstalk.com. To ask a question about your sex life, your desires or anything to do with female sexuality, call and leave a message at 720-GOOD-SEX.
And before we go, I want to remind you that the things you’ve probably heard about your sexuality are not true. You are worthy. You are desirable. You are not broken. I work with women just like you to reflect their true sexual nature back to them without the judgment, shame or fear that can get in the way of us seeing it for ourselves. As a coach and PJ party hostess, I will guide you in embracing the sexuality that is innately yours no matter what it looks like. I’m here to help you sink so deeply you’re your true sexuality that the version of yourself that was scared to speak for her own needs feels like a mirage from another lifetime.
Until next time, here’s to your better sex life!
- 4:56 – Hope’s first memory of sexual pleasure is, in fact, quite recent. She grew up in a conservative family and didn’t think of herself as sexual aside from knowing she was straight due to “deep crushes” on boys.
- 9:57 – Conversations around sex during her teen years in Pakistan were accidental and minimal aside from a biology lesson in school, which was delivered by a no-nonsense chemistry teacher.
- 15:07 – Hope’s first strong experience of sexual pull at age 18 in college is distressing to her.
- 18:39 – Hope talks about being a Sunni Muslim in Pakistan and the impact that has on what sexuality looks like in culture.
- 24:45 – Arranged marriages and matchmaking under patriarchal culture set a perfect table for relationships with toxic power dynamics, emotional repression, and lack of fulfilment.
- 32:47 – Hope describes the matchmaking experience in Pakistan.
- 35:40 – Hope meets her husband. His mother has a history of working outside the home; this is a surprise and a boon. The match is difficult though, and women do not speak up. She finds herself trapped raising children and lacking the financial independence to leave.
- 41:30 – Hope opens up about the sex in her marriage: awkward and painful. She learned from books, he learned from porn.
- 46:15 – She has only recently learned about female pleasure by exploring masturbation to release her pent-up desire. It’s also a step towards self-healing.
- 50:00 – Hope talks about the future. She does not foresee another relationship, she just wishes for peace.
- 53:13 – She shares how she envisions a more open dialogue with her own children around sex and relationships, breaking a cultural and generational pattern of toxicity.
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