Defining Permissible Sex; Sexual Limitations; Prohibited Sex; Gender Change; Paradigms


This Article demonstrates that modern authoritative jurists working within the Shi’i tradition have developed their rules respecting sex regulation in order to serve three primary commitments. The first commitment is less a normative expectation and more a presumption of reality. It is that there is an intense and near debilitating desire on the part of human beings generally, though mostly men, for a great deal of sex. This desire must be satisfied, but it also must be tightly controlled. This is because of the second commitment, which is that excessive licentiousness is a form of secular distraction from a believer’s central obligation to worship God. The final, and perhaps most interesting, commitment concerns maintaining and upholding gender differentiation in order to ensure the preservation of traditional gender roles within an established gendered hierarchy. That is, there must be clear delineations between men, on the one hand, and women, on the other, if hierarchies relating to the proper roles of men and women are to be maintained. This explains the rather curious discrepancy within Shi’i Islam, discussed toward the end of this Article, wherein change of gender is tolerated, to some extent, and homosexuality is not, to any extent.

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