Fourteen centuries ago Islam spoke to the woman’s sensuality and the desire for pleasure in great intimacy. A Prophet likened foreplay to a messenger: “Let not the one of you fall upon his wife like a camel, it is more appropriate to send a messenger before the deed.”
An ultra-conservative Egyptian writer, Ibn al-Hajj, during the reign of the Mamluks was scandalized by the overt sexuality of Cairene women.
And the opus of Arab short-story telling, A Thousand and One Nights, is an ado to passionate foreplay and love-making.
Ammianus Marcellinus, the fourth-century Roman history, observed while traveling in Arabia about the Arabs “it is unbelievable with what ardour both sexes give themselves up to passion.”
Rabbi Nathan, one of the Talmud authors, “declared that nowhere in the world was there such a propensity towards fornication as among the Arabs, just as nowhere was there any power like that of Persia, or wealth like that of Rome, or magic like that of Egypt.” He “observed that, if all the sexual licence [sic] in the world were divided into ten parts, then nine of these would be distributed among the Arabs and the tenth would be enough for all other races.”
It was in this background that Islam arose. A world where the pagan Arabs enjoyed sex like no other. The question of sex in Islam was always been quite different from that of Christianity. Catholic dogma preached and still does to this day that sex is nearly an awful thing and that is why the church hierarchy must be prevented from engaging in it. Islam has no vow of celibacy.
Islam is different. This is no shame attached to sex in Islam. In fact, because of Islam liberal approach to sex, it was attacked by Christians for centuries as a permissive religion contrary to the ostensible more moral Christianity. The puritanical Islam spoken about today would be unrecognizable to, say, Max Weber and many other Christian leaders of centuries past whom say Islam as a too tolerant faith.
Don’t misunderstand me, Islam is not rules-less when it comes to sex: Sex must be within the bounds of marriage. But there is no shame-complex attached and sex is something, within marriage, encouraged to be loved and enjoyed. That both sexual partners must satisfy one another.
Islam’s tolerant and encouraging approach to sex is a product of the Arabia Islam arose from. When studying Islam is is important to understand the context of arrival. For instance, take the Hajj: the annal pilgrimage to Mecca. The practice is Arabian that long predates Islam. Islam incorporated the Hajj into the faith.
The attitude toward sex is similar. Islam, in the earlier years, allowed for temporary marriages. A marriage for the purpose of tribal solidarity, ect…, that was understood to be temporary and end once no longed needed. This is a practice that existed among the Arabs before Islam often for nothing else expect for the purpose of enjoying sex while Arabian traders were moving about and visiting another town. Sunni Muslims have long gotten rid of this practice, but the Shiis retain it and even in the Shii holy city of Qom this is quite common.
Islam placed limits on sex, but it never adopted the Christian rhetoric. Take the question of wives. Islam does allow for polygamy, but Islam arose in a polygamous Arabia where 10 or more wives was not uncommon for wealthy men. Islam limited it to four wives and on a strictly if you need to basis while making it clear that the first wife has veto and that all wives must be treated equally.
So the attitude toward sex, the question of temporary marriage, and of polygamy are all matters that predate the emergence of organized Islam. Islam just incorporated and modified these manners.