Sex Taboo in the Arab World

Sexualization of Arab women

Virginity has always been an object of speculation, intrigue and dread. As I was watching an old indie movie starring my favorite actor Jesse Eisenberg titled “Roger Doger”, I stopped at a scene where various characters were discussing their “first time” and how it turned out to be. The main character –Roger, obviously- was a douche-slash-ladies man who thought that flirting with women constantly and acting in a phony, confident way around would give him better chances of getting laid. But as he was the more “experienced” member of the family, his naïve 16-year-old nephew, Nick –played sweetly by a very young Jesse Eisenberg- turns to him to teach him the art of picking up women and unravel the female mystery to him. Events unravel slowly and the pace is just as stagnant as expected until we reach that scene, when Nick and Roger pick up two girls in a bar, and they hang out, with the discussion flowing from casual flirting to their opinion on sexualization, difference between love and sexual attraction and concluding with a recount of their “first time” respectively.

I admit that I didn’t like the movie firsthand and it is clearly not one of my favorites, but that particular scene and the interesting revelation that Nick made to everybody that he was a virgin, made way for my personal thoughts and allowed me to think of how different teens and twentysomething men and women in the Arab world are from their peers in the Western world. While people in the West get to explore their sexuality and the different aspects of it, ranging from creative to dangerous, bizarre to monotonous and emotional to simply the animalistic side, people in the East are repressed socially and religiously for simply voicing out their needs and desires. When I started writing this article, I imagined writing it in Arabic, I cringed at the thought. Men would spam my message inbox thinking that I simply wanted “to f***”, I would get attacked and maybe threatened or just bashed for opening the eyes of the innocent to such “controversial matters” “things better left in the dark”. It’s not about the “sex” only or just losing your virginity but simply the oppression inflicted on you by the religious and social entities in your country, not because you want to have sex, but because you mentioned sex, because maybe your sexual journey is different from what the Holy scripture describes, or for plainly stating a sexual remark or a crude joke. It is easier for men to have their desires satisfied and run under the nose of the society then come back clean and demand a virginal, virtuous bride afterward.

Even as the society condemns premarital sex and the sheikhs and priests preach against it, still men are lucky not to have a hymen, and whether they’re virgins or not nobody asks about them and it all ends with a happy, steady marriage anyway, so what’s the deal? All men have “experiments”, it’s their nature, and don’t they pray for forgiveness in the end? Great, that’s what matters. But for a woman to just speak out her mind –especially if that woman is still single, never been married- and say what she wants from a man or how she imagines her sex life to be. Kaboom, all Hell breaks loose. The religious speech in Arab countries –with stress on Islamic speech- depicts the woman as the Other, the Jezebel, the evildoer. Worldwide women are being scrutinized for their mistakes more than men –Miley Cyrus, Lindsay Lohan, Amanda Bynes, anyone?- so multiply that criticism and bias by a thousand times and you get how the female image is being tackled in the Arab world. For Egyptian director Inas El Degheidy, it has been a series of ongoing lawsuits, death threats and sabotaging campaigns. Inas has been called a whore, an atheist and a sex-crazed, loose woman. Despite her recent films lacking depth and projecting a weak cinematic picture, Inas has had her glory days when she shot movies about politicians’ involvement with prostitution, forced marriage of children to wealthy, oil tycoons, how the society treats adultery differently when committed by a man than a woman and the life of a teenage girl chronicling how she lost her virginity. The last film, titled “Diaries of a teenage girl” was met with wide criticism and ban in many Arab countries. While not being so great, it tells the story of a naïve 16-year-old and her experience at meeting the guy of her dreams and losing her virginity to him. The girl didn’t even see it as a sexual experience in the movie, but she created a fantasy in which she was Eve and he was Adam and how their lovemaking was marriage, the old fashioned way, forbidden fruit and all. So that girl made the decision of her first time and she was just an individual in a society bombarded with a thousand others. What’s the big deal? Isn’t she entitled to her own opinion? Not at all!

In a society laden with taboos and landmines, sex is a hated topic, a scary topic. First time is only legitimate on wedding night. A girl is only good and pure if she is deflowered by her husband, and there is no excuse for her hymen to be torn. In the countryside, deflowering of the virgin bride is a spectacle in itself, even greater than the marriage ceremony. Sometimes the family hires a midwife to ensure that the girl’s hymen is intact, and when virginal blood drips for the “first time” on the white sheets, the groom goes out to the anticipating crowd with a proud smile on his face, he did it! I can’t imagine what it would feel like for any girl to lose her virginity in this humiliating, horrifying way. And I keep wondering what she might think of sex afterward, if she ever thinks there is a “first time”, because really she is only having that time repeated over and over with the same hideous person. This is just as bad as when Roger almost had Nick lose his virginity to a random prostitute in a filthy brothel. It would’ve totally scarred the boy for life.

Experimentation, sticking to your religious beliefs on right and wrong, crossing the thin line between shoulda, shouldn’t, those are all tricky subjects, scary even, if you ask me. I wouldn’t give my opinion on these matters because I am not a teacher and certainly not interested in guiding anyone but deep down I really wish the Arab world would be more accepting to others and the taboo, any taboo not just the sex one, would be completely broken.

Written by: Jaylan Salah

Taboos in the Arab world

Inas Al Degheidy causes controversy again

The “Child Brides” phenomenon


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