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Try out PMC Labs and tell us what you think. Learn More. The sex life of Arabs is terra incognita for scientists and policy makers. Shereen El Feki. El Feki, a Canadian-Egyptian immunologist University of Cambridge and award-winning journalist for The Economist and Al Jazeera, spent the past five years taking the temperature in bedrooms across the Arab world - a region spanning 22 countries and ing million people, in which the only acceptable, socially acknowledged context for sex is marriage Everyone talks about football, but hardly anyone plays it.
In spite of this habitual reticence, El Feki was able to explore the substance of contemporary sex life in the Arab world, from Tunisia over Egypt and Saudi Arabia to Qatar. Across that vast region, the sexual experience is shifting, albeit at a tectonically slow pace. Sexual freedom still defines the West, as the Orient seems stuck in a state of sexual lockdown. Not that long ago, the perception was inverses. In the eyes of the 19th-century West, the Arab world conjured up highly eroticised visions of mystery and loose morals, sensuality and sex.
My book argues for a change along those lines, but within an Islamic context. It would be utter nonsense to argue for a secular sexual revolution in the Arab world. For this reason, the book has a companion website www. El Feki grew up in Canada, the daughter of an Egyptian father and a Welsh mother. Her Muslim roots fed her interest in the Arab world. First, I went to work for Al Jazeera as a presenter. In , I started researching Sex and the Citadel. This gave me access to information that is hard to come by in the Arab world, because sex research is scarce.
But the statistics are not really reliable. How often is infertility actually diagnosed? We do not know. It is hard to get any insight. Not only because of the taboos around sex, also because there is no culture of publishing or sharing info. There are hardly any journals writing about sex. Governments sit on the of the surveys they ordered. There is no culture of transparency.
The biggest pool of data about sex comes through HIV research. It was absolutely not easy to get hold of that information. Yet male infertility is rampant. Mehany told me smoking and pollution are likely causes. Others think the cause may be genetic, due to the high rate of consanguineous marriages, which increase the likelihood of genetic defects being passed on to children. Other possible causes mooted are wearing jeans or exposure to agricultural chemicals. The latter would explain the large of small farmers turning up at Dr. So men and women have to bathe after intercourse.
Women shower almost immediately after sex. Infertility specialists advise to wait at least half an hour after ejaculation, which many women find disconcerting. Even more problematic is getting a sperm sample. Many men consider masturbation deeply troubling, as they blame their infertility on it. Most religious scholars consider it haram. So many men have a problem with producing a semen sample, even for infertility treatment.
In Egypt, sperm or egg donation and surrogacy are unacceptable because it can lead to an illegitimate child. What I had not expected, were the many individuals in Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria and other countries trying to push the boundaries, in so many directions. The creativity and innovation in matters of sex education were remarkable. The glass is not always half empty, I discovered.
Sometimes, it is half full They focus on the problems in the Arab world while many in the Arab world are focusing on the solutions. It is obvious that there are problems, but one of the messages of my book is that the solutions people are finding are okay. The Arabs do know what they are doing. But I do not want to knock people over the head.
That is why I did not compare the sexual practices in the Arab world with those in the West or in other parts of the world. Many of my readers will live outside the West, so why always compare to Europe or North America? And I am not suggesting we go back to a mythical golden age of sexual liberation in our past.
It did not exist. But there was more openness. But indeed, physical affection in public gets rarer. Ayman Zohry, an expert on Egyptian migration, told me a remarkable story. He comes from a village where a large proportion of the men migrate to the Gulf for work. Twenty years ago his female relatives hugged him when he returned to the village. Now they do not. Many women will not even shake hands with a man. She found out that husbands and wives find it easier hugging each other in front of the kids. And that those displays of affection utterly changed the dynamics in the family.
You could feel the love and companionship and everything in the family changed. This never happened before the uprising, not in broad daylight anyway. You see these small changes everywhere. In Morocco, there was a Kiss-In. There is a lot of tension between the public and the private, but people are starting to question the old taboos. It is so alien to the way we see changes in the Arab region. It is actually quite damaging. In the West, there is a more confrontational approach to change, but not so in the Arab world.
It takes very gradual steps. One is the Arab world. If you look at the curves of the graphs, you see them shooting up. Because of the pressure to have , she gets pregnant soon. The child is unwell, and in hospital they discover mother and baby are HIV-infected. And the husband too. For the woman, this is a bolt from the blue. She has only had sex with her husband.
She must have engaged in extramarital sex. The level of tolerance for women is extraordinarily low. The same goes for drug users, a growing problem in the Arab world, particularly in Egypt and Libya. For women, it is socially unacceptable. So men will be sent to a rehabilitation centre, but not women. HIV and drug abuse go hand in hand. And despite the toxic mess caused by the lack of proper education, the taboo around contraceptives and the illegal status of abortion. The tragedy is that it will require money, focus and political will, all of which are in short supply.
HIV is the measure of all your other problems, a mirror to a society. Morocco and Oman have stepped up to the plate, Tunisia and Algeria have a solid track record. As a journalist, I discovered a massive gap between official statistics and private reality. While people were assuring me that HIV was not a problem in the Arab world, I met entire families who were infected. This is what set me off to write the book - the realisation that sex is the wedge between appearance and reality in Arab societies. There is a collective unwillingness to face up to any behaviour that falls short of the marital ideal.
There is a lot of variation inside each country. And we lack robust empirical research. My book has some, but it is largely anecdotal. There is no ranking of how sexually messed-up Arab countries are laughs. We do not know the level of sexual angst or confusion. But we have insights into sexual violence. About a third of women have experienced domestic violence within the last year. We have some information on attitudes, though. When you compare the ability to mobilise social groups, we can say that the relatively more open societies are Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria.
Jordan is quite open on some issues like honour killing, which is a real problem there. But the majority of men said they wanted to marry a virgin. So there you go. Kuwait is considering a law that would allow gender testing. In the book, I talk about their punishment for cross-dressers. The question is: What is going on? Why this fixation on transgender people, at the same time as the Arab world is in such political upheaval? They say that Moroccan women are a little light on sexual morals.
As a leading Moroccan magazine put it: To be Moroccan is not a nationality, but a conviction. That about sums it up. Moroccan women are politically more liberated, so they must be sexually liberated too. That idea is wrong, of course. Many people who are currently fighting for political liberalisation are absolutely horrified by the idea of sexual freedom. Tunisian women have a reputation similar to that of Moroccan women. Aliaa Elmahdy is one example.
Frankly, I do not think this is how you achieve change. Another example is the Moroccan Kiss-In. On Facebook, thousands of people said they would attend and participate. But what happened? Only 12 people showed up. This slacktivism is typical. There is no equality of expectations, and what happens in private does not match up with what is expected in the public sphere.
Basically, it is prostitution, people trafficking and sex tourism masquerading as marriage. Before the revolution, he organised at least a thousand marriages a year. Some were to wealthy Saudi men, who like to have a teenage girl, or even more specifically a virgin, and then keep her for, say, 10 days to two weeks.Arab women looking for sex
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