Sex in the Arab World (RELS 348)

The article, “Let’s talk about sex in… the Arab world” starts to take a look at how sex is perceived in eastern cultures. Sheeren El Feki looks at, in her March 2014 article, the fact that people seem to be willing to talk about sex but their perceptions on sexual health are skewed. The lack of sexual education is prevalent. Women are getting pregnant without understanding how they are pregnant, there is disconnect in the amount of men and women having sex, and the “virginity myths” are prevalent.

A woman disclosed that she was a virgin even though she was pregnant. The idea of virginity is a social construct that does not need to exist, especially when it comes in a way that determines a person’s human value. And this idea that sex is a shameful thing is a newer idea. We see in Kris Manjapra’s book, M.N. Roy Marxism and Colonial Cosmopolitanism, that sex at that point in time was seen as a positive venture. “Epicurus taught that every pleasure is good.” El Feki discusses this in the article when she states that people need to reclaim the spirit of their ancestors where sex is not a problem, but a pleasure. In doing this people living in the Arab world would face less shame when it comes to sex, especially women.

Anywhere between 30-60% of men claim to have had sexual relations before marriage but 80% of women say that they have not. What does this statistic bring us to believe? Either that men are having sex with men, men are lying, women are lying, or that men are having majority of their interactions with sex workers. El Feki explains how sex work is prevalent in the Arab region and therefore this may be one of the main causes for these statistical differences. Also, just like the rest of the world people are engaging in same-sex relations. In these countries it is not only shameful to be gay but a lot of the time it is also illegal (Whitaker, 2012). People will repress these feelings or not open up about them. The shame of being homosexual is a whole other issue that is concerning, especially in the Arab countries. While Manajapra does not explicitly state Roy’s views on homosexuality we do see that people were to have “free experience of the pleasure” and I would argue that he was not just referring to heterosexual relationships. With the lack of proper sexual education lead to harmful beliefs surround sexual choice.

These beliefs seem to allow for men to have sex without any social repercussions but if a woman chooses to have sex then she is seen as “less pure” for her wedding night. These are harmful views to hold, as women then are shamed into submission and silence if they choose to have sex before marriage, therefore not receiving proper education on the matter. Manjapra discusses how Roy looks to free women and allow them to express their sexual drives rather than just being seen as mothers and caregivers. This is still an important part of today’s sexual liberation. That is allowing women to be seen as individuals not just as wives, as mothers, as caregivers.

El Feki’s article is an important step in reclaiming sexuality in the Arab world. Sex needs to be an open conversation so that people are well educated and informed when making their decisions to engage in sexual activities. Roy had a fairly good grasp on this for his times. People need to start being seen as active agents and allowed to make their own decisions for their bodies.

HJ #uwreligions

References:

El Feki, S. (2014). Let’s Talk About Sex in… the Arab World. New Internationalist.

Retrieved from: http://newint.org/features/2014/03/01/middle-east-personal-politics/

Manjapra, K. (2010). M.N. Roy Marxism and Colonial Cosmopolitanism. New Dehli:

Routledge.

Whitaker, B. (2012). The Ongoing Battle for Gay Rights in the Arab World. Foreign

Policy. Retrieved from: http://foreignpolicy.com/2012/03/12/the-ongoing-battle-for-gay-rights-in-the-arab-world/

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