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Fear of Sex in Egypt: Misinformation and Cultural Ignorance Lead to Sexual Violence

Fear of Sex in Egypt: Misinformation and Cultural Ignorance Lead to Sexual Violence

Photo: Joseph Eid/AFP/Getty Images
Photo: Joseph Eid/AFP/Getty Images

By Nada Deyaa’

“I am getting married in less than two weeks! Everything is great, the preparations of the wedding, the dress, and the flat we’re moving at. Everything is ready except me!”  With this phrase, S.A., 26, began the conversation. “I am terrified every time I just think of our wedding night, the first night we will spend together and the process of turning me from a Miss into a Mrs.”

In a society like Egypt, it is culturally known that anything sex-related is forbidden, taboo and not to be discussed openly among people.

“Even though we have been engaged for a long time now, we have not spoken about our sexual relationship that will soon constitute a major part of our lives,” she said.

The stories she hears from other girls who previously got married are an additional reason to increase “the panic” she has regarding her first night with her soon-to-be-husband. “From the stories of bleeding girls to the stories of girls being raped by their own husbands on their wedding night, each story scares me to death and I have no idea of what he will do to me,” she said. “For me, sex is related to pain more than pleasure”.

While S.A. fears her first sexual relation experience, Shaimaa R., who got married at 24, insisted that all the stories she heard before getting married were completely different from the reality she experienced. “Things were not as bad as I thought they would be,” Shaimaa said. “The fears I had only existed in my mind”.

The lack of sex education in Egypt is the main reason there is misinformation shared between people and fears both partners have.

“If I had learned about how the process goes back in school, even in a purely scientific way, it would have definitely eased some of my deep fears back then,” Shaimaa said.

Aside from the role of schools, societal customs forbid open discussions about sex in any form and it is a main reason behind the overwhelmingly negative first experience both men and women have on their wedding nights.

“My mom never spoke to me about what to do or what to expect from my sex life, even when I was about to get married,” Shaimaa recalled. “She left that job to the internet and my older relatives.”

Even the discussions she overheard from them or the previous experiences she read online increased the element of fear regarding the amount of pain she would experience her first time.

“Even in childhood, a girl in eastern society is raised to believe that sex is a terrifying experience,” psychologist Omar Shahin said. He believes that growing up, all sex-related experiences girls undergo increase their negative feelings towards sex.

Over 90% of Egyptian females aged 15-49 have undergone female genital mutilation despite a governmental ban of the practice, according to a Egypt Health Issues Survey (EHIS) in 2015. This adds to a girl’s feeling that she is “cheap” and that her worth is tied almost solely to her virginity, Shahin said.

Consequently, a girl believes that when something as “precious” as this is taken away from her, her subconscious translates this to mean that she is worth nothing without it and that adds to her fears.

Growing up, the fears intensifies fed by the ignorance she feels due to not finding anyone to answer her questions. Moreover, Shahin finds that media plays a major role in increasing misinformation between people.

As for men, the ignorance controls them since they obtain most of their knowledge from pornographic films, which are far from reality. Meanwhile, the media portrays women who talk about such topics as “morally decadent”.

“All this fear both partners face can be erased if they are just sexually well educated and gain the trust that, with gentleness and care, they will both be satisfied,” he said.

In the history of Egyptian cinema, few films have addressed sex-related topics.  “Asrar El-Banat” (The Girls’ Secrets) is one of them, telling the story of a teenager who got pregnant by her teenage neighbour, despite never having had full penetrative sex. The movie discussed the reasons behind the problem and the ways in which society deals with it. Nonetheless, it was met with major criticism.

Some found it to be obscene and claimed it represents a negative image of Egyptian society and others believed it affronted the conservative nature of society.

Another film, “Al Na’ama Wel Tawoos” (The Ostrich and the Peacock) tackles the issue of intimate relations between men and women in Egypt. The female lead, who grew up knowing nothing about sex, marries a man who knows nothing about sex outside of what he has seen at porn films. Both of them belong to middle class, in which sex is not something to be discussed in the open.

After some time elapses in their marriage and they have had one child, the woman (Basma) admits that she is not sexually satisfied and that she feels as though she is being raped when they have sex rather than sharing intimacy.

When she asks to her husband to seek help from a specialist, she is met with accusations of being degenerate and sick and the husband insists that the fault is hers. The movie discusses several aspects of Egyptian society’s attitude to sex, starting with the fact that sexual ignorance leads to sexual violence against women.

Moreover, the film tackles many aspects of domestic violence. On one hand, it portrays emotional violence, when the husband makes his wife feel unwanted and continuously curses her. Physical violence is portrayed when he rapes her after she refuses to have sex with him, eventually escalating into him hitting her.

Their road towards finding a common ground that would satisfy both of them is difficult and challenging due to the many inherited beliefs about sex.

At the end of the day, fear of sex is a problem most Egyptian women face and yet they are nonetheless too afraid to speak up about.

“We’re suffering a crisis, yet no one talks about it!” says Menna S., 23. “There isn’t a way for anyone to find out about the right process for sexual relations that would satisfy both partners other than the internet”.

Although sex education does exist as part of the school curriculum at grade nine, most of the time it is not properly explained or taught, often being brushed over due to the teachers’ embarrassment, Menna said.

After the 1994 United Nations Conference on Population and Development, the Egyptian Ministry of Education incorporated a few short lessons on sexuality and reproductive health in the public school curriculum. When the ministry removed these lessons from the public curriculum, it stated that they would be replaced with in-class discussions.

Prior to this decision, not all teachers actually taught the material and instead told students to read on their own or to discuss these issues with their parents.

Removing sexual education from the public curriculum has not lessened the Egyptian people’s curiosity about sexual issues. According to an annual report Google released in 2011 outlining the most popularly searched topics worldwide, Egypt was ranked 4th in countries that Google-searched the word “sex.” In November 2012, Alexa, a web service that tracks Internet traffic patterns worldwide, reported at least 5 pornographic websites being among the 100 most visited websites in Egypt.

This content is from Daily News Egypt, Edited by Egyptian Streets

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