Many Arab men have long detested the role of women in modern cities, and the fact that women have a central role in society is often decried. A hermit living in the mountains visited the city once and was horrified at the women he saw there. He asked Hamdouna why she would have an affair with someone she did not know. She replied that she was a slave and did not even know her own husband.
Sadly, the Arab world has had a dark period since the 1950s, and this has affected many areas of life, including sex. Islamic conservatives have hijacked arguments surrounding sex, and have created a climate of shame around it. As a result, many Arab men and women are now very conservative. Thankfully, there are now some options available for sex in the Arab world. Until the 1970s, many Arab men were sexually free, and this era of sex is long gone.
Aphrodisiacs are a common component of Arab popular culture. Herbal recipes were included in a 14th century text by an influential Islamic scholar. In fact, herbal recipes for enhancing sexual desire can be found in the works of Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyyya. However, it is difficult to tell whether these practices are genuine. Nonetheless, they provide a unique perspective into Arab sex.
Patai’s book “The Arab Mind” has a very similar approach to sexuality. Yet, it is far less explicit. Only a small portion of the book deals with sex, as nearly all of Patai’s discussion centers on repression. Despite this, he does assign a prominent place to the practice of “Arab Child-Rearing Practices”.
In Tunisia, for example, sex education will be taught in elementary and middle school, making it the first Arab nation to implement such a program. As a result, children as young as five will learn about their bodies in a biological and religious context. Ultimately, the goal is to protect young children from sexual harassment and abuse. The program has already received positive reviews from parents in Tunisia. However, there may be a risk of censorship since the country’s climate is highly secular.
Historically, the Arabic word for homosexuality shudhudh referred to a wide variety of sexual activities. However, it was not until the early 20th century that Egyptian psychologist Abdulaziz al-Qawsi introduced this term in Arabic. His Fundamentals on Psychological Health contained translations of common Western terms. The Egyptian psychologist then renamed this word shudhudh as a translation of “sexual abnormality.” His other choice of words for homosexuality was the term mithlyah. Today, Arab anti-homosexuality discourse considers mithlyah as a relatively recent innovation.
For some, the Arab culture makes it hard to accept a sexual lifestyle. But, for others, it is the natural state of being. The cultural taboos surrounding sex in the Middle East may make overcoming this problem all the more difficult. People in repressive societies are often reluctant to admit they have a problem. And this is particularly true of Arab men and women. If someone is afraid of their partner, it is unlikely that they will seek treatment for their problem.