‘Sex is not a red line’: how Arab women are using social media to learn about sex

Wednesday 19 June 201903:19 pm
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In a society that forbids talking about sex and considers everyone who approaches the topic as having crossed a red line, some Egyptian women have chosen to boldly talk about sexual health, awareness and to even buy and sell sex-enhancing products on online platforms.

While women's promotion of sexual content in the Arab world may seem strange, these platforms actually emphasize gender equality in various areas, especially in ​​sexual health.

In recent years, some social awareness pages sprung up on social media sites such as the Facebook-based Love Matters. With time these pages have produced content that proves that talking about sex does not necessarily mean promoting sexual relationships

To learn more Raseef22 talked to some of the administrators of these pages. Women who boldly work on theses issues in hopes of teaching people about sex.

In a society that forbids talking about sex and considers everyone who approaches the topic as having crossed a red line, some Egyptian women have chosen to boldly talk about sexual health, awareness and to even buy and sell sex-enhancing products on online platforms.

The sex talk

Fatima Ibrahim is the founder of one of the first Arab initiatives to provide sexual health content. Her interest sprung initially from being a member of secret women’s Facebook groups which she said led her to notice what she described as “the widespread ignorance about sexual health, how women relate to their bodies and how to remain healthy and disease-free.”

Ibrahim said that girls are often afraid to go to a doctor and get advice on intimate subjects.

"When I wanted learn something I would seek out scientific articles and distance myself from ethics, religion and personal experiences, especially since as women in Arab society, we know nothing about our bodies and that is what makes us always vulnerable to exploitation," she said.

Based on her own experience, Ibrahim noted that there was no Arab content about sexual health directed at women, so she decided to launch a feminist platform that "puts women first and aims to raise awareness and disseminate knowledge, because I believe that the first step toward empowerment is knowledge."

"This content that I worked on addresses the various issues women face, such as circumcision, the marriage of minors, the concept of virginity and honor,” she added.

At first, Ibrahim set up a closed group on Facebook to provide a safe space for women to express themselves and raise their concerns. She then went on to create a Facebook page called The Sex Talk, aimed at educating women about themselves and their bodies in order to avoid abuse or harmful misinformation.

In Egypt, she said, it is forbidden for a girl to try to learn anything about her body, especially if she is a virgin.

"This talk is only before the wedding,” she said. “This ignorance makes many women vulnerable to abuse especially since some men indulge in harmful practices on the grounds that this behavior is normal, since some of these men are very affected by what they have seen in porn films.”

While some women choose this platform to talk about changes in the reproductive system and the relationship to their bodies, some reveal exposure to sexual abuse. Ibrahim summed up the group's goal as being about "awareness of health in general, and everything about the body of women and their sexual health.”

"We are the first initiative in the Arab world to provide content specific to women only, in an easy and uncomplicated language, so we have members from all Arab countries and of all nationalities," she said.

Selling sexual wellness products

Beyond the aim of spreading sexual awareness, there has been a proliferation of Facebook pages selling sexual wellness products. Raseef22 talked to Menna, a pseudonym, who runs one of these pages, which specializes in a special lubricant.

Menna explained that the questions she receives from visitors to the page are very explicit, but that does not embarrass her, especially since she works from behind the screen and provides scientific information that serves customers, unlike pages that spread the same content in a “very tacky way.”

Menna said she tries to deal with her customers respectfully and without offending anyone.

"What bothers me most is that when men speak badly about their wives, and when they do they are blocked because I want to maintain a standard”

Sex education platforms

"Sexology" in Egypt is one of the most important pages providing scientific content on sexual relations. With its motto of “Sex is not a red line,” it has a large following and wide reach.

Asmaa, a pseudonym, is one of the admins of the page providing information to members.

“We publish information about sensitive subjects and try to answer the questions that people are afraid to ask about sex and sexual health as long as respectful dialogue is maintained,” she said.

Despite the harsh criticisms the page has received, Asmaa said she wants to defy society and its limiting mores and traditions, and that's why she joined the admin team of the page.

“Being a woman who talks about sexual education is considered shameful in our society, but I have overcome this and now I publish things on my own page openly so my friends can also benefit".

“Being a woman who talks about sexual education is considered shameful in our society, but I have overcome this and now I publish things on my own page openly so my friends can also benefit,” she said.

There is a similar zero-tolerance policy towards abuse and harassment on the Sexology page.

Asmaa said that, at first, most of the comments and sharing on the page was done by men, but over time the number of women participating increased, although some were afraid to disclose what they enjoyed or to reveal whether they had been victims of sexual exploitation.

Asmaa said that none of the members know that a woman is helping run the page.

"This may lead some members to lose their trust in the page and refrain from asking questions through messages,” she said. “The main reason for this being that men would hate to have their masculinity questioned. The culture we have been raised in compels us to believe that a man never encounters difficulties in sex.”

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