Mayar*, a young woman from the Upper Egyptian province of Minya, was on the verge of getting married to a man 20 years her senior. She wasn’t driven by love or a mutual understanding; rather by a void in her sex life since she was divorced from her first husband. This new candidate seemed capable of filling that void. Mayar could never admit to her needs in a society that casts a woman’s sexual needs as shameful and taboo.
“I began thinking of my increased libido 24/7,” Mayar (23) tells Raseef22.
A group of women advised her to reconsider her decision to marry, as her motivations were insufficient. Moreover, they said that, with time, a man that much older than her would be unable to satisfy her needs. Eventually, Mayar changed her mind.
The conversation between Mayar and the group of women did not take place in a closed setting or in a passing conversation between close friends, but in a parallel virtual world.
Mayar had posed her questions on a Facebook group concerned with women’s problems, having felt too embarrassed to confide in anyone within her circles.
Options are limited, if not nonexistent, for women who wish to express their concerns or anxieties in the face of a conservative society, condemning most women to prisons of shame. Against this backdrop, Facebook groups offer the only reprieve for their sexual issues.
Several of these groups have been established with the sole purpose of offering a platform for women to express their problems and receive feedback. For many of their members, these groups are the only source of reassurance or answers for their most intimate questions; questions that they often cannot even broach with their husbands or physicians out of fear of reprisal.
No Red Lines
One group called “Women’s Talk” has about 65,000 members, and is run by Walaa’ Al-Showeiky (32), with the help of 10 other admins. Their responsibility is to review the identities of everyone who wishes to join the group, and to continuously review the list of members to ensure than no men have joined.
For many Egyptian women, online groups are the only refuge for them to discuss problems with their sex lives
In a society where a woman's sexual desires are condemned as unspeakable, very little is offered by way of relief
There are no limits to what can be discussed on the group, so long as it is considerate of moral standards. The topics broached by group members range from marital issues to health, emotional, and professional problems, as well as sexual harassment issues, and others.
Al-Showeiky says that she is cautious with questions of a sexual nature in terms of selecting which ones will be posted to the group for discussion. First, she makes sure of the asker’s identity, to suss out any men who might be using a fake profile. If she feels assured of the identity, she asks for a phone number to fully confirm her identity. However, she has observed that intruding men often use “distasteful” language in their posts, which makes spotting them easier.
Divulging certain fears is not only embarrassing, in certain cases, it can pose a very real threat to a woman’s life.
What of a girl or young woman who has engaged in a premarital relationship and lost that sacred seal of immaculateness; her hymen? And what about a woman engaged in an extramarital affair who needs to vent out her thoughts? Or a girl who finds that she is attracted to other girls but cannot speak of this attraction?
At times, the issues are more sensitive, such as the case that Al-Showeiky recounts, where a girl told her that her father had sexually assaulted her as a child, fearing that she may have lost her virginity in the process. This girl told no one of her experience but the women of the group, who in turn offered their support and advised her to visit a doctor and explain her situation.
Yet the real issue lies in the fact that she never confronted her father or disclosed his assault on her. In cases such as these, these groups can only offer a palliative measure to a far more insidious issue.
Motivated by Helplessness
Psychiatric consultant Dr Gamal Farweiz tells Raseef22 that embarrassing sexual issues often cause women to feel helpless, pushing them to cling to any source of hope that there may be a solution to her problem.
In these cases, they search for people who have been in the same situation, which in itself alleviates a large part of the burden. This may lead them to behave somewhat irrationally, trusting these virtual women without taking the necessary precautions or ascertaining their identities, which at times leaves them susceptible to blackmail or exposure.
Farweiz affirms that the correct course of action would be to take these problems to psychiatric and sexual health specialists. However, most young women eschew this option due to what he describes as the regressive mentality that characterizes most of Arab society.
Between Varying Questions and Taboos
From porn addictions to masturbation, and from husbands’ sexual disinterest or impotence to experiencing pain during sex, as well as the disparity in sexual interest between spouses, the questions posed on these forums are no novelty. Those very same issues have appeared in the personals pages online and in magazines in the Arab world and abroad for years.
Faten, for example, is engaged and says she suffers from excessive porn consumption and masturbation, but has been unable to tell anyone, even her psychiatrist, because he is male. Nonetheless, she didn’t hesitate to divulge her concerns on a women’s group, only to discover that there was nothing shameful about her experience, and that many women had been through the same and told her that it didn’t affect their post-marital sex lives.
Yet these groups pose a problem in terms of their unscientific approach to solving problems. Thus, they tend to base these solutions on a stereotypical view of women, or to efface each woman’s individual experience with answers that are legitimized solely through “personal experience”. Consequently, women will proffer up solutions such as “get closer to God” or “take care of the kids” to women who complain of hypersexuality. Others will attempt to intimidate girls and young women out of masturabtion by claiming that it is the cause of their dissatisfaction with intercourse with their husbands.
Yet, despite the availability of scientific books and medical websites that provide transparent responses to the women’s various questions, people find comfort in advice from others who are going through the same situation. Such responses provide a sense of reassurance and community, even if it is illusory or virtual.
*A pseudonym was used