Let’s Talk About Sex

in the Arab world. Awesome.

Dr. Heba Kotb is tackling a taboo in the Arab world unlike anyone else: She’s talking about sex openly on a show broadcast all over the Middle East.

It’s a big first in these parts of the world, and Kotb leaves little uncovered.

“We talk about masturbation … sex over the Internet. We talk about sex and Ramadan. We talk about the wedding night,” said Kotb. Entitled “The Big Talk,” the show is broadcast once a week over a satellite channel from Cairo, Egypt.

It took the 39-year-old mother three years of negotiations to get her show on the air. And a main reason she succeeded is that she talks only about sex allowed in the Quran — sex between husband and wife.

But even with that guideline, it’s no easy sell.

The promo for “The Big Talk” starts with Kotb saying, “Sex. Don’t be afraid. Join me to talk about sex without shame.”

I love it. She also focuses on women’s sexual pleasure (in addition to basic sexual knowledge for both partners), which is always a good thing.

And if you want more myth-busting about Muslim women, check out fashionistas working around the morality police in Iran, and young women in Europe blending traditional religiously-required clothing with mainstream Western fashion.

Thanks to Kyle and someone else I can’t remember (sorry!) for the links.


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About Jill

Jill began blogging for Feministe in 2005. She has since written as a weekly columnist for the Guardian newspaper and in April 2014 she was appointed as senior political writer for Cosmopolitan magazine.
This entry was posted in Feminism, Gender, Religion, Sex and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to Let’s Talk About Sex

  1. Cecily says:

    The Telegraph article made me a little sad. It’s awesome that women in Iran are finding means of self-expression and freedom, but man, talk about beauty-focus!

    In a country with the saying, ‘Make me beautiful, even if you have to kill me’, it is usual to spend an afternoon at the salon once, even twice, a week, with eyebrow-shaping the most popular procedure: everyone here has immaculate brows. And beauty doesn’t stop there. Many young women now have plastic surgery – and often wear their plasters proudly in public. Cute button noses are all the rage. ‘Why not? Pretty is good, prettier is better,’ says my 20-year-old cousin. According to Dr Reza Moltaji, one of Iran’s most expensive cosmetic surgeons, there has been an explosion in ‘nose specialists’, with prices starting as low as $300; ‘Today it’s no longer “chic” to redo one’s nose, it’s routine.’

    I can’t help but wonder, if almost every girl thinks she needs a nose job…is it Persian noses they don’t want to have? Are these ‘cute button noses’ results of the media’s relentless insistence that white is beautiful? (“An Iranian girl’s ultimate aim is to look like a classically chic Parisian”)

    I also wonder whether these freedoms extend into the poorer classes at all. The girls interviewed seem rich and the trends covered sound expensive.

    It’s funny to think that perhaps, by forcing women to dress in a way that precludes fashion and ‘beauty’ for so many years, the theocracy ensures that women will focus on fashion and beauty.

    Anyway, sorry to focus in on one side-article to the main point, when the main point is so positive! Let’s hear it for more information on sex available to those who need it!

  2. Jill says:

    Yeah, I agree that the Telegraph article wasn’t exactly uplifting. I wasn’t trying to endorse its message, either — just pointing out that our stereotypes about places like Iran are seldom accurate.

  3. Cecily says:

    Oh, I didn’t think you were endorsing it, Jill. Just sharing my reaction :(

  4. NYU ruined my future says:

    I’ve been reading a lot about Iran and the official dress laws lately. It’s summer now, and the morality police there are engaged in their annual crackdown on capris, “bad hijabs” (ones that slip down on the head and show some scadalous hair!) and figure-hugging overcoats. If you got o YouTube, there are some CRAZY recently-uploaded videos of women being arrested and chased by the police for dress-code violations, and there’s even a video of a girl fighting back, punching and kicking a female policewoman before getting away.

  5. Mnemosyne says:

    I can’t help but wonder, if almost every girl thinks she needs a nose job…is it Persian noses they don’t want to have? Are these ‘cute button noses’ results of the media’s relentless insistence that white is beautiful? (”An Iranian girl’s ultimate aim is to look like a classically chic Parisian”)

    Back in the days when Allure was a good magazine, they did a really interesting article about beauty in Iran (they also covered places like Cuba). There was a lot of facial plastic surgery going on because your face was pretty much your only chance to look attractive to the opposite sex, so they put a lot of upkeep into their skin, eyebrows and, yes, lots of nose jobs. It’s pretty much the Iranian equivalent of boob jobs here in the US.

  6. Jessica says:

    On clothes and Islam and Western fashion:
    On the first morning that I arrived in Tunis, I looked down to the street to see women walking by in Italian hot pants, business suits, and hijabs (veil worn by Muslim women). On the corner, a middle aged woman was adjusting her veil to fit under her motorcycle helmet.

    When I lived in Tunisia, arguably the love child of Paris and Riyadh, I was continuously amused by the women’s clothing.
    Most of the young people dressed like Italians or Parisians. My American clothes may have showed more skin, but Tunisians generally wore “UnderArmour tight” clothes compared to my cohort. I kid you not, most of the really cool, trendy shirts were long and skirted with a halter top overlay. And everybody layers like crazy. There’s the turtleneck-pageboy cap combo, the knee high boots and gauchos, the micro miniskirts and skinny jeans … the list goes on and on. The clothing was a perfect reflection of the society in general.
    You know what the shit of this was? Women are stopped by the police for the pins in their veils, told by men that their tank tops were inappropriate, barred from certain jobs for veiling, and judged by what they wear.
    Fortunately, the laws demand gender equality. Tunisian women (and men) are extremely proud of this. Perhaps it is this awareness that every woman I meet recognized the critiques of their clothing as sexist attempts to control their autonomy. Veils and halter tops alike.

    This thread made me think of a wise woman:

    “I bear witness to the woman forced to strip to survive in Atlanta – and the woman forced to cover to survive in Afghanistan.” – Eisa Nefertari Ulen, “Tapping Our Strength”

  7. Kumachka says:

    I just finished reading Persepolis 2, a graphic novel memoir about an Iranian teen, Marjane, who at age 14 is sent to study in Vienna to escape the Iran/Iraq war. Upon arrival, she lives with friends of the family who emigrated a few years earlier. Marjane is struck by the frivolity of her childhood friend who can’t stop talking about her new lip gloss and pink pens, oblivious to the war which has torn up her homeland.

    When Marjane returns to Iran a few years later, she is surprised and disappointed by the frivolity of her old friends who remained in Iran, and have become fashionistas as a measure of revolt against the morality police.

    The trappings of feminine drag have caught her coming and going.

    Excellent book.

  8. Kumachka says:

    I read that in Islamic tradition, woman have an Allah-given right to sexual satisfaction (within marriage, of course!). Have to try and dig up a reference for that, as I am not an authority on the Koran or Islamic tradition.

    If this is so- it would be interesting to see how satisfaction is interpreted, given that so many Islamic cultures in North and West Africa insist on removing women’s clitorises. Evidently men in North Africa find “cut” women very sexy. Go figure.

    Also interesting is the practice of “temporary marriages” where people get to screw around for as short as an hour, and then the marriage is essentially annulled. This is largely a way for men to screw around. I am not if women who engage in these marriages are able to escape designation as prostitutes.

  9. Morningstar says:

    “can’t help but wonder, if almost every girl thinks she needs a nose job…is it Persian noses they don’t want to have? Are these ‘cute button noses’ results of the media’s relentless insistence that white is beautiful? (”An Iranian girl’s ultimate aim is to look like a classically chic Parisian”)”

    – Cecily

    Unfortunately, this sort of complex is evident throughout most of the third world. It’s probably the result of colonialism and the continued hegenomy of the West, but the end result , is that many many women believe that fair skin and thin noses are the ideal form of beauty.

    It’s somewhat understandable to see Muslims react against these standards of beauty by insisting on the hijab and censorship of porn and whatnot (although some do it in an aggressive, overly zealous way).

    I read that in Islamic tradition, woman have an Allah-given right to sexual satisfaction (within marriage, of course!)

    – Kumacha

    There’s actually an excellent website by the Muslim Women’s League that discusses this.

    here’s an excerpt:

    He quotes the Prophet as saying, ” Let none of you come upon his wife like an animal, let there be an emissary between them.” When asked what is the emissary, he replied, “The kiss and sweet words.” In another hadith, the Prophet points out that one of the deficiencies of a man is that “he should approach his wife and have sexual contact with her before exchanging words and caresses, consequently, he sleeps with her and fulfills his needs (i.e. orgasm) before she fulfills hers.” Al-Ghazali further elaborates on the importance of a woman achieving orgasm by stating, “Congruence in attaining a climax is more gratifying to her because the man is not preoccupied with his own pleasure, but rather with hers…”

    http://www.mwlusa.org/topics/sexuality/sexuality.html

    Also interesting is the practice of “temporary marriages” where people get to screw around for as short as an hour, and then the marriage is essentially annulled. This is largely a way for men to screw around. I am not if women who engage in these marriages are able to escape designation as prostitutes.

    Shia imams allow temporary marriages, although they are actually completely contradictory to the guidelines of the Koran.

  10. little cabbage says:

    I can’t help but wonder, if almost every girl thinks she needs a nose job…is it Persian noses they don’t want to have? Are these ‘cute button noses’ results of the media’s relentless insistence that white is beautiful? (”An Iranian girl’s ultimate aim is to look like a classically chic Parisian”)

    I think you’re right on the money, Cecily. I can’t help but think about the similarity to the preponderance of Jews having nose jobs in order to assimilate better into European society/beauty norms (I learned in uni, though I don’t know if this is actually true, that German plastic surgeons in the 1850’s pioneered the modern rhinoplasty because of the number of Jews who wanted a more European nose). It seems like this “cute button nose” is the globally enforced standard of beauty because it’s also a standard of whiteness, and this dynamic has been going on for a long time.

  11. pigeon says:

    Thanks for the post, Jill. It’s always exciting for me to read stuff about Iran that’s not about how the women there are all helpless and oppressed.

    The Telegraph article touched on a lot of qualities I’ve seen in the women in my extended family, especially the one’s who grew up in Tehran and moved to the U.S. as adults. And while there’s plenty to take apart as far as the beauty regimens and gender roles expected of Iranian women, looking at my own family at least, it’s hard for me to see sometimes where we got that image of the poor, helpless, passive Iranian (Muslim) woman. Everytime the stereotype comes up I find myself drifting off into anecdotes about the various women in my extended family, like my fourth-cousin’s wife who snuck out of the country post-revolution to go to school, or my grandmother divorcing my grandfather for infidelity and demanding money for cosmetic surgery, to ensure (in her mind) that she could remarry. Well, my grandmother’s kind of crazy, but. Still. Definitely not passive. (And see, there are the anecdotes).

    For those who liked Persepolis/Persepolis 2, Marjane Satrapi has another book Embroideries (also a graphic novel) that touches on a lot of this stuff too. It’s about the way women talk to each other when they’re left to themselves, so lot’s about sex and relationships, but I remember a few passages about plastic surgery (nose jobs, liposuction, and “embroideries” to make your vagina “tight” again) & beauty expectations/ideals in general.

  12. Jeffrey says:

    I believe you’re right, Kumachka (I can’t find my source either). I do know that the various medieval Islamic sex manuals focus much more on pleasure for the woman than the Kama Sutra. (Many schools of Islamic thought also encourage birth control.)

    Also, there is nothing Islamic about clitorectomies. I’ve yet to find one cleric that supports it. It’s a relic from the ancient patriarchal tribal laws that Islam was blended into.

    Finally, temporary marriages (mut’a) are only accepted by Shi’a, Sunnis believing that Muhammad banned them entirely toward the end of his life. Sunnis certainly condemn women (and men) that have mut’a marriages, but Shi’a usually encourage them as an alternative to “fornication” and failed marriages (they’re seen as a trial period, sort of like extended engagements) and don’t condemn the women as prostitutes (my research, not personal experience).

  13. Frumious B says:

    Also, there is nothing Islamic about clitorectomies. I’ve yet to find one cleric that supports it. It’s a relic from the ancient patriarchal tribal laws that Islam was blended into.

    When most girls who undergo it are Muslims, it’s Islamic. The fact that it came from pre-Islamic tradition and is also practiced by Christians doesn’t make it less of an Islamic problem.

  14. Jill says:

    When most girls who undergo it are Muslims, it’s Islamic. The fact that it came from pre-Islamic tradition and is also practiced by Christians doesn’t make it less of an Islamic problem.

    When most girls who undergo it live in North Africa and very few women from other Muslim countries undergo it, I’d say it’s a regional problem.

  15. Morningstar says:

    I was reading something about how Muslim societies were pretty open about sex up until the Victorian prudishness penetrated their culture. The article talked about the frank questions people asked Muhammad , and about the later muslim “sex manuals” and the fairly explicit poetry that existed during the Middle Ages.

    As long as the couple is married, Islam seems to encourage a healthy sex life.

  16. Jeffrey says:

    Frumious B, would you blame childhood obesity on Christianity because most obese children are raised Christian? Are school shootings a “Christian problem” since most school shooters are “Christian” despite the fact that no form of Christianity condones it? Is being rich Christian, since most of the wealthy are Christian? Don’t allege something about a foreign culture that you aren’t willing to examine in your own. There is plenty wrong with Arab and Persian (it’s not even Islamic) culture, but you hurt your cause when you act like a stupid, arrogant American.

  17. Laurie says:

    And one of the sad things about the preponderance of rhinoplasty is that I *like* Persian/Lebonese/non-“cute little button” noses! *sigh* I mean, honestly, am I the only person on the face of the planet that *loves* the diversity of facial shapes and skin tones that our species produces?

    I feel like such a freak sometimes….

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