4 Spaces Transforming How Women Talk About Sex in Lebanon
According to an excellent infographic by Mauj (you’ll be hearing about them first in this list!) 80% of teens in Lebanon have never discussed sexual health in school. The attempt to bring sex ed solidly into the curriculum in 1995 took off and shuddered to a halt five years later after intense pressure from religious groups. It never took off again, at least not in an official structured capacity. Instead, we’ve got taboo-busting civic heroes using the power of the internet, community spread and conversation to turn access to sexual information on its head. The big focus here is women’s sexual health, because when it comes to sex, the lack of education has had a significant impact on women’s agency, autonomy, power, and safety. Those are four important things, and so we’ve got a list of 4 who give them to you in spades!
1. Mauj • موج
Mauj, for those of you who might not know, means ‘waves’ in Arabic, i.e. ‘…waves of movement, waves of pleasure, waves of women coming together to drive change and turn the tide’. The name, according to their website, was inspired by infradian rhythms that ‘govern the female body and menstrual cycle and the powerful ocean tides’.
“Mauj was created by a group of Arab women (hi, that’s us!) who were tired of the misinformation, shame, and stigma surrounding the female body. We decided it was finally time to change how we learned
– and spoke – about ourselves.
That’s how Mauj was born, somewhere between Jeddah, Beirut, Dubai, and Cairo out of a first-hand need for more education, information, dialogue, and acceptance in a region where we are policed at every marker of womanhood. We believe that nothing about our sexual and reproductive health should come as a surprise, a mystery, or a total misery.
Indeed, the more we know about something, the less we fear it, and the less taboo it becomes. Our goal, ultimately, is to de-stigmatize the conversation around women’s bodies in the Arab world and, in doing so, normalize sexual and reproductive health and enable women to make informed decisions for themselves.”
Very complicated indeed. So Mauj offers up this de-stigmatization by focusing on education in 4 specific categories:
Get to know your body through a better understanding of your anatomy and find the answers to some of your most common questions.
Tune into your menstrual cycle and learn about your unique rhythms to better live into the design and power of your body.
Connect with the most intimate parts of yourself and discover just how natural your sexuality and sensuality are.
Whether and when you decide to engage in it, deepen your understanding of sex, intimacy, and pleasure.
The Mauj website is a wealth of information, and if you follow their Instagram, you’ll see powerful infographics on menstrual cycles, self-pleasure, orgasms (have you had one, how to have one, the different kinds- there are 14 by the way), the concept of virginity, contraception, what questions to ask the gynecologist, sexual health in general, consent, sexual assault, and more.
Oh, and one more thing that I discovered through @studiosafar. Mauj has launched the first intimate product designed for Arab women’s pleasure. The first sex toy by Arab women for Arab women! It’s got some extra magical branding too- called ‘Deem’ (prolonged light rain, gentle and steady)- their note to the customer ends with ‘We’re glad you came’. Indeed. Buy here.
2. Dr. Sandrine Atallah
I’ll be honest, I only heard about Dr. Sandrine Atallah when the outrageous fiasco occurred on the Another Planet show where instead of being interviewed she was mocked and interrupted by misogynistic hosts. Which was a case in point for her very existence! SO let’s talk about her existence: Dr. Atallah, Certified PsychoSexologist, Hypnotist, Consultant in Sexual Medicine, and avid podcaster. She states the following on her clinic website:
“Sexual medicine has four goals:
1. promoting sexual health (increasing awareness and helping individuals have a healthy and fulfilling sex life)
2. preventing sexual dysfunctions (counseling)
3. treating sexual dysfunctions (clinical treatment of specific sexual disorders)
4. rehabilitating sexual health (helping patients regain sexual health).”
Check out this powerful one hour conversation with her on the Sarde After Dinner podcast (a great podcast you should follow on insta too!). Topics include sex during quarantine and the economic crisis, feminine pleasure, homosexuality in Lebanon, vaginismus, porn, marital rape, and more. The honesty, openness, and comfort of the conversation is refreshing and truly elevating:
3. Mashrou Alef (The A Project: Agency, Autonomy, Alternatives)
Photo Credit: https://theaproject.org/sexuality-hotline/about
I’ve been following Mashrou Alef for a bit now, and their repost from @hammamradio a while back stuck with me. It says “Go easy on yourself. You’re clearing thousands of years of outdated conditioning”. Yes, you are. We all are! Mashrou Alef really helps in that deconditioning process. On their website they state that:
“The A project envisions a society where sexuality and mental health are reclaimed by women and gender non-conforming people, cared for, respected, recognized in their diversities, and not utilized against them.
The A project aims to create platforms that reaffirm agency and autonomy in sexuality and mental health, while advancing, through practice and theory, a political discourse around sexual, reproductive, and mental health and seeking alternatives to counteract medical patriarchy’s restrictive and reductive approaches towards all bodies, especially those of women and gender non-conforming people in Lebanon.”
Their instagram @mashroualef identifies their main areas of focus as gender, sexuality, reproductive justice and sexual health and rights. Their most powerful offerings come in the form of their Sexuality Hotline (focused on women and trans folks but open to all), Learning Spaces, Blog, and Referral System. They also have a powerful podcast, Fasleh, which explores issues around body politics, gender and sexuality. You might be interested in reading the recent article My Journey with Vaginismus.
4. Marsa Sexual Health Centre
Last but not least, this non-profit organization founded in 2011 is a veteran in the provision of non-stigmatizing, confidential, subsidized services related to sexual and reproductive health. This includes:
1- Voluntary Counseling and Testing for HIV, Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C and Syphilis through the rapid test with pre and post-test counselling
2- Testing for Gonorrhea, Chlamydia, Trichomoniasis, Ureaplasma, Mycoplasma, HPV
3- Medical consultations and treatment for symptoms related to Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) by medical doctors
4- Pap Smears for early detection of cervical cancer
5- Psychosocial counselling for sex, sexuality, People Living with HIV, and couples
6- Educational sessions to groups of all ages about sex, sexuality, prevention of STIs, consent, and best practices for healthcare providers
7- Dietetic counselling for People Living with HIV
Well that’s all folks. We’re glad you came! You deserve all the pleasure, and all the positive power of being in your body. If we’ve missed an essential sexual health resource, please pop it into the comments! And if you’ve got any experiences or stories to tell about the topic of sex in Lebanon, we look forward to hearing from you.