Category: Slideshow

“Sex and the Citadel” by Shereen El Feki – Sex and the Arab World

Listen to NPR’s On Point interview with Shereen El Feki, author of “Sex and the Citadel: Intimate Life in an Changing Arab World.”

The Grand Odalisque by Ingres: Western ideas of eastern sensuality Photo: The Gallery Collection / Corbis

Excerpts from “Sex and the Citadel.”

“What is it?”
 Six pairs of dark eyes stared at me
or rather, at the small purple rod in my hand.
―It’s a vibrator,‖ I answered, in English, racking my brain for the right Arabic word. ―Athing that makes fast movements‖ came to mind, but
as that could equally apply to ahand mixer, I decided to stick with my mother tongue to minimize what I could sensewas rising confusion in the room.One of the women, curled up on a divan beside me, began to unpin her hijab, acascade of black hair falling down her back as she carefully put her headscarf to one
side. ―What does it do?‖ she asked.
―Well, it vibrates,‖ I added, taking a sip of mint tea and biting into a piece of syrupy
baklava to buy myself some time before the inevitable rejoinder.
―But why?‖
 How I came to be demonstrating sex toys to a coffee morning of Cairo housewives is along story. I have spent the past five years traveling across the Arab region asking
people about sex: what they do, what they don’t, what they think and why.
Dependingon your perspective, this might sound like a dream job or a highly dubious occupation.For me, it is something else altogether: sex is the lens through which I investigate thepast and present of a part of the world about which so much is written and still so little isunderstood.
Now, I grant you, sex might seem an odd choice, given the spectacle of popular revoltplaying out across the Arab world since the beginning of this decade, which has taken with it some of the region’s most entrenched regimes—in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, andYemen for starters—and is shaking up the rest. Some observers, however, have goneso far as to argue that it was youthful sexual energy that fueled the protests in the first place. I’m not so sure. While I’ve often heard Egyptians say their fellow countrymenspend 99.9 percent of their time thinking about sex, in the heady days of early 2011, making love appeared, for once, to be the last thing on people’s minds.
Yet I don’t believe it was entirely out of sight. Sexual attitudes and behaviors areintimately bound up in religion, tradition, culture, politics, and economics. They are partand parcel of sexuality—that is, the act and all that goes with it, including gender rolesand identity, sexual orientation, pleasure, intimacy, eroticism, and reproduction. Assuch, sexuality is a mirror of the conditions that led to these uprisings, and it will be ameasure of the progress of hard-won reforms in the years to come. In his reflections onthe history of the West, the French philosopher Michel Foucault described sexuality as―an especially dense transfer point for relations of power: between men and women, young people and old people, parents and offspring, teachers and students, priests andlaity, an administration and a population.‖ The same is true in the Arab world: if you really want to know a people, start by looking inside their bedrooms.
Had it not been for the events of September 11, 2001, I might never have opened thatdoor. I was working at The Economist when the world turned. Having trained as animmunologist before becoming a journalist, I was on the health and science beat, far removed from the great political debates of the day. From these sidelines, I had a chance to sit back and watch my colleagues grapple with the complexities of the Arabregion. I saw their confidence in Anglo-American might and exuberance in the early afterglow of the war in Iraq gradually turn to doubt, then bewilderment. Why weren’t Iraqis rushing to embrace this new world order? Why did they rarely follow the playbookwritten in Washington and London? Why did they behave in ways so contrary toWestern expectations? In short, what makes them tick?For me, these are not questions of geopolitics or anthropology; this is a matter of personal identity. The Arab world is in my blood: my father is Egyptian, and through himmy family roots stretch from the concrete of Cairo to cotton fields deep in the Nile Delta.My mother comes from a distant green valley
a former mining village in South Wales.This makes me half Egyptian, though most people in the Arab region shake their heads
when I tell them this. To them there is no ―half‖ about it; because my father is whollyEgyptian, so am I. And because he is Muslim, I too was born Muslim. My mother’s
family is Christian: her father was a Baptist lay preacher, and her brother, in a leap of  Anglican upward mobility, became a vicar in the Church of Wales. But my mother converted to Islam on marrying my father. She was not obliged to; Muslim men are freeto marry ahl al-kitab, or people of the Book
among them, Jews and Christians. For mymother, becoming Muslim was a matter of conviction, not coercion.
I was born in England and raised in Canada long before ―Muslims in the West‖ was a
talking point. There were a few of us at school (I grew up in a university town near Toronto), but I never thought much of it. Then again, I was brought up with an icing of Islam on an otherwise Western lifestyle: my only observances were steering clear of pork and alcohol and learning al-Fatiha
—the opening chapter of the Qur’an—
which myparents had me recite before our very British Sunday lunches. As the sole Muslims on

Excerpts and links to various reviews of “Sex and the Citadel”:

Could the Arab Spring provoke a sexual revolution in the Middle East, asks Nicholas Blincoe, reviewing Sex and the Citadel by Shereen El Feki. – The Telegraph

By Nicholas Blincoe

At the height of the anti-Mubarak protests in Tahrir Square in 2011, a young man held up a sign reading, “I want to get married.” It may not sound like the most urgent political demand, but it does prove that sex gets everywhere. Shereen El Feki’s book on sex in the Arabic-speaking world is frequently eye-popping, with its tales of female cross-dressers wearing football kit beneath their black robes, prostitutes catering to rich lesbian Saudis in five-star hotels, or pimps arranging short-lived “summer marriages” between poor teenage girls and elderly men.

The stories lend the book an anecdotal air and may draw criticism that El Feki has cherry-picked the most lurid cases. The truth, however, is that the stories emphasise just how bewildering the issue of sex has become across the Middle East. The mix of national laws, local customs and religious edicts bring nothing but confusion, made all the more extreme because global media have opened up a public space that has never existed before. In politics, business and art, no one has any clue what the future holds. When it comes to sex, there’s not much clarity.

Take homosexuality. An array of public decency laws allow the police to target gay men and close down the places they meet, but there are no specific laws against homosexuality in Egypt. However, when El Feki points this out to a retired police chief, he insists she is wrong. There are laws, and he acted on them throughout his career. In a country where the law is whatever a policeman imagines, the need for reform is urgent. Read More:

By Gayle Kimball

El Feki has a unique perspective with access to frank discussions with her father’s relatives and the ability to compare with Western mores based on being raised in Canada with a Welsh mother. She ties attitudes towards gender roles to the ability to create a democratic society after the overthrow of Mubarak. She found that for many in the Arab world, Western values include homosexuality, sex before marriage, mixing of the sexes, women’s liberation and pornography. They’re believed to undermine Islam and traditional Arab values, observed Shereen El Feki. She spent two years interviewing Arabs about sex for her book Sex and the Citadel. The irony, she adds, is that discussion of sexual pleasure and “so much of what they brand as dangerous foreign ideas were features of the Arab-Islamic world long before they were embraced by Western liberalism.” She notes the fear of Western ideas was coupled with a feeling of inferiority that followed Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt in 1798 and the British occupation from 1882 to 1952. The founder of the Muslim Brotherhood in the 1920s, Hassan al-Banna taught that part of the reason for loss of political power was Egyptian’s sexual immorality and that the solution was to follow Shaira law. (Surveys indicate about a third of Arab young men are sexually active before marriage, compared to about 20% of young women).
Most Egyptian young women now cover their hair, while their mothers and grandmothers didn’t and could wear short skirts without being harassed. In the 1960s and `70s sex was an accepted aspect of films until the rise of Islamic conservatism and official censorship. A return to Islamic fundamentalism was a form of protest against dictatorship, the most extreme form taught by the Salafi movement. Soon after Mubarak was dethroned, Salafi squads of morality police–similar to those in Saudi Arabia–correcting hand-holding couples, etc.
She found a general lack of sex education by either family or schools, leading to many complaints about sexual satisfaction, supported by larger surveys of Egyptians. Widespread female genital mutilation doesn’t help. A Population Council survey of more than 15,0000 young people under age 30 found that 82% of female respondents are circumcised, with a declining rate for younger girls, although most respondents (64%) think it’s a necessary custom. It’s considered necessary to cool women’s sexual desire so she won’t want sex before marriage or be too demanding of her husband. Most young people don’t discuss puberty and sex with their parents. Read More:



Phawker Blog – Book: 50 Shades of Laid

Philadelphia’s most informative Phawker Blog helped promote the Erotic Literary Salon’s new book, “SenSexual: A Unique Anthology 2013” with a wonderful posting this week.

Jonathan Valania, the editor-in-chief was most instrumental in helping the Salon get off the ground. He lent his connections and expertise in designing the first flyer, using Cupid and Psyche as the background. Eventually  the master painting was used in the logo for the Salon.

Phawker Blog: “Curated News, Gossip, Concert Reviews, Fearless Political commentary, Interviews….Plus, the Usual Sex, Drugs and Rock n’Roll.”

Read the article here: scroll down to April 9th.


K.D. Grace – A Hopeful Romantic – Talk about “SenSexual: A Unique Anthology”

I was interviewed by erotica author K.D. Grace, her blog – A Hopeful Romantic. Please read the interview and hear about the backstory regarding the Erotic Literary Salon and the new book, “SenSexual: A Unique Anthology.”


KD: Dare I ask, what’s your favourite part of the anthology?

SM: No favorite part, just the fact that my dream of creating one when I first started the Salon actually came to fruition. It is such an unusual anthology so I wasn’t certain how people would respond. So far all the reviews have been stellar.

KD: I’m once again seeing this wonderfully delicious term, which you coined, SenSexual – such a celebratory term for embracing of our sexuality. Could you explain the term to our readers and tell us how it came about.

SM: I was tired of the pornography/erotica debate. As I stated in the book, “Why “sensexual”? It’s a sensual, sexy new term that bypasses all the old judgments around divisive labels like “erotica” and “pornography.” Pornography usually conjures up negative judgments, while erotica, a more toned-down term, is most often equated with sexual material for women. The subjective line between erotica and pornography is personal, temporal and culturally prescribed, and “sensexual” breaks down this boundary.”

Read more:

Sam Rosenthal – Author: Queer Erotic Novel “Rye” – Interview by W.D. Wilkerson

Sam Rosenthal will be the featured reader at next week’s Erotic Literary Salon, Tuesday, April 16.

An interview with Sam Rosenthal by W.D. Wilkerson

Q RYE is a hot, engaging read. Was it fun to write?

Yes, it was fun because I got to invent these people I really like, and then create situations for them and see what they’d do. I’d be walking to work, with all these scenes spinning in my head, thinking about how my people would react to what I wanted to throw at them. Wondering what sort of funny things they might say, or how they might be triggered by something that the other person says or does.

Q That’s something that I really like about RYE: It’s not just about the hot sex. What inspired you to write this story?

I began on RYE after attending an erotica reading. I should back-up a bit and explain that I’m the songwriter in my band, Black tape for a blue girl; I’ve written the lyrics for our ten albums. As I left the reading, I thought, “Hm, writing erotica could be a new way to tell my stories. A chance to stretch out over more space.” For me, RYE was always about the characters, and their story. I wanted to create people and have them come off as real and do things that interest me. I’m an artist, so I put many levels into my work. The people. The sex. Their desires, how they identify, how they want the world to see them. Not just about their gender, but generally how we all want to be thought of by other people.

Q It’s not every day that you read an erotic novel about poly, kinky, queer people. Why pick this subject?

These are the sort of people I’m involved with and attracted to. I’m not a big reader of erotica, honestly, but I sense there isn’t a whole bunch written about queer characters. But, that said, people are people. We all have the same underlying emotions and conflicts. Anyone can relate to what happens in RYE.

Q Quick summary of your main characters?

Rye is a biological-female who identifies as a gay male. The narrator, Matt, is biologically-male. Rain is biologically-female, but is fluid about gender. I had some interesting possibilities going in.

Q The three of them are involved in a poly relationship. Is it harder or easier to write for poly relationships than it is for more conventional monogamous relationships?

I think that poly presents more opportunities for the characters. When they are with other people, it’s not about, “Oooh, am I cheating?” I’m not having to deal with that “problem” which I find sort of boring. If there’s consent, then nobody’s cheating. So now we’re past that, and I can be sex-positive about their interests, and let them get into different situations. And see what the outcomes are. I like that because it really opens up the palette for the kinds of sex the characters have, and also how it affects them.

Q I liked that you didn’t make poly relationships the source of their conflict

Right. And that’s something I had to think about while writing RYE. What is the conflict for these people? Where does the drama lie, if it’s not jealousy and insecurity? And to me, I tried to take a bunch of intellectual conflicts (identity, gender, social stereotypes, desire for family and commitment) and deal with it in a more physical and passionate way. I’m not a gender theorist; I didn’t want to be going all high-brow. Because RYE is a love story. RYE is a comedy. And it’s erotica. And I wanted to deal with these higher concepts in a down-to-earth and natural way. And I didn’t give Matt all the answers. Even though he’s the narrator, he’s learning along the way.

Q That’s cool, Sam, because then RYE can serve as an intro, too. To poly and queer.

Most of society isn’t familiar with queer and genderqueer. Jeez, America is still getting comfortable with same-sex marriage. And in RYE I’m introducing characters that don’t really have a social identification that matches their biological gender. So I wanted it to be easy to digest. And then Rain came along as a total joker, but really intelligent. And that gave me a lightness to work with, but also a voice for the more complex side of things.

Q Maybe you should define genderqueer…

I use it in the sense that gender isn’t binary. It’s not just male and female. We are born with certain physical characteristics, but they don’t define our gender roles. Society tells us about that. So we are a product of the rules we agree to. People who identify as genderQueer say, “Hey, wait. Do I have to be that role, or do I have the right to be who I feel like I am?”

Q There are some really ingenious and occasionally outrageous moments of kink in this novel. Did you have a laundry list of kinks you wanted to include, or did the kinks seem to suggest themselves during the process of writing this novel?

Matt and Rye’s top-bottom dynamic was in my mind as I started writing. There’s this really obvious stereotype that BDSM is about Master so-and-so and his weak-willed submissive. The 50 SHADES model. And I don’t subscribe to that idea of BDSM. I wanted both of my characters to be strong and secure, and I don’t even know if I like using ‘BDSM’ for their relationship. I chose to use ‘top-bottom’ in the book, to differentiate; for them, it is a very intimate relinquishing of control between equals. Rye is the stronger of the two, in many ways. In so far as not taking shit, and having some of the more traditional male characteristics. And I liked that complexity.

I didn’t have a list at the beginning of what kind of scenes they would get into, just that they had a specific dynamic, and there were certain things each of them had preferences for. And then Rain came along, wanting to do age play; and I personally do like the bratty, snarky type, I figured that would be fun to explore. Matt and Rain have a different dynamic from Matt and Rye. I think that’s true of complex people. We don’t put on the same mask in every situation. We are different people when we are with different lovers.

Q “Erotica” has a negative connotation to people who appreciate “serious” literature. Somehow that FIFTY SHADES OF GREY book came out of nowhere and suddenly the country is hot for it, pardon the pun. Why do you think there is such a taboo around erotic fiction?

The taboo is that “polite people don’t talk about sex.” America is all about its love of violence, and titillations. But real sex is still too much for most people. A lot of America is not very sex-positive. Sex has a lot of shame, and naughtiness to it.

Q Then to wrap up, is RYE the answer?

What’s the question? (laughs) I think that RYE has a lot of love and plot and character that goes beyond just the sex. But I like that sex is right there in most everything they do. Because that seems pretty real-life to me. Is it the answer? Well, it’s one of the answers. Thanks for asking.