Chapter 1: Shifting Positions

“There is a long and distinguished history of Arabic writing on sex – literature, poetry, medical treatises, self-help manuals – which has slipped out of sight in much of the Arab world. Many of these great works were by religious figures who saw nothing incompatible between faith and sex. Indeed, it behooved these men of learning to have as full a knowledge of sexual practices and problems as they did of the intricacies of Islam. There is nothing academic about their writing: with surprising frankness, and often disarming humor, these works cover almost every sexual subject, and then some. There is precious little in Playboy, Cosmopolitan, The Joy of Sex, or any other taboo-busting work of the sexual revolution and beyond that this literature didn’t touch on over a millennium ago.”

“Shifting Positions” considers the place of sex in the upheavals of 2011 and beyond, and how the political and personal are intertwined. Looking back through a millennium and more of Arabic literature, and ahead through conversations with experts from across the region, this chapter asks how and why sex has come to be such a taboo in today’s Arab world, and the prospects for change in a shifting political landscape.

Sex and Islamophobia (n1; see also Chapter Two)