Chapter 2: Desperate Housewives

“Taming of the sheikh: that might be a Western woman’s fantasy, but is it really what Arab women want? I gave a few [desert romance] books to Azza and friends to find out. “Oh my God, do they really think Arab men are like this?” was the unanimous reply. Azza was surprised at the way these books describe the sexual prowess of the Arab hero, famous “for his ability to pleasure a woman until she could be pleasured no more. Then and only then would he take his own release.” Azza shook her head in disbelief:  “Five minutes, and it’s only his pleasure.” Forget French-kissing, forget foreplay: “He kisses her et cetera? That’s not true—it’s one minute only. After kissing, it’s straight to sex, then he sleeps, then he watches tv.”

“Desperate Housewives” looks at marriage, in its various forms, in the Arab region and how sexual life plays out once couples find themselves inside the “citadel”. This chapter tells the story of Azza and her sisters, middle-class married women in Cairo, and their struggles to find fulfillment in their sexual and reproductive lives. It also looks at what men want, in and out of the bedroom, and what happens when couples collide—including domestic violence and divorce.

Women, sexuality and the law


Domestic violence (n102)




Sexual practices and paraphernalia




Official marriage


Unofficial marriage


Sex and Islamophobia, round two (n47; see also Chapter 1)