The subject of sexual education is a novel idea to Egypt and the Middle East. Although some schools do provide students with rudimentary and often scientific information on sexuality, little is discussed concerning the actual ritual.
Last week, that changed. Love Matters, a website aimed at providing sex education to people worldwide launched an Arabic version. The website, which is already published in a number of languages, including English, Hindi and Spanish, won has won the award for Excellence & Innovation in Sexuality Education for 2013 from the World Association for Sexual Health.
We contacted Ruth Vandewalle, researcher at the Love Matters website for more information. “We have been working on the website for about a year,” Vandewalle said. “We did market research and met with 50 young men and women in Cairo.” Based on the information they gathered, they were able to tailor the website to provide users with the knowledge they need.
Through their research (conducted by Ford Foundation), Love Matters found out that more than 86% of the available information on sex in Egypt is wrong. Vandewalle said sexual education teachers in schools often do not provide students with the correct information and are often too shy to be forthright with their students. Exacerbating the situation, most young people gain sexual information from watching porn, which provides fake expectations and unrealistic situations. “It translates in a lot of problems after marriage,” she said.
The team realises that the subject could be controversial in Egypt and the Middle East, Vandewalle said. However, having the website already working in other countries has given them some perspective on what reactions they can expect.
“The Arabic website is the ultimate test,” she said. “The topic of sexual education is quite sensitive in the Middle East, similar to the situation in India.”
In Egypt, as was the case in India, sexual harassment and misconceptions about women’s sexuality are prevalent, she said. However, the team believes that the website can have a positive impact.
In every version of the website, local researchers and medical personnel are hired to provide accurate information and cater to the societal requirements of the region. The Arabic version depends on the expertise of people such as Dr. Mina Zekri, an Egyptian doctor residing in Sweden, social media consultant Marwa Maamoun, medical consultant Aliaa Gad and journalist Abir Sarras.
Vandewalle said the biggest challenge was finding appropriate language to discuss such a sensitive subject without being insulting or too scientific about it. “We want to provide accurate information, but at the same time we do not want to make people uncomfortable,” she said. If people find the information offensive, they will not be able to gain the needed knowledge.
For international women’s day Saturday, the Love Matters website launched an online initiative “I am complete on my own,” which aims to empower women and change societal misconceptions in the Middle East about women being incomplete without a husband. The website organisers teamed up with known society figures, such as Sondos Shabayek and Menna Al-Kee’y, who were photographed with statements such as “I am not your sweet half, I am half of society.”
The team also plans on tackling subjects that are not usually discussed publically in the Middle East such as homosexuality, however, they stress on the importance of maintaining a neutral, inoffensive language so as to encourage people to read the content. “We want the website to be open-minded, but without insulting anyone,” Vandewalle said.
As for reactions, Vandewalle notes that until now, all the feedback has been positive. “We softlaunched the website in mid-December. Currently, we have 50,000 visitors to the website and the number is on the rise,” she said.
Last week, the website held a panel discussion to celebrate the official launch of the website. The event was attended by actor Khaled Abol Naga who spoke about the need for breaking taboos.
More information can be found on the Love Matters website.