Very Short Book Excerpt May 2013

A Thousand Years of Sex Talk in Arab Culture—in 1 Paragraph

Language doesn't necessarily get less prudish over time.

Safa Tamish, a sex educator who works with Palestinians in Israel, told me that when she runs workshops, participants will use min orali (Hebrew for “oral sex”) and orgazma instead of the respective Arabic terms, jins fammii and nashwa jinsiyya. Even more-basic terminology is problematic; until attending these courses, some participants are unaware that there are, indeed, Arabic words for female genitalia, having been taught to consider such subjects shameful beyond discussion. This is a far cry from the golden age of Arabic writing on sex. One medieval book, The Language of Fucking, mentions more than 1,000 verbs for having sex. That linguistic wealth is long gone.

—Adapted from Sex and the Citadel: Intimate Life in a Changing Arab World, by Shereen El Feki (published by Pantheon in March)

Presented by

What LBJ Really Said About Selma

"It's outrageous what's on TV. It looks like that man is in charge of the country."

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register with Disqus.

Please note that The Atlantic's account system is separate from our commenting system. To log in or register with The Atlantic, use the Sign In button at the top of every page.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

What LBJ Really Said About Selma

"It's going to go from bad to worse."

Video

Does This Child Need Marijuana?

Inside a family's fight to use marijuana oils to treat epilepsy

Video

A Miniature 1950s Utopia

A reclusive artist built this idealized suburb to grapple with his painful childhood memories.

Video

Why Principals Matter

Nadia Lopez didn't think anybody cared about her school. Then the Internet heard her story.

More in The Sexes

More back issues, Sept 1995 to present.

Just In