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)