As an Egyptian woman, I’m writing this as an ode to my body – specifically my vagina. I grew up in an extremely patriarchal society where men are given free passes to act out as sexual predators, scratch themselves in public, and freely stick their penises out to urinate in the streets or even to masturbate. This same society and its educational system have never granted me my God-given right to understand my vagina. In fact, anything that has to do with the women’s body is considered a taboo. In Egypt today, a woman’s vagina remains unacknowledged – and when it is discussed, it’s referred to as an object that exists to please a man or to procreate.
It’s even more difficult to discuss menstruation in Egypt, the Middle East, and Africa. Women cannot announce that they are on their periods or discuss the topic publicly. The lack of sexual education in both schools and Egyptian homes can often lead to sexual promiscuity, deviance, and even sexual abuse. It perpetuates a pattern of medical and sexual ignorance. According to Dr. Faysal al-Kaak, who is an ObGyn and senior lecturer at the American University of Beirut, this pattern can lead to unprotected sex, high rate of Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs), vaginismus, and many more repercussions. If you don’t already know, vaginismus is the body’s automatic reaction to the fear of some or all types of vaginal penetration. Whenever penetration is attempted, the vaginal muscles tighten up on their own. It causes a woman to lose control over her vaginal muscles.
The fact that a vagina is considered taboo has caused my body to disconnect from my vagina. This disconnection, or dissociation made me feel ashamed of my body, and therefore I ignored my sexual health. I felt as if I had to hide my curiosity. I apologize to my vagina for my lack of awareness. I apologize for the emotional, physical, and sexual disconnection that I put it through over the past years as a result of society’s manipulation. I also apologize to my vagina for believing it should look a certain way due to my lack of understanding of our diversity as women. Women who live in patriarchal societies are oppressed and denied the freedom of expressing their sexual desires. They are also disconnected and made to fear other women, to see them as competitors. They are made to believe that they have no right to express their sexual desires or feelings, but rather only serve the pleasure of men – and for that I am also sorry.
Vaginas vary in shape, size, and color. I embrace my vagina and its uniqueness. In my society, men are allowed to be sexual and free. In Egypt, virginity tests are still sometimes practiced because the concept of virginity still dictates a woman’s worth. Women still believe that you must bleed when you have sex for the first time. A girl’s virginity is still tied to her family honor, which means her body is still the property of the men in her family.
In Egypt, the wider Middle East, and Africa, the false information that we’ve been fed about the hymen is highly dangerous. The hymen is not a sign of virginity. It can break at any point in a girl or woman’s life. This misinformation serves the patriarchy and the oppression of women. The hymen is viewed in our society as a seal of guarantee or approval to the point where many women and girls sometimes undergo hymen reconstruction surgery to avoid being dishonored on their wedding night. This harms and deprives a woman of her right to bodily autonomy. A woman vagina is hers and should only be under her control and no one else’s.
For a long time, I believed that my sexual needs and feelings were a sign of promiscuity. I grew up witnessing men being proud and vocal about their sexuality, while on the other hand I had to suppress my sexual needs and desires. I even forbid myself from the curiosity to understand my sexuality. I believed that these topics should not be discussed because it is “immoral.” When I spoke about the topic in my community or family, I was accused of being promiscuous and slut-shamed for simply connecting to my body. Ever since I got my period as a young girl, I was told not to speak about it publicly because it’s morally unacceptable. If I had the audacity to say that I am on my period, I was accused of being too forward and slut-shamed. Yet, there was always a voice inside me that constantly questioned all of these norms that put constraints on my body.
Today, I am not ashamed or even hesitant to learn more about my vagina and my needs. I speak proudly and loudly about my body. The patriarchy sells sex and at the same time manipulates us into believing that our bodies are shameful, and also not ours. They silence our needs and desires as women, but I will not allow men to decide what my vagina should feel, what it should look like, what I should know about it, or what I do with it. Most importantly, I will be the only person in control of my body.
This is my letter to my African-Arab vagina. I apologize for being manipulated by the patriarchy and for allowing myself to be ashamed of you. We are allowed to be sexual, to feel, to understand, and to express our needs and desires. We women are not tied to the honor of the patriarchy, or anything else for that matter.