Alongside abuse, mental health, and female empowerment, sex is one of the Arab world’s biggest taboos. It’s practically untouchable, with Arabs of all religious backgrounds fearful of open discussions on the subject.
Premarital or not, sex is firmly attached to shame. Women in particular are taught from a young age that sex is not only forbidden before marriage, but so are conversations about it. Which means that access to sex education tools are next to non-existent.
This is what Leila Slimani realised when she began promoting her first novel, Adele. Speaking to local women, she realised that her main character (who was highly promiscuous) had a lot in common with the women she was speaking to – and they were keen to talk about their own lives with her. That’s how Slimani’s latest book, Sex and Lies, was born.
Told by women who live in a nation where premarital sex, adultery, abortion, homosexuality and prostitution are all crimes, Slimani’s book is a raw account of what sexuality is really like in Arab culture. She unabashedly condemns Morocco’s obsession with virginity—an obsession that’s backed by a penal code that stipulates women to present a “certificate of unmarried status” before marriage.
Slimani, who spent the majority of her life living in Morocco, became motivated to write her latest book when she realised the dangers women often put themselves in. With a largely conservative society where parents don’t allow significant others at home, and hotels requiring marriage certificates to book rooms, women tend to function in total secrecy.
It’s these stories that Slimani tells in Sex and Lies, in-turn lending a voice to a group of Arab women who have supressed the intimate details of their lives, not only for fear of societal repercussions, but legal ones too.