A "School of Marital Bliss" in Cairo

Many Arabic men and women are unhappy with their sex lives. Recently a school opened in Cairo to tackle this problem through counseling, seminars and Koran verses. Nelly Youssef introduces the school.

photo: AP
Marriage counseling is beginning to gain acceptance in Egypt

​​A feeling of unease had begun to overwhelm Muna, an Egyptian woman, after three years of marriage.

Her dissatisfaction in her sex life with her husband was increasingly a problem. But the subject was embarrassing to her, and she was ashamed to speak about it because according to traditions ingrained in Egyptian society, discussing sex is indecent.

Many married Egyptian and Arabic women and men have a similar problem—and it is not only women who find it hard to speak openly about sex. Men are just as shy when it comes to this taboo subject. When a friend of Muna told her about the "School of Marital Bliss," the first one of its kind in Egypt and throughout the Arabic world, she realized it was her only chance of breaking the silence and overcoming her shame.

The "School of Marital Bliss" was founded by Hiba Qutb, an Egyptian doctor. Dr. Qutb received her doctorate in forensic medicine and gynecology at Cairo University. She is also holds a degree in gynecology from the Maimonides University in Florida and is a member of the American Academy of Gynecology.

Dr. Qutb works at a large medical practice in the center of Cairo. She called her project "School of Marital Bliss" because she held seminars at the practice aimed at teaching the components that lead to a good marriage and ways in which spouses can preserve their love for one another or even improve it.

Fighting against emotional illiteracy

In an interview for Qantara.de, Dr. Qutb said the idea came to her five years ago when she began preparing for her doctoral thesis on the subject of sexual violence. She studied the necessary preconditions for a happy marriage in order to compare this data with that from marriages that ended in sexual violence.

She also wanted to find a basis for interviewing imprisoned rapists about their motives. She found out that most of the men were married. She came to the conclusion that spouses know very little about sexual relationships and that they simply satisfy their basic libidinal desires. The result of this is that most men and women are unhappy with their sex lives.

Dr. Qutb boldly sought to overcome this sensitive problem, which is mostly kept hushed. She founded the school to fight against emotional illiteracy and to support married couples or those wishing to marry in their search for the keys that can open the door to a happy marriage.

According to Dr. Qutb, there is a great need for marital counseling on sexuality in Arabic and Islamic countries, even if this means that many questions in Islam related to this issue must be spoken about with frankness and clarity.

Egotistic husbands

The majority of the problems among Egyptian couples who come to Dr. Qutb's "School of Marital Bliss" stem from the fact that Egyptian men see their wives as objects meant to serve their own sexual and emotional needs. Husbands think that they can claim many rights for themselves, while their wives are granted no such rights.

Husbands thus complain when their wives initially seemed to accept this "status quo" at the beginning of the marriage, only to later rebel and claim their own rights.

The real problem among Egyptian couples is ignorance and a lack of understanding. And this is no wonder, given that sex education is minimal and often full of misinformation.

When Dr. Qutb founded the school three years ago, initially those who sought help were people who had a higher level of education. There are many barriers handed down through generations of social traditions that hinder an individual's decision to seek professional counseling for private affairs. Breaking through these barriers is easier for couples with a broad horizon of knowledge.

But in the past year more and more clients from poorer social segments and with a lower level of education have been coming to the school. And the pool of clients has also broadened from the local Cairo area to include all of Egypt.

Arguments grounded in science and religion

In the first moments of a session or a seminar, it is more difficult to engage with the men than the women, says Dr. Qutb. But she soon moves into a discussion on the basis of science. She shows great respect for her clients' problems, and this – combined with her extensive expertise knowledge, which she mostly imparts in English, or, if her clients prefer, high Arabic – allows the men to overcome their shame.

Many have an easier time trusting a woman doctor because they have less fear that their statements will be taken as a show of lacking masculinity.

In her seminars Dr. Qutb uses images to elucidate sexual practices. She uses concrete examples to explain things, often referring to Koran verses – even with her Christian clients. Only very rarely does she prescribe medicines such as pharmaceutical ointments.

She places emphasis on eliminating dysfunctions that impair a couple's sexual relationship. Sometimes she recommends books in which a couple's specific problem is dealt with at length.

In recent months new seminars for marital partners have been introduced at the school. New seminars aim to correct widespread misinformation and to promote a better understanding of intimate relationships, for example. Other seminars are directed specifically at couples intending to marry.

And youths are now also offered a course in sex education from a scientific as well as a religious perspective.

Nelly Youssef, © Qantara.de 2004

Translation from German: Christina M. White