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Sex lives of married Egyptians laid bare

By Barry Neild for CNN
Newly wed brides dance at a mass wedding ceremony in Cairo, Egypt. Could talking more about sex help lessen Egypt's high divorce rate?
Newly wed brides dance at a mass wedding ceremony in Cairo, Egypt. Could talking more about sex help lessen Egypt's high divorce rate?
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • "Sex Talk" features Egyptians talking frankly about their intimate relationships
  • Amr Bayoumi's documentary aims to break taboos on discussing sex
  • Leading sexologist: Egyptians' inability to talk about sex at root of 80% of divorces

(CNN) -- Within seconds of answering the phone to discuss his latest film, documentary director Amr Bayoumi is talking about female orgasms.

While it might seem unusual for an Egyptian man to be talking so frankly about intimate matters, Bayoumi is something of an expert in the field.

His film "Sex Talk," which features compatriots revealing details of their physical relationships, is his second exploration of a subject still largely considered taboo in Egypt.

But, insists Bayoumi, the most unusual aspect of his conversation is his willingness to talk and make movies not just about sex -- but about what he calls "normal" sex.

"In 2005 I was thinking of making a small film interviewing women speaking about their moment of pleasure -- orgasms," he said.

"In the process of researching this I tried to find books or academic studies ... and discovered there isn't anything focusing on normal sexual relationships in Egypt.

"You find material on prostitution or child abuse, but nothing about normal sexual behavior."

You find material on prostitution or child abuse, but nothing about normal sexual behavior
--Amr Bayoumi, director

This, he says, is how he came to make "Sex Talk" -- a documentary focusing on marital sex in which several Egyptians divulge intimate details of their bedroom activities.

Masturbation, infidelity, sexual frustration and virginity loss are all laid bare -- as is the controversial subject of female circumcision, a practice banned but still widely carried out in Egypt.

The film features several anonymous interviewees talking honestly about their private lives.

Bayoumi's subjects all insisted on remaining anonymous, their faces cast in shadow. Even then, he says, it was hard to find suitable volunteers.

"I couldn't use all the interviews because when they sat in front of the camera, I couldn't get something real out of them. They were going around the issue."

These interviews are interspersed with the opinions of Egyptian sex experts and the views of embarrassed men and women asked on the street.

Bayoumi says he made a conscious decision to focus on marital sex to highlight societal "contradictions."

"Sex within marriage is legal and religiously accepted, so it's supposed to be free and without complications. But it has so many complicated issues -- it is not a free ground."

He maintains his film is not intended as a prurient expose of private sex lives, but as an attempt to counter a lack of information that can lead to abuse or Egypt's rising marital breakdown levels.

Nearly 40% of marriages in Egypt now end in divorce, according to Egypt's Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics. It's the highest rate in the Arab world.

Talking about sex is slowly becoming more acceptable in Egypt, though, through television and talk radio shows. But more needs to be done to remove the stigma, says Bayoumi.

One woman who is actively trying to get people to talk more about sex is Dr. Heba Kotb, a leading sexologist in Cairo who appears regularly on TV.

Kotb attributes 80% of divorce in Egypt to sexual problems. "In most cases couples simply don't know how to deal sexually with their partner," she said. "I provide the information -- this is right, this is wrong, you should do this."

"Often it is just miscommunication. The psychology of men is not understood by women and vice versa," she added.

In most cases couples simply don't know how to deal sexually with their partner.
--Sexologist, Dr. Heba Kotb on Egypt's high divorce rate
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Bayoumi agrees: "The main issue is the huge lack of scientific information about people's bodies and people's perception of sex, and the links between love, sex, marriage and having children.

"When it comes to sexual issues and being in a marriage situation, there isn't much talk about the subject," he added.

But things could be changing: Kotb says that when she first started her practice eight years ago, she saw only a handful of patients per week. Today, she is booked months in advance.

"People now think it does not have to be the end of the marriage when they have problems. [They think] it's worth it to give counseling a try," Kotb said.

Though lacking a distributor, Bayoumi's film has been screened several times in Egypt, usually in cooperation with non-governmental organizations campaigning for sex education.

"Reaction has been positive in the sense that people find something to think about and to view their experiences in a different way somehow," he said.

And although he admits his film will have a limited impact, he says it will help ignite debate about topics such as female circumcision.

"NGOs for the last 10 years have been trying to raise awareness about sexual issues including female genital mutilation and sex education in schools," he said.

"I think the film made the issue come to the surface somehow -- it's not going to make a huge difference, still we need more efforts and focus on the subject."

 
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