Pornography has always been a controversial topic in a conservative society like Egypt’s. Many Egyptians condemn it, even though we’ve always topped the lists of countries that watch the most porn worldwide. We also rank 2nd (behind Iraq) in percentage of shares of adult sites (meaning the percent of overall online traffic in Egypt that’s dedicated to porn sites).
Yet the real controversy here is porn’s popularity in a country that demonizes it. If we hate porn, why do we watch it so much? And what’s the link –if any– between porn, sex education and sexual harassment in Egypt?
In 2015, an Egyptian actress and TV personality ignited a nationwide controversy for suggesting that Egyptian men could benefit from watching more pornography. During a show entitled “Nafsana”, Entissar, as she is known, said: “These films are useful for men, especially those who have no pre-marriage sex experience… Everyone should be free to watch porn films if they want.”
Lawyer Hani Jad was among many who brought legal action against the Egyptian actress, charging her with inciting debauchery, which can be punishable by up to a year in prison. A couple of months later, an Egyptian court threw out the lawsuit saying that the man who filed the suit against the actress suffered no “personal and criminal damage” by her.
The Public’s Reaction & State Policies
Many others in Egypt didn’t embrace Entissar’s suggestion either — it was called an act of debauchery and depravity by clerics quoted in the press. Hani Jad was not the only accuser; numerous people and communities took legal steps to challenge the actress.
But Entissar’s story is just a small detail in the national debate over Egyptians’ access to internet porn sites, something the Mubarak government promised to block, as it was quoted to be “venomous and vile” by officials in 2009.
But porn sites are still easily accessible, because neither Mubarak’s government nor any of those who followed (including Morsi’s) budgeted the necessary funds to block these sites. The fact that porn was banned in 2012, does not mean it is inaccessible. The Cairo Post illustrated the contradiction by stating: “The most populous Arab state is one of the most countries that restrict explicit content, but is also reportedly one of the most that consumes online porn.”
Porn Is Not Sexual Education
Entissar’s comments are certainly provocative for a conservative society. Porn should be a choice, as people are born free to do what they want, as long as they do not harm others. Yet claiming that porn educates people about sex is staggeringly wrong.
Entissar’s theory, which suggested that men “can cool down by watching porn films”, is vastly untrue; a UN report in 2013 concluded that 99.3 percent of Egyptian women had been sexually harassed. There are reports of women having to take refuge from groups of men who then wait, sometimes for hours, until their ‘prey’ emerges.
Obviously, porn is not a solid preventive option if we decide to tackle harassment seriously. To tackle harassment, we need to educate men and women about sex — in a society where the latter are expected to remain virgins until marriage and where a powerful shame factor and stigma comes into play if they are not. Sexual education is the least that can be done. Young people will probably start getting married a bit later now that cost of living is higher, and there must be a way to tackle sexual frustration. It can no longer be taboo to discuss it as the victims are very often young women. Sexual education is also very important because it creates awareness about sexually-transmitted diseases, such as HIV, that have been spreading at a worrying rate as we reported last week.
The fact that we have high viewership of pornography and a worrying statistic of sexual harassment ends the debate of whether porn reduces sexual predators. What is also clear here is that blocking porn in Egypt won’t stop harassment either. The government has already drafted laws to punish harassers. Now we must do two things: apply these laws every day to all citizens, and incorporate sexual education into our schools and universities.
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