In the Middle East, everyone is having sex but no one wants to talk about it – as pointed out to Shereen El Feki whilst she was travelling the Arab region talking about sex. Despite the ease with which people are locking lips, a culture of silence still exists around the topic of sex and sexual health.

Whilst the Western world is in a state of sexual freedom, the Orient seems to be stuck in an age of sexual repression. The 19th century Western society used to have highly eroticised views of the Middle East.

Key populations such as women, men who have sex with men and female sex workers suffer from stigma and discrimination. This prevents them from getting the help and advice they need when it comes to their sexual health.

The Arab world has moved far from its former identity of sensuality, sex, loose morals and mystery. Nowadays, there is an unmet need for sexual health awareness and control of sexually transmitted infections (STIs). A lack of education and information is putting people at high risk of STIs through risky sexual behaviour.

A lack of sexual health education is contributing towards the risk of STIs.

What is included in risky behaviours?

For example, unprotected sex is increasing – allowing infections to spread easily – especially amongst young people. The obsession with virginity in the Arab region is encouraging unprotected oral and anal sex. The widespread reluctance to use protection is contributing to the rise in HIV infections.

A non-governmental organisation in the MENA region tried to encourage the prevention of HIV by offering free protection to young female sex workers. The response was “No way are we going to become pregnant. We only have oral or anal sex because we want to get married.”

It is beyond doubt that using protection is the best way to protect against most STIs. Not using a barrier protection method when having sex with a new partner whose sexual history you do not know is like playing russian roulette. Sooner rather than later you are going to get infected, and it might be with a virus that will threaten your life.

Mike Asher, Co-Founder of Better2Know

However, it is not all doom and gloom. Many individuals are pushing the boundaries and questioning the old taboos. Though changes are subtle, they can be seen everywhere. The rebranding of sexual health is trending in the Middle East. It is becoming less of a taboo and more aligned with health and wellbeing, with wellness brands moving into the sexual health area.

Sexual health in the Middle East is becoming more accepted.

Speak to Better2Know in confidence

If you are concerned about any aspect of your sexual health, you should get tested as soon as possible. Many STIs are curable with the correct course of treatment, whilst other infections may require lifelong management. In all cases, the earlier you are diagnosed, the faster you can start treatment and the less damage will occur.

To arrange a confidential appointment, find your nearest clinic and book online, or phone our friendly booking team on the number at the top of the page.


[1] Elsevier: Sexuality and Sexual Health: Constructs and Expressions in the Extended Middle East and North Africa by Faysal El-Kak

[2] National Center for Biotechnology Information: In the Arab Bedroom: The Sex Life of Arabs by P Dupont

[3] Zocalo Public Square: What We Don’t Know About Sex in the Middle East

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