13 Arab Teen Girls Tell Their Testimonies of Desire, Self-Pleasure, and Shameful Denial

By: Nour Jumma

Photo by Saudi artist Zahra Dar Bundakji

Is it shameful to eat when you’re hungry? To sleep when you’re tired? To shower? To yawn? To drink when thirsty? To itch your arm? To brush your teeth? To sweat? To pee? To zone out in your zoom lecture? No to all of the above! (Except maybe the last one, stay in school kids!) These are vital bodily functions your body carries out to maintain a healthy, thriving body that carries you through the day. You know what else belongs on this list? Self-pleasure 🙂

So, a few weeks ago we asked you a few questions about self-pleasure, your relationship with your sexual desires, and whether or not you’ve received prejudice as a result of your very much human needs. Needless to say, the responses made us lose further faith in the Arab world and its stigma of tying self-pleasure (or any form of feminine joy, really) with shame. See for yourself through 13 of the responses we’ve received. 

“I’m very in-sync with what I like and don’t like, and I’m extremely open with myself about it. However, I do not receive sufficient satisfaction due to anxiety, and previously due to virginity. I’ve been shamed about my desires by toxic friends in the past. I constantly fear being called a sharmouta. I’ve been told that I’m too young and that women shouldn’t learn about self-pleasure. This only led me to more invalidation as I was refusing to give in to my normal body needs.” 

  • M, 17

“I have a rough idea of what I like, and it is satisfactory. However, feeling shameful stops me from being completely honest and open with myself about what I do enjoy and what I do not enjoy. I’ve been told by the general society that these desires are dishonorable and that as girls, exploring our bodies is عيب. This makes me feel ashamed, like I’m weak or something. But my first experience with self-pleasure? It was heaven.”

  • NE, 16

“I started exploring my own body at around 11 years old and I still feel shame after I masturbate. I honestly don’t why. My parents never talked about masturbation with me (even if we talk very openly about practically everything), so the shame never came from something they said. Maybe because there’s this culture of shame in Egypt that I internalized even if my parents don’t subscribe to it. I know what I like, and I’m satisfied with my relationship with myself. I’ve never been directly shamed, however, I grew up hearing about how bad it is to masturbate (at school,…). A biology teacher once told us at 13 years old that we shouldn’t masturbate because we’ll be incapable of feeling pleasure when we’re married if we do. It sounded like bullshit then and it still does. If I know what I like, then I can tell my partner what I enjoy and what I don’t enjoy, making both of our lives much easier. Even if I knew that what she was saying was nonsense, I still felt shame whenever I pleasured myself.”

  • KA, 18

“I know exactly what I want and like, I’m extremely satisfied with it, and I’m very open with myself about it. I’ve also been shamed about it though, been called a slut or a whore for consenting to sex etc. People usually like spreading these things around. But it hasn’t stopped me or affected my relationship with my body. For my first time, a guy actually told me about it. We were both 15. He later became my partner, but I went home and tried it out and I reached my first climax and have been doing it ever since then.”

  • A, 18

“I have a rough idea of what I like, but I’m not quite satisfied, even though I’m really open with myself about what I do and don’t like. When I tried to explore my body all I felt afterward was shame and guilt. My brain knows that it’s okay and normal but for some reason, I keep feeling guilty. I haven’t been personally shamed for it, but social stigmas like how “shameful” a girl exploring her sexuality is, or how girls don’t deserve pleasure and sex should only be enjoyable for men always leave me feeling guilty whenever I get the urge to explore my body. This makes me not want to do it anymore.”

  • MS, 16

“I’m relatively in-sync with what I like, and I’m open with myself about it. However, I’m not really satisfied because I feel that once I masturbate I end up having the worst week because heya haga haram and that god is just punishing me and I hate myself after doing it. It’s to the point that I can’t even enjoy masturbation anymore. I haven’t been personally shamed, but I strongly fear losing my virginity. This has complicated my relation with my sexual desires in countless ways. My early experiences were in the 7th grade. At the time I didn’t understand what this was and I didn’t know what I was doing and I was feeling ashamed. I kept doing it without understanding what this was. I was too ashamed to even educate myself about it because I couldn’t even face the fact that I did something like this. I begged my mom to explain to me the sexual things (of course I didn’t tell her that I was doing anything) but she said that there’s no need for her to explain these things to me at such a young age. I needed her to explain these things to me because I was kind of traumatized from what I saw and what I felt.”

  • SS, 18

“I have limited experience with self-pleasure because whenever I would do it I would feel ashamed/guilty (because of religion and culture) but recently these feelings of shame have started to decrease because people are starting to talk about sexual liberation so it’s starting to feel like its okay for me to experiment and have fun with myself. But a big part of me still sometimes thinks about how it’s a “sin” and it’s عيب and all that. Whenever I mentioned self-pleasure in general around friends they would get very disgusted. Fear of being found has stopped me from exploring personal sexual intimacy, I worry about what they would think of me. Around the age of 12/13, I had recently taken the reproduction chapter in biology, and I was immediately filled with guilt and shame. I tried to convince myself that what I did wasn’t self-pleasure since I didn’t insert anything in my vagina and it took me years to be able to admit to myself that what I did/do is self-pleasure and that it’s okay and completely normal.”

  • EL, 19

“I’m aware of what I like, I’m very open with myself about it, and I’m satisfied. My friends used to tell me that I was the sexual one or the dirty one because I used to be more sexually aware than them. But now we’ve all discovered ourselves a bit more and figured out what we like and what we don’t, so I’m not shameful about it now but I used to feel like the black sheep in a way. The first few times it was uncomfortable and weird as I wasn’t experienced, I wasn’t really doing right. But eventually, I got the hang of it and the first time I was actually satisfied it felt very euphoric and almost like I could feel the stress leaving my body.”

  • S, 16

“I have a rough idea of what I like, and I’m satisfied with this. However I’m not really open with myself about it, I’m not that comfortable with it yet.”

  • SA, 20

“لدي فكرة تقريبية عما أحب لكن مش بتلقى بيه لاني بخاف ان حد من اهلي يعرف و ساعتها هكون مش موجوده. دايما عندى خوف من اهلي انه ممكن يعرفو فا غصب عنى مش ببقي مرتاحه انه اقدر اعرف بحب ايه و مبحبش ايه. واحده كنت صحبتي زمان الي اني مش محترمه عشان بتفكر كده. بحس بالذنب كتير، ويقيدني اهلي و انه ممكن يكون فيها تهديد على حياتى.”

  • س، ٢٠

“I know what I like, but I don’t usually receive it, even though I’m completely open with myself about my sexual desires. My ex is the only person that satisfied me and I was 100% comfortable with, and every other guy was just pushy, weird, and only cared about their pleasure. I’ve received shameful comments about my desires from friends and guys I’ve previously hooked up with. I’m unable to fully explore my sexual desires and my body due to the social stigma around women being sexually active. My ex and other guys I have seen are praised for carrying condoms for example, but I need to hide them from everyone. I fear how people can perceive me for being sexually active with many people and how they could make me feel about myself” 

  • M, 16 

“I haven’t experimented enough to know what I like. The first time I tried it, I had no idea wtf I was doing and I felt anxiety and a rush of panic. I couldn’t concentrate and didn’t exactly know what I’m supposed to like, so I tried it once after that but I didn’t feel good either. It’s like I’m doing it incorrectly. I just get aroused but what follows are just feelings of shame, terror, and disgust. I’m not open with myself, I’m still a bit lost and feel like I should explore a bit more. I’ve always heard that it’s disgusting and that girls aren’t supposed to do that. Hearing this made me feel shameful, feeling like an outsider. But I’m also full of curiosity, have high expectations and I don’t understand fully what I should be feeling but I’m always fantasizing about it.”

  • N, 18

“I’m not sure what I like. Even trying to experiment by myself instills an unimaginable amount of guilt. If I experience any sexual thoughts or feelings I feel guilty. It sucks because I know it’s not rational to feel that way, and that having sexual thoughts or feelings are innate and normal. Everyone has them but while it’s normalized for men it’s criminalized for women. I’m not really sure how to be open with myself about it yet. I think all women have been shamed for feeling that way before they even knew about those feelings; it’s just ingrained in our society. I thought I was asexual for a while because of how out of touch I am with my feelings and I still think there’s a chance I might be asexual.”

  • ET, 18

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