But Heba Kotb has come a long way. As her own website states, “for a long time just mentioning sex was considered shameful and even sinful.” She did not find herself in the easiest of societies to openly start discussing sexual topics. Even more so, it was impossible to study sexology in Egypt, and she had to go to America to do so.
This has allowed her to acquire quite an impressive resumé. She holds a masters degree in forensic medicine and clinical toxicology; a medical degree in forensic medicine; a diploma in clinical sexology from Maimonedes University, Florida, USA; a degree in the philosophy of human sexuality, clinical sexology and pastoral counselling from Maimonedes University; and she was given the award for the best research work from Maimonedes University for the PhD thesis entitled “Sexuality in Islam”.
Nonetheless, this strong academic record did not make people respect her job that easily. Even her father initially didn’t want to talk to her anymore, but eventually she was able to convince him of the honesty and decency of her job.
And not only did she convince her father; she also seems to have convinced the rest of her society. When she started her private practice, she would only have about two customers a week, now she has a waiting list of up to three months.
The same thing happened to her talk show Big Talk on the private channel El-Mehwar. At first people were sceptical and shocked, but gradually it became known all over the Arab world. Some conservative clerics criticized her for allowing too much Western permissiveness, but all in all, there is little reaction to her very straightforward approach. Why? Simply because she herself is a devout Muslim and says nothing that goes against any Islamic principles.
Kotb never gives any advice that is prohibited by the Qur’an. She is, for example, very strong on her stance regarding extramarital sex. She says that such sexual acts leave ‘marks’ that can destroy one’s relationship and lead one away from God. She also considers homosexual acts as haram and homosexuality as a disease, and proposes therapy to help homosexuals to free themselves of their desires.
But she doesn’t focus on the constraints. On the contrary, her concern is more with the things that are possible within the boundaries of the Qur’an. Oral sex, for example, is no problem according to her, since there is no Qur’anic verse or hadith banning it.
This reasoning is not unknown within Islam: if it is not prohibited, it is allowed. She just applies it to sexuality.
Even more so, on her website she writes that “a sexual relationship is highly sacred and highly recommended religiously”, as the Qur’an writes that women also have to experience pleasure, and that men should treat their women kindly and well. According to Kotb, therefore, a woman has, Qur’anically speaking, just as much right to good sex and a thorough orgasm as a man. She thus sees it as the duty of the man to make sure his wife is satisfied sexually, just as Mohammed was dutiful to his wives.
According to Heba Kotb, it is not religion that stands in the way of a healthy sex life for Muslims, but more their ignorance. She claims that 80% of the divorces in Egypt are due to a lack of comprehension of sexual problems. It is her conviction that if people can tackle this ignorance, it would lead to a more stable society. She thus considers it a necessity to bring her society to a higher awareness regarding various sexual topics.
Thus in her conferences, practice or TV shows, when asked by a Muslim woman whether it is normal that her husband wants to penetrate her from behind, she can straightforwardly reassure her that this is absolutely normal. And when somebody asks what an unmarried woman who experiences strong sexual desire should do, she can answer that this woman could perhaps masturbate. Although masturbation is not fully endorsed by Islam (and therefore also not by Kotb), it is better than having extramarital sex, which is obviously haram.
In this way, Heba Kotb can openly, honestly and very seriously address issues like pleasure, desire, orgasm, masturbation, sexual frequency and erection problems in a society that is not at all used to talk about such matters. Using both scientific anatomy books and the Qur’an to help her patients, she does not try to be an female Egyptian Freud that turns her society or religion upside down, but she simply slowly breaks open an aspect of daily life that is an integral part of every person’s existence, but which has hitherto been a closed subject.
Yunus used to be a site of independent religious journalism that attempts to publish religious news, interviews, analysis and opinions that are of relevance to the present global society.
© 2007 Yunus. The original version of this article was published by Yunus on 30 July 2007. Republished with permission.