The Pen Versus the Sword: Sex Education Books and Death Threats in Saudi Arabia
47% of fathers in Saudi Arabia find it difficult to answer their children
s questions related to sex and about 87% find it embarrassing to answer the questions, and, as a result, they tend to ignore them.
Professor Amal Mohammed Banouna
In her recent research study of the position of parents and teachers on offering early sex education to children between 3 and 8 years of age, Professor Amal Mohammed Banouna of Umm al-Qura University in Mecca found that the curiosity of students about sexuality embarrassed many parents and elders in the conservative kingdom. Despite this blush, Banouna found that more than 90% of parents and teachers support the introduction of sex education in public schools. Also, Banouna recommended that both teachers AND parents should be given training on how to deal with their children’s curiosity, especially when it comes to matters of sexuality. Another older study in 2010 showed that 43% of parents were reluctant to share sexual health information with their children themselves; yet, almost 90% said they were concerned their children may be sexually harassed or abused.
Mohammad Al-Sheddi, a member of the Shoura Council and the Human Rights Commission, believes that children have a right to information that would protect them, stating, The Shoura recently approved a protocol to protect children from being exploited for pornography. Children should be equipped with enough information that would allow them to differentiate between right and wrong, and detect whether they are being used or lured into a situation in which they may be abused.
Also in 2010, Dr. Wedad Lootah, an Emirati social worker and marriage counselor who wrote a bestselling book on sex education, said that she planned to write a series of three books on the subject for kindergarten, junior school and high school pupils. She outlined her plans saying, First there will be a picture book for kindergarten that will grab their interest, and then for the bigger ones, grades one to six, there will be Islamic teachings in simple language. Then for the higher grades who already know everything, there will be the dangers and the negative effects: what is right and what is wrong. However, I was unable to find any recent stories about the potential books beyond that fact she received many death threats from fundamentalists.
So if Saudi youth aren’t getting the necessary information to protect themselves and be sexually healthy from their schools or their parents, where are they getting it from?
The answer is through trial and error, books, and the Internet according to female college students in a discussion about sex education in the Kingdom. These women also reported feeling that they did not have a safe place or safe person where they could comfortably go and ask such questions. Moreover, women’s relationship to sexuality and sexual health in Saudi Arabia needs drastic improvements. According to a study on women’s sexual health, female participants reported experiencing more difficulties in talking about sexual matters generally, and specifically those that related to sexual intercourse. They also delayed seeking sexual health care as a result of the influence of Saudi social norms around women’s sexuality. Plus, health care professionals tended to avoid initiating discussions about sexual matters in their clinical practices to respect the cultural norms and avoid offending the patient.
Hopefully, with the projected introduction of sex education in schools, Saudi Arabian youth and women can start receiving the information they need to maintain their sexual health. Nonetheless, as Banouna pointed out, no matter how embarrassing or taboo, parents, teachers, school administrations, and health care professionals should ALL be involved in educating youth about sexuality and sexual health or else they will not know how to take care of or protect their bodies and make responsible choices.