Dangerous Sexualities: The Construction of Sexual Knowledge in Egypt, 1800-1928
ElSayed, Sherry Sayed Gad Elrab
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
Reason for embargo
Thesis expected to be published as a book
The main aim of this interdisciplinary project is to examine attempts to codify sexual knowledge in Egypt between 1830 and 1928. Through surveying medical, religious, legal and moral writings on sexuality, this study aims to examine the underlying politics of sexual knowledge and the structures of permissions and prohibitions within which sexual knowledge was articulated in the period under study. The research recognizes that there are several sources that informed people about sexual behaviour in the period under study. However, the study is concerned only with a number of writings that imparted teachings about sex directly or indirectly to the growing literate middle class, and proceeds to discuss their authors and contexts. The study's main focus is the influence of medical and scientific conceptualization of sex differences on the understandings of gender and sexuality. In nineteenth-century Egypt, the study argues, professional medical authorities promoted medical theories that suggested men's innate active sexuality and inability to control their sexual urges. At the same time, professional Egyptian doctors increasingly projected women as mentally and physically fragile because of their reproductive cycle. Women were increasingly viewed as incapable of being sexually spontaneous. To remain healthy, women were advised to suppress their sexual desires to be satisfied only through marital sex. Through examining the interconnections between medical, legal, religious and moral discursive literature on sexual behaviour, this study brings into light the associations between sex, sexuality and the creation and recreation of gender. The study demonstrates that medical perceptions of male and female sexualities were at the core of moral and intellectual discourses on gender equality as well as religious opinions on sex-related issues. Since there was a multiplicity of ideological and activist stands on questions about sexuality and gender in the period under study, the study explores the variety of ways in which nationalists, feminists and religious scholars adopted, borrowed or negotiated with scientific and medical ideas on female sexuality to support their different views on contemporary controversial issues such as gender equality, polygamy etc. Medical and scientific ideas of male and female sexuality had a complex impact on discursive literature on gender and sexuality. On the one hand, they were employed to justify the continuity of patriarchy and the increasing male regulation of female sexuality. On the other hand, they strengthened arguments in support of the participation of women in public life.
PhD in Arab and Islamic Studies