It all started with a women-only group on Facebook, where members established their own online community to share their experiences on sexuality and intimacy: topics often considered a taboo in their conservative societies across the Arab region.
There, 33-year-old Nouran El Marsafy found a space for ideas that were for long confined within herself. As a designer, urban researcher and feminist, she for long toured Egypt’s impoverished governorates and connected with teenage girls as part of her projects.
“We often talk about changing laws to prevent child marriages, but we often neglect that even if those girls did not marry, they still don’t understand their bodies,” Marsafy told me at a cafe at the heart of Cairo.
Within this online community, Marsafy told me women shared things they could never share on their public profiles, including a weekly post named #قلع or stripping in Arabic, where members can share their own intimate photos, without fear of stigma or harassment.
From the discussions in the small online group emerged The Sex Talk بالعربي, or the Sex Talk in Arabic, a platform spreading knowledge on women and queer sexuality in the Arab region since 2018.
It was Marsafy’s job to create the platform’s visual identity, and thanks to her creative digital brushstrokes, the platform’s pages are full of women's vaginas and depictions of sex toys and other explanatory visuals needed by the members to deliver their messages.
“We always discussed whether we should be subtle or bold, and we always went for bold. We see sex as a right, we are not going to sugarcoat it,” Marsafy said.
She is now part of a group of queer feminist women who engage daily with misinformation around women’s bodies and sexuality. They volunteer from all Arab-speaking countries and some of them are part of the Arab diaspora abroad.
“We feel that we are somehow disconnected from our own bodies,” Marsafy said. Through the platform, the team members hope they can bring back this connection again. They hope they can provide a safe space for women to ask about how they can have access to the morning-after pill, the nearest non-judgmental gynaecologist, or just some talk about self-pleasure.
For more than four years, the platform attracted thousands of followers and a lot of noise as well, Marsafy said. While many seek the help of the platform for advice, members say they have faced bullying and intimidation and often continuous closures of the platform for violating community standards.
“In every post we write, we make sure we do not only include the latest scientific research, but we put part of our own experiences, we put out there a part of us.”
Photo credit: Nouran El Marsafy - The Sex Talk بالعربي