BBC video highlights 'Teaching Palestinians to talk about sex'

One of the male participants claimed that he didn't know what a vagina was until he was 19 years old, adding that it seemed as though his parents made a "concerted effort" to keep him in the dark.

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July 9, 2019 14:56
4 minute read.
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The BBC has released a feature video titled "Teaching Palestinians to talk about sex," in which Safa Tamish, a sex educator and the founder of Muntada Al-Jensaneya, runs a workshop teaching Palestinian men and women to talk about a topic which is normally seen as forbidden to discuss in their community.

Many of them have never openly discussed the topic, and many are uneducated when it comes to sex education, how their own bodies work and sexuality in general.

"When I was younger, I didn't know how women got pregnant," one of the participants said.

Tamish runs open discussions within these workshops and emboldens the participants to use "proper names for body parts in Arabic," instead of Hebrew, to desensitize the participants to the normally taboo-like rhetoric of talking about sex within their communities.

Speaking to a group of sex educators during a portion of the video, Tamish explains best practices in getting participants to open up and feel comfortable in the discussion.

"One tip I can give you as sex educators – you could say: 'Today we want to talk about our body parts. Many of our body parts have funny names, but there are also proper names in Arabic. It's the same with the sexual organs, they call it 'weewee,' peepee,' but it's actually called a penis."

Tamish believes that when discussing these topics, language is an important factor in understanding and normalizing sexual education within the Arab-Palestinian communities. Therefore, the workshops are carried out completely in Arabic. Tamish says that normally, when discussing sex from an academic perspective, these lectures would normally be done in Hebrew – which can cause much confusion for those who don't speak or understand Hebrew fully.

"Unfortunately, people assume that any sex education is associated with Western thought," she said, adding that many in the community believe that her teachings are immoral and go against the culture's ideology.

Tamish said her critics claim that "You will come here to destroy our pure culture, your ideas are destructive and encourage immorality."

The workshop shown in the video was held for Palestinian psychology students. The organizer's first activity with the participants was to have them choose a word out of a pile that reminds them of their teenage years and then explain why they chose that word to the rest of the group.

"I used to hear this thing a lot: breasts," a participant said as she picked up one of the words from the pile. "This also scared me a lot: the period. I didn't know anything about it."

One of the male participants claimed that he didn't know what a vagina was until he was 19 years old. He said that it seemed as though his parents made a "concerted effort" to keep him in the dark about matters of sexuality - and that teachers also completely bypassed the subject in school.

"I didn't know about erections when I was younger. And [later on] I was under the impression that if the man couldn't have an erection, it meant that he was sterile," a female participant told the group.

Later in the BBC video, Tamish visits the Askar Refugee Camp to speak with a group of women participating in a second session, asking the participants what they learned from the last discussion and what has improved.

Speaking about her children, one of the female refugee participants said, "If a kid asks you a question, you have to answer him. Otherwise they can look it up on their phone wherever they are. Before, I had to shut him up and tell him: 'You'll find out in the future; you are too young to know. I would always be worried: 'Is he going to ask anyone else? Will the other children give him incorrect information?'"

The participants start to delve into the importance of teaching these topics in the community instead of overlooking them as if they don't exist - and what problems could arise if they are ignored.

"You're not only conveying what you learn to the women, but also to the men in your life. I feeling like I'm standing on solid ground now and I know where I'm going," one participant said.

Not only does the organization conduct in-person workshops, it also prints informative reading material, published in a number of different Arabic dialects such as Tunisian, Moroccan and Egyptian, according to the BBC.

"I remember in one of the workshops, a man was really furious. He stood up and shouted: 'How does your husband allow you to talk about such topics in front of men?' Tamish said, adding that she starting laughing while understanding his concerns. "Our topic is a difficult one; people don't welcome us with open arms."

Considering that within the Arab community the topic is rarely spoken about, Tamish is proud of her work.

"We stopped treating these topics as separated or unrelated to everyday life. We brought it closer to people's lives. This is how it begins to feel like a part of them."

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