In many Arab nations sex before marriage is a taboo. Especially for conservative communities, the act of sex is seen as a disgrace to both the woman and the man. This is true even in more modern times. Sex before marriage in the Arab world is viewed with some disdain as a sign of evil. When arranged marriages present, pre-marital sex is a big taboo and is often discussed in the context of what will happen if such a thing happens.
In many Arab countries the act of pre-marital sex is treated with amusement. It is often referred to as “thong chaat” or “virginity patty.” This is despite the fact that it is illegal in many Arab nations under which adult women are allowed to get married but are not allowed to have sexual relations before that. The reason is that in many Arab societies, being married is seen as a financial contract. To marry a woman is to promise to pay her in certain amounts of money over a certain period of time. Being forced into marriage means losing such a financial investment.
Not only is pre-marital sex socially taboo but it is also a violation of a woman’s right to privacy. In many Arab nations, a woman’s private sex life is subject to the discretion of her family. A woman can be expected to keep her own private life free of men (including her husband and potential future husbands) unless she is married. If she is married, she is expected to submit to her husband’s sexual desires at his discretion.
Many young girls in these Arab nations are married young. They often come from poor families and are under the constant supervision of their parents. The pressure of having to live up to this social standard and the stress of growing up in a culture that regards pre-marital sex with scorn is too much for some young girls to bear. They end up either marrying too early or running away from home to escape the prying eyes of their in-laws.
After puberty, the pressure on Arab young women to conform to this deeply rooted tradition decreases. It becomes less of a social issue and more of an individual concern. Girls may begin to date and marry much earlier in their lives than their counterparts in the West. They may see no need to put up with the pressures of an arranged marriage. When they do get married, they often remain with their families. And, given the social stigmas surrounding pre-marital sex in the Arab world, most young women have no desire to engage in sexual activity prior to marriage.
Sex between married Arab women and Western men has been common enough in societies where the cultures are relatively similar. What makes the situation particularly precarious is that arranged marriages are common in the Arab world. This means that young women (and men) are often pressured into a relationship before they are ready. If the relationship collapses, leaving the young woman alone with her husband and their families, she is often left with no resources. And, in some cases, her husband may not return.
Some young women find themselves caught between a rock and a hard place. They may love someone from their country of origin, but they fear being away from their family. In such cases, the “taboo” behavior of having premarital sex may be risky. Some may opt to enter a marriage tied to a certain man who will back home to protect her. There are also those Arab girls who migrate to the West and, while enjoying Western-style sex, are unable to have an intimate relationship with their future husband. Such cases often lead to a failed marriage.
But some girls decide to defy the odds by entering what could be termed the “normal” sex between Arab women and men in the Arab world. These young women are well aware of the risks involved. They are also aware of the benefits. And they often view the benefits and weigh the costs against the risks.