Sarah Irving is attending the Edinburgh fest-a-thon. She reports:. Arabic script twines in and out, forming the shape of a female torso. The words are all long-forgotten Arabic terms for sex. As she told an audience at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, the Arabic language has — or used to have — over a thousand verbs just for the act of having sex. Classical Arabic manuscripts in collections of rare books are filled with joyous and highly explicit descriptions of sex — not macho, male-focused sex, but sex which speaks of equality, female pleasure and mutual enjoyment.
Culture Trip stands with Black Lives Matter. When the explorer and writer Sir Richard Burton died in , his wife Isabel burnt dozens of his unpublished works. In a letter to the Morning Post , she confessed to destroying his new translation of a medieval Arabic sex manual, The Perfumed Garden. The target audience was very different: written between and for a minister of the Sultan of Tunis, the treatise is a sex guide for married Muslim men. The premise is that women are always unfaithful when left unsatisfied by their husbands.
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In the early Islamic world, Arabic erotic compendia and sex manuals were a popular literary genre. Although primarily written by male authors, the erotic publications from this era often emphasised the sexual needs of women and the importance of female romantic fulfilment. Pernilla Myrne here explores this phenomenon, examining a range of Arabic literature to shed fresh light onto the complexities of female sexuality under the Abbasids and the Buyids. Based on an impressive array of neglected medical, religious-legal, literary and entertainment sources, Myrne elucidates the tension between depictions of women's strong sexual agency and their subordinated social role in various contexts. In the process she uncovers a great diversity of approaches from the 9th to the 11th century, including the sexual handbook the Encyclopedia of Pleasure Jawami' al-ladhdha , which portrayed the diversity of female desires, asserting the importance of mutual satisfaction through lively poems and stories.