EGYPT (Fellahin, Nubians)


IndexMiddle East Supra-Saharan Africa Egypt



An excerpt from an author’s autobiography describes, among other developments, his “sexual awakening”[1].


Sherif (2001)[2]:


“Contact is thus limited between young boys and girls, and complete separation of boys and girls becomes the ideal after the onset of puberty. These ideals have become extremely difficult to uphold with the advent of large numbers of women working outside of the house, and are presently in a state of negotiation between the sexes. Faithfulness and chastity also account for the extreme emphasis that families and prospective bridegrooms place on the virginity of the bride. Both sexes believe that virginity guarantees the faithfulness of the woman to the man after marriage “She will not desire others if she has not known men before” is a common phrase that is bantered about. While customarily these rules are not applied as stringently to men, men from “better” families will attempt (at least in mixed company) to portray themselves as very “moral” and as abstaining from women until marriage. It is commonly believed that one is able to predict future behavior based on the past. […] There is also traditional pederasty between older men and younger boys. […] Most circumcisions take place before puberty; the median age at circumcision among both respondents and their daughters was 9.8 years. […] Especially in isolated villages, where sexual outlets for unmarried adolescents are lacking, sexual intercourse with animals is not uncommon”.



The introduction of female genital cutting to Egypt predates the arrival of Christianity and Islam[3]. Clitoridectomy is generally performed 1-2 years preceding puberty. “Therefore, it cannot really be considered a rite of passage” (Hansen, 1972-1973)[4]. In a recent study, “61.1% of the girls circumcised were 10 to 12 years of age at the time of surgery”[5]. Kozma (2001, 2004)[6] analyses late nineteenth-century Egyptian defloration cases.


As for child marriage:


“Des légistes musulmans considèrent comme valide le mariage en bas âge. Ceci est déduit du verset 65:4: "La période d'attente sera de trois mois, même pour celles de vos femmes qui n'espèrent plus la menstruation - si vous avez quelque doute à ce sujet - et pour celles qui n'ont pas eu la menstruation". La période d'attente (avant de pouvoir contracter un nouveau mariage) n'étant exigée que d'une personne mariée qu'on veut répudier, la dernière phrase a été interprétée dans le sens qu'une fille qui n'a pas encore eu ses règles peut être mariée. Les légistes invoquent aussi un précédent de Mahomet: celui-ci, âgé de 50 ans, a épousé ‘Ayshah lorsqu'elle avait six ans. On trouve encore dans le monde arabe des fillettes mariées à des grands-pères incapables de remplir leurs devoirs conjugaux et d'assurer une vie honorable à leurs jeunes épouses. Les parents de la fille sont motivés soit par la crainte d'un puissant, soit par la cupidité matérielle. Certains législateurs arabes essaient de mettre fin à de tels abus: en fixant une limite d'âge minimal pour le mariage et en interdisant la disproportion d'âge entre les deux conjoints”[7].



Ancient Egypt


“It is notable that circumcision was practiced on boys at about the same age as FGM [female genital mutilation] in girls. The boys depicted in the two circumcision scenes I have discussed are just entering puberty; certainly they are not infants. Two ancient authors, Philo Judaeus and Ambrose, indicate that the operation was done when children entered adulthood, for girls at about fourteen years of age. Philo, commenting on Genesis 17:10, says, "Why does He command that only the males be circumcised? In the first place, the Egyptians by the custom of their country circumcise the marriageable youth and maid in the fourteenth (year) of their age, when the male begins to get seed, and the female to have a menstrual flow." Ambrose, bishop of Milan (d. 397 C.E.), largely echoes Philo's words: "The Egyptians circumcise their males in the fourteenth year and the females among them are brought to be circumcised in the same year, because certainly from that year, the passion of manly sensation begins to burn and the monthly courses of women begin."[8] Ambrose, however, seems to suggest a moral purpose in circumcising males, in that they begin to experience sexual desire at around the age of fourteen” (Knight, 2001)[9].


The art of writing, practised on a daily basis, was to be mastered before one has started to have sex with women (Lansin, cited by Toivari, 2000:p173)[10]. Boys were circumcised, but, apart from indications of Greek historians, there is no positive evidence for genital operations on girls (Toivari, p178-9); the operation might have had an anti-aphrodisiac motive. There appears to be little if any knowledge on sexual socialisation of children, or even “adolescents”. Girls married “in der Regel mit Eintritt der Reife”, which may have been, not unlike Rome, around age 12 or 13 (Feucht, 1995:p32-3)[11], or “shortly after beginning to menstruate” (Watterson, 1994 [1998:p589-, 84])[12], and first birth could be expected at age 12 to 15. Boys would marry at age 15. Children were not separated at play, and were nude (Jansen and Jansen, 1990:p55)[13]. Manniche (1987)[14] has little to add to this. “In ancient Egypt […] the prostitution of young girls was a religious practice, so that, according to Strabo, some of the most beautiful and highest-born maidens were forced into prostitution, and they continued as prostitutes until their first menstruation” (Benjamin and Masters, 1964:p161, ital. in orig.)[15].

There appears no evidence that brother-sister marriages (Scheidel, 1995, 1996, 1997)[16] were commonly child marriages (Hopkins, 1980:p353)[17]. In Roman times, Egyptian boys would be married at age 15 to girls aged 12 and 13[18] (cf. Feucht, 1985)[19]. Tyldesley[20]:


“There was no legal age of consent, although it is generally assumed that a girl would not have been considered eligible before the onset of menstruation at about the age of fourteen. A 26th Dynasty document recording a father's refusal to agree to his daughter's wedding because 'her time has not yet come' supports this view. However, evidence from Rome, where female puberty was legally fixed at twelve, indicates that ten or eleven-year-old brides were not uncommon, and we have no reason to doubt that equally young girls were married in Egypt. Indeed, it is only within the past fifty years that in modern rural Egypt marriage for girls as young as eleven has been prohibited by law. There is evidence from the Graeco-Roman period for Egyptian girls marrying as young as eight or nine, and we have a mummy label, written in demotic, which identified the body of an eleven-year-old wife”.


Link: Aëtius on Clitoridectomy


 [onward with Fellahin]






§         Assaad, M. B. (1980) Female circumcision in Egypt: social implications, current research, and prospects for change, Studies in Family Planning11,1:3-16

§         Beamish, Julia (January, 2003) Adolescent Reproductive Health in Egypt: Status, Issues, Policies, and Programs. []

§         El-Gibaly, Omaima, Barbara Ibrahim, Barbara S. Mensch, and Wesley H. Clark (1999) The decline of female circumcision in Egypt: Evidence and interpretation, Policy Research Division Working Paper no. 132. New York: Population Council []

§         Fakhouri, Hani (1972) Kafr-el-Elow: An Egyptian Village in Transition. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston (p86-7 on female genital operations)

§         Gordon, D. (1991) Female circumcision and genital operations in Egypt and the Sudan: a dilemma for medical anthropology, Med Anthropol Quart 5,1:3-14

§         Healy, E. (nd) Female genital mutilation: a tradition of the suppression of female sexuality in Egypt. Unpublished degree dissertation, University of Newcastle Upon Tyne, Newcastle, England

§         Naguib, Sephinaz-Amal (1982) L'Excision Pharaonic -- Une Appellation Erronée, Bull de la Société d'Egyptol 7:79-82

§         Sayed, G. H. et al. (1996) The practice of female genital mutilation in Upper Egypt, Int J Gynecol & Obstetrics 55:285-91


§         Yount, K.M. (2001a) Like mother, like daughter: female circumcision in an Upper Egyptian Setting. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Population Association of America, Washington, D.C, 29–31 March

§         Yount, K.M. (2001b) Like mother, like daughter: female circumcision in an Upper Egyptian Setting. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Midwest Sociological Society, Minneapolis, MN, 4–8 April

§         Yount, K.M. (2002) Like Mother, like Daughter? Female Genital Cutting in Minia, Egypt, Journal of Health and Social Behavior 43,3:336-358





Janssen, D. F., Growing Up Sexually. Volume I. World Reference Atlas. 0.2 ed. 2004. Berlin: Magnus Hirschfeld Archive for Sexology

Last revised: Aug 2005






[1] Amin, H. Ah. (1988) Childhood in Cairo, Jerusalem Quart [Israel] 48:129-44

[2] Sherif, B. (2001) Egypt, in Francoeur, R. T. ( chief) The International Encyclopedia of Sexuality. Vol. IV. New York: Continuum. Online ed.

[3] Yount. Kathryn M. (2004) Symbolic gender politics, religious group identity, and the decline in female genital cutting in Minya, Egypt, Social Forces 82,3:1063 et seq.

[4]Hansen, H. H. (1972-1973) Clitoridectomy: female circumcision in Egypt, Folk 14-15:15-26

[5] Dandash, Khadiga F.; Refaat, Amany H.; Eyada, Moustafa (2001) Female Genital Mutilation: A Descriptive Study, J Sex & Marital Therapy 27,5:453 et seq.

[6] Kozma, L. (2001) Musta‘amala minmudda, Stories of Defloration and Virginity. Paper for the 16th Middle East History and Theory Conference, University of Chicago, May 11-12, 2001 []; Kozma, L. (2003) On the Concept of Consent in Late Nineteenth-Century Egyptian Defloration Cases. 4th Conference of the International Federation for Research in Women’s History, August 2003; Kozma, L. (2004) Negotiating Virginity: Narratives of Defloration from late nineteenth-century Egypt, Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa & Middle East, 24:1:57-67 []

[8] Philo Judaeus, Quaestiones et solutiones in Genesim, 3.47, in Philo: Questions and Answers on Genesis, Translated from the Ancient Armenian Version of the Original Greek, trans. Ralph Marcus (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press, 1953). The Greek version of this work is now lost. Ambrose, De Abrahamo 2, 11.78 (348A-B), in Sancti Ambrossi opera, pars prima, ed. Karl Schenkl (Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum, 32) (Vienna: Tempsky, 1897): "denique Aegyptii quarto decimo anno circumcidunt mares et feminae apud eos eodem anno circumcidi feruntur, quod ab eo videlicet anno incipiat flagrare passio moros virilis et feminarum menstrua sumant exordia." [orig. footnote]

[9] Knight, M. (2001) Curing Cut or Ritual Mutilation? Isis 92,2:317 et seq.

[10] Toivari, J. K. (2000) Women at Deir El-Medina. Dissertation, Leiden, The Netherlands

[11] Feucht, E. (1995) Das Kind im Alten Ägypten. Franfurt, New York: Campus Verlag

[12] Watterson, B. (1994) Women in Ancient Egypt. New York: Sutton

[13] Jansen, R. M. & Jansen, J. J. (1990) Growing up in Ancient Egypt. London: Rubicon Press

[14] Manniche, L. (1987) Sexual Life in Ancient Egypt. London & New York: KPI

[15] Benjamin, H. & Masters, R. E. L. (1964) Prostitution and Morality. New York: Julian Press. Bloch, I. ([1933]) Anthropological Studies in the Strange Sexual Practises of All Races and All Ages. New York: Anthropological Press, p88-9: “In Egypt, in the city of Thebes, religious prostitution of the virgins was restricted to the most beautiful and aristocratic, who were dedicated to Ammon until the signs of nubility appeared, then they were married (Strabo, 816)”.

[16] Scheidel, W. (1995) Incest revisited: three notes on the demography of sibling marriage in Roman Egypt, Bull Am Soc Papyrol 32:143–55; Scheidel, W. (1996) Brother–sister and parent–child marriage outside royal families in ancient Egypt and Iran: a challenge to the sociobiological view of incest avoidance? Ethol Sociobiol 17:319–40; Scheidel, W. (1997) Brother-Sister Marriage in Roman Egypt, J Biosocial Sci 29,3:361-71

[17] Hopkins, K. (1980) Brother-Sister Marriage in Roman Egypt, Comparat Stud Soc & Hist 22,3:303-54

[18] Erman, A. & Ranke, H. (1885) Ägypten und Ägyptisches Leben im Alterum. Tübingen: Laupp, p180

[19]Feucht, E. (1985) Gattenwahl, Ehe und Nachkommenschaft im Alten Ägypten, in Müller, E. W. (Ed.) Geschlechtsreife und Legitimation zur Zeugung. München: K. A. Freiburg, p55-84

[20] Tyldesley, J. (1994) Marriage and Motherhood in Ancient Egypt, Hist Today 44:20-6