Growing Up Sexually



IES: Egypt






IndexMiddle East Supra-Saharan Africa Egypt→ Fellahin



 “Au Caire, les petits garçons et les petites filles s’amusent entre eux complétement. Les petits garçons se livrent entre eux à la pédérastie. Il est très-ordinaire de voir de petits enfants de sept à huit ans faire toutes sortes de débauches” (Godard, 1867:p105)[1]. That is, little girls of six springs were seen copulating with five-year-old boys (Jacobus X, [1898, II:p95]; Bloch, 1902, I:p257)[2]. In Nubia girls are sold into marital consummation long before menarche (Abbadie, cited by Bloch, 1902, I :p252). According to Lane (1836)[3], Egyptian girls would in the past marry at the age of twelve or thirteen; and “some remarkably precocious” ones at the age of ten.

A discussion of early Egyptian boy prostitution is offered by Drew and Drake (1969:p54-8)[4]. Early in the century 100-200 boys of not more than 8-10 were castrated every year on a caravan route from the Sudan to Egypt to become eunuchs (Baer, 1967:p419)[5].


Ammar (1954:p159-60)[6]: “In the light of psycho-analytical findings, the period of latency in Silwa as expressed in children’s play and games does not witness the “latency” or repression of sexuality as reported by psycho-analysts [sic]. On the contrary, till the age of ten and eleven children are given full swing of their rough and vulgar ways of talk in their games”, a condition, however, only true for boys, whereas for girls, “phrases or symbols of sexuality are hardly expressed. The difference is certainly a reflection of the social norms governing sex, and exerts pressure on girls earlier than boys [sic]”. Thus, latency, if existent, is “skin-deep”. Ammar (p184-92) relates that adolescent girls are more restrained in their mobility, partly “because their breasts have grown”. In this sense, restriction is said to follow an arc also found in Japan which has its lowest points in infancy and old age, and its highest just before marriage. Informal sex segregation begins at age 9 or ten, and is established at 12 to 13. However, it may also be almost complete after the age of six or seven (p155). Adolescence is shrouded by genital shame, and “any conversation about sex is taboo, and they are forbidden to talk about it to their parents or to any grown-up”. These norms are “being imbibed gradually from childhood” (p188). “The maturing of sex functions at this stage is noted with great embarrassment, shame and feeling of guilt by adolescents”, contrasting sharply to the bodily gratification given to infants (p190). This may refer to the mother’s playing with boy’s genitals (p105). “It is not unusual for girls to get married by the age of twelve and thirteen, in spite of the law which stipulates that this may not be effected before the age of sixteen”.


The circumcision of seven- or eight-year-old girls is enacted “to prevent any suspicion on the bridegroom’s part that the bride is not a virgin” (Ammar, p118). A pre-islamic[7] practice, circumcision ends what is, according to ancient Egyptian mythology, believed to be the natural bisexuality of men and women (Assaad, 1979[8]:p8; Hatem, 1987[9]:p298). A personal experience suggests an alternative function: “Girls are circumcized [at age 7 years] to keep them cool and able to control their sexual urges. Boys are circumcized because it is believed that they cannot copulate or beget children if they are not” (Khul-Khaal, p137).


Sexual matters are discussed before children “without the slightest reserve” (Blackman, 1948 [1968:p43])[10], particularly by women, which would “poison their minds at the very outset of their lives”. Although Egyptian laws prohibited early marriage (before 16, boys until age 18), the girls are dressed up at an early age to attract men (p43, 47, 90), “old enough to be their fathers or even their grandfathers”. Premarital promiscuity, however, is heavily tabooed, and it is said that female violators are murdered or expelled by their parents. Little girls have a perfectly free life until their marriageable age, when their freedom is somewhat more restricted (p37).



“Village custom demands, on pain of death, that she [fellah’s wife] be physically a virgin when she marries, but mentally she has caesed to be so long before. Since childhood she has been aware of her parents’ intercourse, which is quite open due to the lack of privacy. The conversation of the women, at which the girls are usually present, turns constantly on these subjects […]”.










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

Last revised: Sept 2004




[1] Godard, E. (1867) Égypte et Palestine. Paris

[2] Jacobus X ([1893] 1898) L’Amour aux Colonies. Paris: I. Liseux. 3 vols. 2nd & enl. English ed., Untrodden Fields of Anthropology (etc.). Paris: Librairie de Medecine, Folklore et Anthropologie. 2 vols.

[3] Lane, E. W. (1836) An Account of the Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians. London: Night; Scott (1960:p74)

[4] Drew, D. & Drake, J. (1969) Boys for Sale. New York: Brown Book Co.

[5] Baer, G. (1967) Slavery in Nineteenth Century Egypt, J Afr Hist 8,3:417-41

[6] Ammar, H. (1954) Growing Up in an EgyptianVillage. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul

[7] Neither female or male circumcision are mentioned in the Cur’an. See Berkey, J. P. (1996) Circumcision Circumscribed: Female Excision and Cultural Accommodation in the Medieval near East, Int J Middle East Studies 28,1:19-38, at p24

[8] Assaad, M. B. (1979) Female Circumcision in Egypt. Cairo: AmericanSocialResearchCenter. Cf. Assaad, M. B. (1980) Female Circumcision in Egypt: Social Implications, Current Research, and Prospects for Change, Studies in Fam Plann 11,1:3-16

[9] Hatem, M. (1987) Toward the Study of the Psychodynamics of Mothering and Gender in Egyptian Families, Int J Middle East Stud 19,3:287-305

[10] Blackman, W. S. (1968) The Fellahin of Upper Egypt.London: F. Cass & Co. Orig. 1948, Les Fellahs de la Haute-Égypte. Paris: Payot