IndexMiddle East Lebanon



According to Manasra[1], Palestinian patriarchal tradition has given more rights to women than religion has. From birth, expectations differed by the sex of the infant. The role of the male was to carry on the family name and secure its financial future. Girls were considered burdens and required greater parental responsibility; early marriage was desired and the husband then assumed responsibility. Male’s honour was only tied to their ability to control the behaviour of their womenfolk. Girls were taught obedience and acceptance and thus were easier to raise. Girls were expected to take some household responsibility from the age of 5 years, while boys played. Girls were confined to the home and quiet activity. Teenage girls’ sexualitywas controlled by threats.


According to research by Melikian and Prothro (1954)[2], Beirut Arabs have their first homosexual intercourse at mean age 12, as opposed to 13 for Americans (cf. Melikian, 1967)[3]. The latter study, which subjects were 41 out of 69 Lebanese, documented the following pattern (resembling the ®Mexico case as described by Carrier):


“Even though no differences appear in the age of first sexual experience of any categories [comparing the latter with the former study], it is interesting to note that for both groups the mean age at which the first homosexual experience is reported to have occurred is lower than the means for onset of the first nocturnal emission, masturbation, and heterosexual intercourse. These results seem to indicate that the first experience of 43 per cent of our Ss [subjects] was homosexual in its nature and occurred before they became sexually mature: i.e., it is easier than the onset of nocturnal emissions. In general, they were introduced to it mainly by older peers or, less frequently, by a practicing adult. Even though homosexuality appears to be their first introduction to sex, it was also the first abandoned” (p172).


Prothro (1967:p117-21)[4] took interviews on 468 Lebanese mothers regarding their sexual socialisation. 377/463 stated that five-year-olds had no knowledge of babies’ origins. “Children were told that babies came from the sea [sometimes with a reference to Moses’ delivery in a basket], from cabbages, from Saint Nicolas or other generous religious figures, from heaven or from God”. However, there is a significant difference, for instance, between lower-class Sunni mothers in the valley, and middle class Orthodox mothers in urban regions. 75% stated never to have noted deliberate handling of genitals before age five, a remarkable outcome given available studies for the first two years[5]. Of the 106 mothers who said they did observe genital handling, 90% expressed strong disapproval, without group differences.  


Lutfiyya (1966:p129)[6] states that in villages around Palestine, “[t]he selection of a suitable [marriage] mate is conditioned by the fact that boys and girls stop associating with one another after about the age of ten. A mother might threat an infant in that she will “apply fire to its sex organ” (p158). No sex education is given at home (p160), which is apparently left to playmates, older children, and direct experience. “Boys learn to masturbate in groups, but in seclusion from other people”, which might lead to transient homosexual contacts “early in life”. In women, “[t]he sex impulse is strictly suppressed before marriage”. In the case of abusive situations, the moral climate may hamper disclosure (Shalhoub-Kevorkian, 1999)[7].


Williams (1968:p32)[8] observed that children lie on the same mattress as their siblings and until adolescence; a separate room comes with marriage, which signifies full sexual and social status (Fuller, 1961:p55)[9]. Childhood freedom is consumed by chores, and “[p]re-adolescent girls […] rapidly become aware that the life of their sex is primarily related to care of the home and children”.


“Sexual knowledge comes gradually to a child in terms of its own observations and age. Mothers and grandmothers handle the genitals of a boy infant in order to soothe him. Masturbation and sex play among children are reprimanded, however. At a young age great stress is laid upon bodily modesty, particularly in keeping the sexual organs from view. This holds especially true for girl children, who are constantly reminded to sit with their legs closed or not to sprawl flat, since that indicates a sexual posture. […] As a child inhabits the same room as his parents and barnyard life is close at hand, he comes at an early age to full knowledge of sex. His vocabulary soon includes a variety of sexual and reproductive terms, including oaths and jests of a sexual nature. Grown-ups derive a certain sport from teaching small children sexual words, the meaning of which they are hardly aware, and having them recite them in public” (p40-1).







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

Last revised: Dec 2004




[1] Manasra, N. (1993) Palestinian women: between tradition and revolution, in Augustin, E. (Ed.) Palestinian Women: Identity and Experience. London, England: Zed Books, p7-21

[2] Melikian, L. H. & Prothro, E. T. (1954) Sexual behavior of university students in the Arab Near East, J Abnorm & Soc Psychol 49:59-64

[3] Melikian, L. H. (1967) Social change and sexual behavior of Arab university students, J Soc Psychol 73:169-75

[4] Prothro, E. T. (1967) Child Rearing in the Lebanon. Cambridge, Massachusetts: HarvardUniversity Press. See also Moughrabi, F. M. (1978) The Arab Basic Personality: A Critical Survey of the Literature, Int J Middle East Studies 9,1:99-112, at p102

[5] E.g., Kleeman, J. A. (1965) A boy discovers his penis, Psychoanal Study Child 20:239-66; Kleeman, J. A. (1966) Genital self-discovery during a boy’s second year: a follow-up, Psychoanal Study Child 21:358-91

[6] Lutfiyya, A. M. (1966) Baytīn, A Jordanian Village. The Hague [etc.]: Mouton

[7] Shalhoub-Kevorkian, N. (1999) The politics of disclosing female sexual abuse: a case study of Palestinian society, Child Abuse & Neglect 23,12:1275-93

[8] Williams, J. R. (1968) The Youth of Haouch El Harimi. Cambridge: HarvardUniversity Press

[9] Fuller, A. H. (1961) Buarij: Portrait of a LebaneseMuslimVillage. Cambridge: HarvardUniversity Press