I attended a film called Sex Talk screened at the NVIC in Cairo last week. This film offered insight into Egyptian attitudes to sex through interviews with individuals and specialists. It offered a basic overview of the subject but was interesting in especially because it encouraged discussion about a taboo subject in Egypt. Scenes with impromptu interviews in the street showed that people were so surprised and embarrassed by a question about the subject they didn’t know what to reply.

Interviewees who told more intimate stories were anonymous. Yet somehow the film felt limited, as if there was much more to say that what it expressed. It is difficult to say whether the film suffered however from this embarrassment as it limited the scope and depth of interviews, or whether that embarrassment was a comment in  itself.  Audience comments confirmed this, with people commenting that this was only the middle class view on sex. Yet, what the film did portray clearly were many of the contradictions which exist around the subject in Egypt, including the strange outcomes which result from those contradictory beliefs.

What was perhaps most surprising was the reaction of the mainly European audience to many of the comments made during the film. They roared with laughter at some of the intimate secrets that the interviewees revealed. They didn’t laugh maliciously or to make fun of the other person. The opinion for them was so strange that it became funny. In that light the film perhaps best revealed the differences between Egyptian and Western attitudes to sex and the strangeness of each opinion to the other.

It also made me think that we cannot judge or label too quickly the Egyptian attitude as unhealthy or wrong as there is equally much which unhealthy about European attitudes. In some senses they are extreme positions one offering extreme liberalisation and the other offering extreme protectionism. Both have their problems and a balanced portrayal of the good and bad of the Egyptian position would perhaps produce a more rounded discussion.