Sexual Taboos in Lebanon

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Abstract

In human societies and cultures, it is common to find certain acts, beliefs, or associations that are forbidden for one reason or another. In Christian and Muslim societies for instance, several taboos exist with regard to family life and sexuality. For example, in both cultures it is forbidden for faith adherents to disengage in pre-marital sex. Although such taboos do exist, this does not mean that members of these religions follow them. Simply put, a taboo is a religious or social custom that prohibits associations with certain places, things, or people or even a social restriction on practicing particular acts. Lebanon like many of its Arab colleagues has several taboos related to sexuality, sex, and women rights (Barakat, 1993). Unfortunately, just as is the case in most other society’s hypocrisy is a characteristic feature in the Lebanese society to such an extent that it is sometimes difficult to ascertain the size of the population that clearly observes these taboos. In this article, the argument is that hypocrisy is a dominant feature in Lebanese culture when it comes to breaking sexual taboos in Lebanon. In particular, the paper looks at issues of premarital sex, homosexuality, and gender equality and evaluates how these taboos have been addressed in the mainstream Lebanese culture from both a conservative and liberal view.

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Introduction

It is estimated that more than one in five Lebanese engage in premarital and extramarital sex, while at the same time two-thirds of these persons are aged between 15 and 24 years (Shaheen, 2014). Premarital and extramarital sex are taboos in Lebanon just as is the case in many other Arab countries. Assuming that these statistics are true, then there is no need to view the Lebanese society as being conservative, although this is what is popularly portrayed in popular media. Though sex education is not taboo in Lebanon, it is largely limited in scope and this makes it a ‘hard nut’ to crack in a society where the largely Muslim community makes it taboo to have public discussions on sex and sexuality.

Analysis

Taboos may either be healthy or unhealthy depending on what they intend to restrict and the effects/repercussions of these prohibitions. Different cultures introduce specific taboos in order to prevent certain-ill effects to the social fabric (Alabaster, 2011). However, being too restrictive can also limit other positive effects of not having the taboos in the first place. In many liberal societies and religious teachings, premarital sex and homosexuality are considered taboos because they do not go in line with God’s teachings. However, many western nations have legalized gay unions and thus it becomes difficult to view homosexuality as a taboo in these societies. Below is a look at the three taboos from a Lebanese perspective.

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Premarital sex as taboo in Lebanese culture

Although premarital sex is a taboo in Lebanese communities, a recent study of university students from Lebanon indicated that at least 15% had engaged in sexual activity and that another 20% were sexually active (Salameh et al, 2016). According to the same report, males were particularly more active than females with 35.3% being sexually active while only 9.6% of females were sexually active (ibid). With only 36% of this population actively or regularly using condoms, it is clear that there is high risk of having unplanned babies and a high risk of contracting STIs.

Because of such statistics, it is important to introduce reproductive health programs in schools and religious institutions in order to prevent such consequences. Regrettably, the highly conservative Lebanese government does not allow this and thus, young persons are forced to use other modes such as social media to access such information. The problem with such an approach is that internet content is less likely to be filtered and thus such individuals are prone to bigger dangers of accessing this information through such media. Kareem Shaheen who is a senior lecturer in health sciences and an associate at the AUB Medical Center says that between 25 and 30 percent of pregnancies in Lebanon are unplanned. Additionally, he notes that teen pregnancies are on the rise in Lebanon and thus there is need to introduce education programs on contraception to deal with this problem (Shaheen, 2014). Ill-fatedly, abortions are illegal in Lebanon. This means that it is impossible to estimate the total number of teen pregnancies because cases of abortions cannot be documented in clinical settings.

Homosexuality as taboo in Lebanese societies

Under Lebanese law, homosexuality, which involves ‘sexual relations contrasting the law of nature’, is illegal under article 534 of the Lebanese penal code and punishable to up to one-year imprisonment. 79% of the Lebanese community belief that homosexuality should be rejected in the society while only 18% are in favor of it. Nonetheless, more and more people are accepting LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexuals, and Transgender) persons especially after Lebanese National Center for Psychiatry classified such people as having mental disorders (Pew Research Center, 2017). Over the past decade, there has however been a leniency in the use of article 534 to prosecute homosexual suspects. It is important to note that there are certain medical features or practices disallowed for homosexuals such as IVF. A clear discussion of lesbianism can be best dealt with on a personal level as people’s views differ. Religious doctrines concerning gays is also not permitted in Lebanon, because of this, mosques prohibit the act, and no political party (both big and small) have come up to support the act.

Gender equality as a taboo in Lebanese culture

Women in Lebanon are believed to enjoy greater rights and freedoms compared to their counterparts in other Arab nations. Women’s dressing codes are more liberal and it is possible to find more Lebanese women in institutions of higher learning and corporate circles than their peers. Civil rights are almost equal in Lebanon for men and women, although there are around 15 different statutes that govern Lebanese family matters. Unlike most of their Arab neighbors, Lebanese women are allowed to marry women from other religions. Traditionally, single motherhood was considered taboo in Lebanese societies. Even now, the issue of single motherhood is not widely accepted and single mothers may at times find themselves prejudiced or discriminated against. Fortunately, changing social dynamics is making much more acceptable in Lebanese societies to have single mothers in their midst as they come to understand that the fault is not always attributable to the woman.

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Possible solutions

Different societies have attempted to deal with certain taboos in different ways. For instance, taking the view that forcing women to dress in a particular way is against human rights, the French government introduced a ban on the use of Hijab that covers the face as a dress code for Muslim women in France. Many states in the United States have had to legalize gay unions as politicians give in to public demands. It is very unlikely to win against the will of the people. Thus, sexual taboos in Lebanon will best be handled by following what the majority wants. Unfortunately, some of these demands may lead to adverse social conditions that will be hard to deal with in the long term. Religious leaders and political leaders need to have more combined sessions where they can discuss what is harmful and what is not harmful to the wider society. Through such sittings, it might be possible to come to an amicable solution that favors both sides of the divide (Hamieh, & Usta, 2011).

Conclusion

Hypocrisy is an act of deviance that is to be found in all societies. As evidenced in the article, it is clear that even though certain practices and associations are considered taboo in Lebanon, many individual continue  to practice such activities in hiding. Premarital sex and lesbianism seem to be some of the most widely practiced taboos in Lebanese culture. However, it is important to realize that hypocrisy is a global tradition and thus we cannot take the honors of criticizing Lebanese nationals for acts that we also practice in hiding.

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Did you like this sample?
  1. Alabaster, O. (Sep. 06, 2011). Sexual health remains taboo in Lebanese schools, clinics. The Daily Star-Lebanon.
  2.  Barakat, H. I. (1993). The Arab world: Society, culture, and state. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  3. Hamieh, C. & Usta, J. (2011). The Effects of Socialization on Gender Discrimination and Violence A Case Study from Lebanon. Oxfam.
  4. Salameh, P., Zeenny, R., Salamé, J., Waked, M., Barbour, B., Zeidan, N., & Baldi I. (2016). Attitudes Towards and Practice of Sexuality among University Students in Lebanon. Journal of Biosocial Science, 48 (2): 233-48
  5. Shaheen, K. (Sep. 20, 2014). Breaking taboos to promote healthy view of sexuality. The Daily Star.
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