When bestselling author Leila Slimani published her debut novel, Adéle, in 2014, she spent two weeks on a book tour around Morocco. After her events at bookshops, universities and libraries, numerous women were hungry to discuss their own personal and political struggles to express their sexuality in a country that represses women’s sexual natures. Slimani collects many of these testimonies, woven together with her own reflections on Morocco’s social attitudes toward sex, in Sex and Lies: True Stories of Women’s Intimate Lives in the Arab World.
Soraya, an attractive woman, perhaps in her 40s, locates Slimani in the hotel bar one evening after an event and, reticently at first, opens up to Slimani about her mother’s marital counsel: “Don’t forget to stay a virgin.” Soraya shares that she never experienced sexual pleasure in her marriage but that, after her divorce, she wants to discover pleasure and freedom. Slimani uses Soraya’s story as an illustration of the many ways women in Morocco face humiliation—humiliations that men never face. They must be good girls, and if they lose their virginity, they are “spoiled.”
Malika is a 40-year-old doctor who’s single and has never been married. Although she feels freer than many women who lack her income and social status, she still must live a life of subterfuge when she wants to sleep with her partner, checking into French hotels where no one will ask them for an ID. As Malika puts it, “Hypocrisy is growing here, and conservatism, too.” Slimani reflects on Malika’s story by pointing out that the more freedom women gain in Moroccan society, the more they take up public space, which leaves men feeling unmoored.
Provocative and disturbing, fervent and moving, Sex and Lies offers a glimpse into a world often hidden from view, allowing Moroccan women to express in their own words their desires and hopes for a sexual revolution in their society.