Documentary Libido Challenges Egyptians to Talk About Sex

A short documentary entitled Libido is stirring a discussion about sexuality in Egypt. Directed and written by Youssef Alimam, Libido employs various styles to discuss young people's dilemmas about sex. In addition to interviews with young people about their views on sex, the film follows the story of Mazen, a young Egyptian man and the barriers he meets as he tries to deal with his sexual desires.

Discussion around sexuality remains a challenge in Egypt. Sex education curricula provide limited information and are often skipped, according to a recent study conducted in Egyptian schools. A 2010 survey points out that only a quarter of youth had a discussion with their parents regarding pubertal changes. A recent human rights report echoed the concern and condemned the government's violation of youth rights by impeding their accessing sexual health information and services necessary to empower them to lead healthy lives.

Reactions to Libido were diverse; some comments praised the film's courage in tackling a difficult topic, others expressed their reservation on the perceived message of promoting premarital sex. Some comments condemned premarital sex as sinful and immoral, but others argued it was part of a necessary process of exploration for partners and that nobody has the right to judge others based on what they do in their personal lives.

Global Voices Online talked to the filmmaker. Here's the interview.

Global Voices: Tell us more about the story behind Libido.

Youssef Alimam: Libido was my graduation project in the High Cinema Institute in Cairo. I was thinking I wanted to talk about the subject because I myself thought about this a lot as a kid. I did not receive proper sex education in my school, and my curiosity was just like any other kid, so I thought it would be very interesting to finally ask the questions myself for the first time when I was 20. Then, I started researching, until I finally came up with the whole concept of the movie, and how it shall be made.

GV: What were the major challenges while making the film?

YA: From the start it was being considered absolutely insane, and I was told “you can't do it”. I was not convinced, because the subject has to be opened, and kids all over Egypt might learn from sources that are not considered ethical. They are aware of everything, but they do get false information from each other, and they start making up myths. They believe that it's a sin to even know, of course specially girls, who can't talk to their parents, can't find guidance in schools, and just learn to ignore the subject completely, being left with the surprises of puberty, and dealing with them in pure terror.

As for making the movie on a low budget, I had a lot of help from my friends, who believed in me and in the topic and how I was portraying it. In my university, after they saw the movie, they gave me good recognition and believed in my cause. I had a lot of support from my professors.

GV: In less than one month, Libido was seen by thousands of viewers on YouTube. How have the reactions been like?

YA: I wasn't expecting it to spread like that, but as soon as I shared it, I saw the numbers go up by thousands within days. It was a shock, and people I don't know started sharing it. Lots of people gave me supportive feedback, and they said they were waiting for something like this to happen.

GV: Unlike many filmmakers, you readily shared Libido on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. How do you see the role of social media for creating discussions on such issues?

YA: Libido won several prizes, and it was released on the internet afterwards, so it received recognition in festivals and from youth all over. The feedback I got from there was outstanding. I was very happy that they were open to the subject and that it could touch someone from another country.

After it was released on the internet, it reached even more people across the world, and so on, so I think it helped a lot to spread through social networking of course.

Youssef Alimam, director (left) and Mazen, the protagonist (right), in one of film's scenes. Taken from Facebook page.

Youssef Alimam, director (left) and Mazen, the protagonist (right), in one of film's scenes. Taken from Facebook page.

GV: There has been a critique that Libido focuses on male and class-privileged view on sexuality in Egypt. How do you respond to that?

YA: No, Libido discuses both male and female issues in Egypt, and the ending of the movie, (to those who have watched it) focuses mainly in a funny way, that we as a society ignore completely the female issues concerning sexuality. We act as if they aren't sexual beings, just like men, which is more of a crisis.

As for class, I believe the problem exists in society regardless of class, but mainly for middle class people as they cannot afford early marriage easily these days, because of economic issues. They have strict cultural boundaries that are relatively conservative, and they must live in certain standards when they are married otherwise the marriage will not be considered a proper one. They lack the liberation from materialistic essentials that exist only in a lower class.

GV: What are the next steps for Libido?

YA: It was a graduation project really, I was only trying to practice my skills as a director in making my first short documentary. I have no idea what can come next, but I wish that my voice will be heard, and that people would really try and think about solutions to the problems in our society. I think that we can solve the problems if we all can just cross the first step, and stop blushing when the word “sex” is uttered, and realize that this is biology.


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