Veiled by a hijab, Dr. Heba Kotb appears weekly on a hit Arab TV show called "The Big Talk" with a message for Muslims: Have more sex -- and hot sex -- in the name of Allah.
Kotb, the first licensed sexologist in Egypt, believes that sex is a gift Allah intended for humans; her divine mission is to make sure that they're enjoying it. Every week, viewers throughout the Muslim world flood her station with calls, hoping to have their most embarrassing and intimate questions answered on-air. All sorts of sexual queries are allowed, with one snag: Sexual relations outside of marriage are haram (prohibited by Islam) and not open to discussion. In fact, Kotb, a wife and mother of three, draws her sex advice directly from the Quran. According to her textual analysis, the Prophet Mohammed encouraged frequent sex and foreplay and decreed that female pleasure is, um, actually kind of important. She delivers these sexual dictates with the dryness of a doctor and the conviction of a fundamentalist, but she's also prone to jarring fits of laughter.
To the Western world -- where gray-haired sex educator Sue Johanson can be seen on TV simulating oral sex on six inches of silicone -- Kotb's call-in show would seem relatively quaint and her views on homosexuality downright regressive. But, to much of the Muslim world, the 39-year-old -- who appears fresh-faced and prim, save her heavily kohl-lined eyes -- is considered a radical liberal. Not surprisingly, though, her work has drawn the attention of extremist Islamic clerics: Sheik Youssef al-Badri declared that her work only "increases the number of sex perverts." But viewers were aching for a show like hers, she says, because sex education in Egypt is "nonexistent." In fact, it was while studying stateside to become a surgeon that Kotb discovered there was a world of sexual knowledge that had been withheld from her -- so she decided to take a dramatically different path and pursue a degree in clinical sexology. Years later she returned to Cairo and opened her own sex clinic; the demand for her services is so high that she's booked months in advance.
Kotb recently talked to Salon by phone from Cairo and explained why good sex is God's will, female masturbation is wrong and homosexuals are akin to alcoholics.
You've said you believe that by having more sex, married couples will please Allah. Why?
Whenever you have sex you get rewarded because you're avoiding the woman being prone to have sex outside of the marriage and vice versa. It's a way to please each other in our world and to please Allah.
Is the Quran concerned with female pleasure?
Yes, it is. The biggest chapter of the Quran is called "The Cow." There is a verse talking about the woman's rising pleasure. It's an order to the man to give the woman the right to have pleasure -- it orders the man to give the woman foreplay and also to get the wife to have sex repeatedly and to not wait for the woman to ask because sometimes she's too shy to ask.
You've blamed Egypt's high divorce rate on "bad sex." But why is the country stricken with "bad sex"?
I think that probably more than 80 percent of divorces in Egypt are from a lack of sex education. Sex is a taboo; it's not to be discussed or complained about. A lot of people didn't know that they could complain about sex.
Why is sex such a controversial topic in the Muslim world?
It's culture -- it's not Islam, whatsoever. Islam is a very liberal and progressive religion. It invites people to have sex, of course within the marital frame. Prophet Mohammed never showed any offense to anyone asking about sexuality. On the contrary, he responded to every single question. The thing is, the culture overwhelms this.
What do you think about the in-your-face American approach to sex and sexuality?
I'm totally against this. It's harmful -- sex loses its luster and its preciousness. God orders that sex remains precious, like a pearl -- it's not just for everyone. A balance has to be built: This is allowed, this is not allowed; this is halal, this is haram. Sex is one of the things that is forbidden before marriage and outside of marriage; on the other hand, it's allowed within marriage with a lot, a lot of freedom. This creates a balance. In the American approach everything is allowed -- you can have sex at any age, on any occasion.
Who do you think is having better sex -- Americans or Egyptians?
Well, I'm not a witness. [Laughs.] Believe it or not, I've been to several countries for various conferences and it's quite the same everywhere -- there are the same problems. I don't think one group is having better sex than the other, but there is great individual variation. Those who are open, clear with each other and confront the problems they are having are far ahead.
You have encouraged women to explore their bodies -- does that include masturbation?
The woman, by means of instinct, does not need masturbation. She's not like the man whatsoever. It's not a call of nature for her. So that's why I'm not very sympathetic with young women and girls choosing to masturbate. They're ruining their sexual future -- a woman has to remain blank until she gets married and by masturbating she's forming her sexuality.
What if a woman masturbates during marriage?
There's no need! If her husband is operative and they're having sex, there's no need.
As forward-thinking as you are in some respects, you're hardly a liberal by Western standards. What are your feelings on homosexuality?
[Laughs] Well, I have a very famous opinion about homosexuality. I'm totally against homosexuality being considered a gene or natural. It's a sin -- they're just like the alcoholics and the drug-takers. I'm also the reason for a lot of patients to have been cured -- so, no, I can't believe that it is natural.
So you've cured people of their homosexuality?
A lot, yes -- maybe over 30 or 40 now. They were extremely obedient and followed my instructions for a whole nine months to one year. Now these patients are married to women, have kids and desire women even on the level of daydreams and night dreams.
Has a caller on your show ever asked a question that made you blush?
I don't get embarrassed -- it's my job. In Islam, everything between a husband and wife is allowed sexually, except for two things: anal intercourse and intercourse during menstruation. One caller said she desired to be penetrated from behind. I got mad because this is a closed subject -- this is haram. Being asked this question on the air makes me uncomfortable about giving the answers. When I'm inside my own office, it's easier -- you don't have to watch what you say.
What kind of a response have you received to your show?
For me, the response was extremely positive from everyone. I've been told some people think of my show as being extremely revealing and that it's teaching people how to have sex and encouraging young men and women to have sex outside marriage. But I don't care about this argument, because it's not right.
What are your husband's feelings on your career?
He's busy too -- much more busy than I am. I'm blessed; if he were not, I would be living in a big problem. He has been extremely supportive all throughout my life. He used to be my colleague in college. We fell in love in our third year of school. He knows how important my work is to me and he knows that being supportive is the way to my heart. He's my first priority in my world -- he's my love, he's my sweetheart. Maybe that's why I'm giving good advice for spouses. Throughout our 15 years of marriage, I have never stopped loving him.